Navigant Research Blog

U.K. Takes the Lead on Smart City Standards

— March 5, 2014

One of the important goals for smart cities in 2014 is the identification and development of appropriate standards to help drive innovation and cross-sector cooperation.  I’ve written previously about the City Protocol as a groundbreaking effort in this area.  Now the United Kingdom has launched its own smart cities framework.  Developed under the aegis of the British Standards Institution (BSI) and with the support of the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS), the standards have been developed by a group of stakeholders from U.K. cities, government, and suppliers.

Smart City Framework – Guide to Establishing Strategies for Smart Cities and Communities has been developed as a guide for city leaders developing a smart city strategy, with an emphasis on practical steps and a conceptual framework that will help them measure progress.  It draws on a series of workshops and stakeholder engagements over the last year, as well as best practices drawn from other international projects.  Significantly, it’s also based on the 29 submissions made by British cities for the £24 million ($38 million) Future City Demonstrator project, which was awarded to Glasgow in 2013.

I gave a presentation on the smart city market at one of the inaugural workshops for the new standard last spring.  At the time, I was impressed by the enthusiasm shown by both cities and suppliers, but I was also concerned that discussions seemed to be taking the initiative down well-trodden paths around local government processes and IT initiatives.  Important as these issues are, in isolation they do not capture the much broader opportunities or the challenges that the smart city concept presents.

Off the Trodden Path

Fortunately, the framework as presented goes a long way toward addressing those concerns.   It was even more reassuring to hear how the cities involved in early testing of the framework have been using it.  At the launch event in London at the end of February, smart city project leaders from Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds, and Peterborough talked about how they have been employing the framework to build collaboration not only across city departments but also with a wide range of external stakeholders, including energy companies, water companies, and transport providers.  It has also helped boost their work on developing open data platforms and building developer communities to use that data to develop innovative applications for the city.

The framework is the latest in a number of programs to encourage smart city development in the United Kingdom.  In addition to the Future City Demonstrator program, the government has established the Future Cities Catapult, “a global centre of excellence on urban innovation” in London, and has launched an initiative to help U.K. businesses target a £40 billion ($64 billion) global smart city market opportunity.

Over the last 2 years, the United Kingdom has gone from being a laggard to a pacesetter in smart cities.  While other national governments are realizing the need to support urban initiatives, the United Kingdom is now helping to lead the way.  This is a significant step forward that should be of interest to all cities beginning their smart city journey.

 

EVs: Too Quiet for Comfort?

— March 4, 2014

Originally thought to be one of the great benefits of electric cars, silent engines have become a major safety concern for governments around the world.  While the general population should be expected to look both ways before crossing the street, a legitimate risk is posed to blind people, not to mention children.  Electric vehicles (EVs) are mainly silent at speeds of less than 18 mph, when tire and wind noise is insignificant.  It is in this range that the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is seeking to impose mandatory minimum sound standards for hybrids and EVs.  The standards would require automakers to produce detectable noises on these vehicles when traveling under 18 mph.  NHTSA offers recommended sound options for EVs, which are mostly modified internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle sounds.  Although the proposals were made in early 2013, NHTSA has yet to formalize any mandatory noise-making regulations.

The Auto Alliance, which represents 12 automakers, has been openly critical of the proposed federal rules, arguing that the sound requirements should be cut off at 12.4 mph and that the costs of adding sound features have been vastly understated by the NHTSA.  The National Federation of the Blind has been highly supportive of the proposed regulations.

Sound Effects

Instead of waiting for binding legislation, some automakers have developed EV noises on their own as a safety feature.  Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, is adding artificial sounds to its EVs.  For the company’s e-Smart city car, a “sonorous purring” has been added.  More powerful vehicles, like the Mercedes SLS AMG Coupe Electric Drive, receive huskier tones to show their muscle.  The electric smart’s sound comes standard in the United States and Japan, and is an option in Europe.  European automaker Renault offers a choice of several car tones on the ZOE hatchback – pure, glam, and sport.

What was once thought to be a competitive advantage for EVs has transformed into a contentious issue.  Although little evidence exists that the silence of EVs is a contributing factor in accidents, automakers should take the recent actions of regulatory agencies seriously, as sound standards for EVs could be instituted in the not-so-distant future.  Furthermore, sounds options for EVs present a potential market opportunity.  As discussed in a previous Navigant Research blog, EV sounds could eventually become a multimillion-dollar market consisting of ringtone-style car sounds.

 

The Climate Change Gap Narrows on Policy

— March 3, 2014

That Americans are polarized on issues around energy, the environment, and climate change is not news.  What’s interesting is the degree to which the gap between those views narrows when it comes to actual policy and funding decisions – in other words, to what should be done.

Former The Wall Street Journal Washington, D.C. bureau chief Alan Murray, now president of the Pew Research Center, kicked off the Vail Global Energy Forum with a discussion of the center’s recent polling data on energy and the environment.  The decline over the last 2 decades in the percentage of Americans who support stricter environmental laws and regulation, who view the environment as a top priority for the nation, and who see global warming as a major threat to the country’s security and prosperity has been striking.  In 1992, 90% of Americans favored stricter environmental regulations; by 2012, that number had fallen to 74%.  Much of this change has happened in the last decade.  In 2006, 79% believed global warming is a serious problem.  That percentage fell to 65% in 2013.  Today, the economy and jobs are the highest priority for most Americans; climate change ranks at or near the bottom of the list of problems demanding attention and resources.  Most of these declines have occurred among Republicans, Murray said; Democratic responses on these questions have stayed remarkably consistent.

Untapped Opportunity

In general, these findings correlate with those of Navigant Research’s Energy & Environment Consumer Survey, which has tracked a small but noticeable drop in favorable attitudes toward clean and renewable energy concepts in the 3 years the survey has been conducted.  (That decline, however, reversed in 2013,  as favorability ratings for a number of these concepts, particularly solar energy, wind energy, hybrid vehicles, and electric cars, rebounded significantly from their 2012 levels.)

Also not surprising is the Pew data comparing attitudes in other countries to those in the United States.  In Western Europe, 54% of those surveyed ranked global warming highest on their list of major threats in the 21st century.  It’s at the bottom of Americans’ lists.

More noteworthy was the data Murray presented on policy questions.  By wide majorities, Americans support more federal funding for wind, solar, and other forms of clean energy; better fuel efficiency for all classes of vehicles; and more funding for public transit.  Somewhat surprisingly, that’s true on the Republican side of the aisle.  While the majorities are smaller, most respondents identifying themselves as Republicans support each of those policies – a result seldom reflected in media coverage of news related to these policies.

Theories about the causes of this split between relatively low and falling concern over climate change on the one hand and support for clean energy, fuel efficiency, and public transit on the other amount to speculation.  As Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said in his opening remarks at the forum, “In the modern world, we don’t all have the same facts.”  But the degree of agreement that government should do more to bolster the development of clean energy and energy efficiency technologies suggests a political opportunity that, for the moment, remains largely unexploited.

 

Proposed Bill Would Revive U.S. Rare Earths Industry

— February 28, 2014

Attempting to solve two energy security crises at a single stroke, Missouri senator Roy Blunt in early February introduced the National Refining Cooperative Act of 2014 (NRECA), which would create a federally chartered corporation to build and operate a processing facility for rare earth elements.  Used in a variety of cleantech, defense, and telecommunications technologies, rare earths have become increasingly valuable over the last decade even as producers in China have established an effective world monopoly on their production.

Until the early 2000s, the United States was the world’s leading supplier of lanthanides, scandium, yttrium, and other rare earths, and the Mountain Pass mine on the border of Nevada and California was the world’s largest producer of the minerals.  Dogged by environmental issues and flat world prices, the Mountain Pass mine shut down in 2002, and rare earths production in the United States evaporated.  As I reported in Fortune in 2011, a Denver-based company called Molycorp has restarted Mountain Pass and is attempting to carve out a place as a significant producer of rare earths.  However, China still controls 95% of the market and has demonstrated its willingness to curtail exports in order to control the world’s supply.

Critical Elements

“We are here to state the importance of the need to bring back the rare earth industry to the U.S. to protect and grow jobs as well as to control our own sources of rare earths that are so important to green technologies, aerospace, and defense, and energy-efficient motors and generators,” testified Robert Strahs, the VP and general manager of Arnold Magnetic Technologies, before a U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing in 2011.

Backing NRECA is a loose coalition of developers, miners, and alternative energy activists, including the Thorium Energy Alliance, which for the last 5 years has been promoting the development of nuclear reactors that use thorium, a radioactive element, rather than uranium.  As I documented in my 2012 book SuperFuel, thorium is cleaner, safer, and more abundant than uranium and is effectively impossible to fashion into explosives.  It’s also nearly always found in association with rare earths.  NRECA would create a private corporation that would store the thorium left over from rare earths production and formulate and market it for commercial uses, including energy generation.

Thorium is almost ubiquitous in the Earth’s surface, and the United States possesses enough readily available thorium to produce ample electricity for hundreds of years.  Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee pioneered thorium reactor research in the 1960s, but the program was abandoned under the Nixon Administration.  Other countries are moving forward.  The Indian Atomic Energy Commission recently debuted the prototype of the advanced heavy water reactor (AHWR), which is designed to run on solid thorium fuel.  The AHWR is being developed at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, outside Mumbai, which has become one of the world’s centers of thorium reactor research.

The Refining Cooperative bill is designed to end China’s monopoly on strategically important rare earth elements and to provide a consistent supply of thorium to fuel low-risk, zero-carbon nuclear power for generations.  Nevertheless, NRECA’s backers have faced a multiyear uphill struggle just to get the bill introduced.  The current bill, introduced in the Senate, could be matched in coming weeks with a similar piece of legislation introduced in the House as part of the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, the annual budget bill for the Department of Defense.

“We have strong bipartisan support in the House and on the Senate Armed Services Committee,” Jim Kennedy, a Missouri developer and one of the bill’s leading proponents, told me.

They’ll need it.

 

Blog Articles

Most Recent

By Date

Tags

Clean Transportation, Electric Vehicles, Energy Storage, Policy & Regulation, Renewable Energy, Smart Energy Practice, Smart Energy Program, Smart Grid Practice, Smart Transportation Practice, Utility Innovations

By Author


{"userID":"","pageName":"Policy & Regulation","path":"\/tag\/policy-regulation?page=17","date":"9\/1\/2014"}