Navigant Research Blog

While Big Data Grabs Headlines, Small Data Is What Cities Need

— May 17, 2016

Bangkok SkylineSuppliers in the smart city industry offer a range of data solutions for city managers to better detect and respond to breakdowns and inefficiencies in the delivery of city services. The onset of big data and the Internet of Things (IoT) have been touted as potential solutions to the biggest challenges facing cities today. However, what cities really need is small data—in other words, clear, specific, and actionable insights filtered from the vast amounts of raw or big data being created. For example, massive amounts of traffic data is only useful if it can be used to affect how services are delivered. Useful small data would alert city officials to inform public transit riders of delays and suggest alternative routes for more efficient travel. Getting even more specific, smaller data can help city and operations managers understand how their service delivery may be affected (i.e., an incoming shipment of cargo or goods will arrive 3 hours later than expected).

Creating more actionable insights for city managers is an opportunity for business analytics in all sectors. Government agencies need clear messages and response plans to improve operations, reduce costs, and better serve their citizens. When combined with easily understandable data visualizations, the increased use of statistical analysis, simulation, and optimization can help in the process to deliver actionable data insights.

Data and predictive analytics are currently able to provide some of the following benefits in each key sector:

  • Energy: Smart meters and other smart grid technologies are enabling a more dynamic and detailed understanding of energy generation, transmission, distribution, and consumption. As the energy system of the city becomes more complex, real-time data across these systems is vital in order to manage the grid and create effective energy markets.
  • Water: Intelligent devices, communications networks, and advanced IT systems are helping the water industry face the challenges posed by rising costs of operations, maintenance requirements, global urbanization, climate change, and other pressures on supply and distribution. In the process, the industry is expected to become increasingly information-focused, drawing on real-time data from the pumping station to the meter. Communications networks in particular can help to improve water management by discovering leaks and providing alerts if the water is unsafe for drinking.
  • Mobility: Real-time data collected from sensors, cameras, and other devices can optimize connections between modes of transportation for faster travel times, reduce the costs of operation, and increase convenience through improved information services for users. Data analytics can also be used to detect and predict the likelihood of traffic accidents or vehicle breakdowns based on congestion and speed patterns. This data enables managers to be much more proactive, as they can use predictive analytics to identify potential congestion issues, adapt bus routes, and dynamically manage the availability of city parking.
  • Buildings: New capabilities go beyond basic management dashboards to the analysis of a wide range of building-related energy and operational data. Predictive analytics are being used to anticipate future conditions based on past performance and avoid unforeseen facility management issues.

As demonstrated from the examples above, data is already helping cities become more efficient and improve in the delivery of city services. Being able to more accurately and quickly gain actionable insights from large data sets will be crucial for the future growth of smart city technology. For more information on big data, the IoT, and predictive analytics, keep an eye out for Navigant Research’s upcoming global report on Smart Cities, expected to be published in Q2 2016.

 

Street Lights Are the New Smart Phones

— May 11, 2016

BulbsJust as cell phones have evolved into multifunctional digital information devices, the once-humble street light is becoming a hub for monitoring a variety of urban activities and sharing data with networks.

Navigant Research identified this trend in its 2015 Smart Street Management report, stating that, “Smart street lighting is becoming one of the most attractive solutions for cities looking for an immediate effect on energy consumption and operational costs while also laying a foundation for a broader range of applications.”

As street lights are being upgraded to more efficient LEDs, pole owners are seizing the opportunity to add networking capabilities, sensors, cameras, and power management intelligence to leverage the lights’ distributed electrified reach to provide a variety of services across cities. The convergence of city management technologies with street lights was on display throughout the recent Intertraffic conference in Amsterdam.

Intertraffic Conference

Examples highlighted at Intertraffic included Streetline, of San Mateo, California, which is working with Cisco on using cameras fixed to street lights as a less expensive alternative to sensors to predict parking availability. According to Kurt Buechler, Streetline’s senior vice president, the cameras cost around $100 each and are connected to a cloud service that performs analysis on the collected data. Cisco is also working on integrating cameras and Internet of Things technologies to street lights in the Netherlands via its IT networks.

Also at Intertraffic, Spain’s Circontrol announced its Trilogy offering, which combines lighting, smart parking detection, and indicators that show parking availability. Circontrol also displayed an integrated parking facility energy management system that uniquely incorporates electric vehicle (EV) charging management. Intelligent transportation systems vendor Q-Free is combining its air quality monitoring technology with street lights in Medway, England.

EV Influence

Other companies taking advantage of the ubiquitous presence of powered street lights include BMW, which adds EV charging capabilities through its Light and Charge initiative. In the city of San Jose, California, the SmartPoles pilot project is using wireless technology from Ericsson and Philips’ energy efficient lighting equipment to reduce costs while providing more flexible lighting management.

The convergence of smart parking, traffic management, EVs, and environmental monitoring—often using connected street lights to collect and share data—will bring much more holistic views to smart city managers looking to understand the full effect of transportation on urban life. Standards for data collection and communications protocols are quickly evolving to enable this broader view and will be of growing importance as cities look to understand and mitigate the effect of increased congestion and urbanization.

 

Will Cities of the Future Be Car-Free?

— May 5, 2016

Bangkok SkylineCity plans to eliminate cars have regularly garnered media coverage over the last few years. Some examples describe initiatives and plans in London, Madrid, and Brussels. Most major cities already have limited areas where cars are not allowed, but a detailed examination of the proposals reveals that there is a wide variety of approaches and nothing close to a uniform policy.

Some cities want to eliminate the use of diesel cars. Some want to restrict private vehicles on certain days or during business hours. Some want to control when commercial vehicles can be driven within city boundaries. Some cities implement congestion charges but allow electric vehicles in for free. Few have tackled the question of how to deal with plugin hybrid vehicles that can drive just for short periods on electricity.

While currently there is much soul searching about the car and whether it has a future in the cities of tomorrow, there is a need to define the goals and benefits of restriction or elimination of certain vehicles and also decide what is going to replace them. If the goal is cleaner air, strong legislation on emissions will do the job, but all vehicles must be included. Eliminating private cars but continuing with large numbers of trucks and buses running on diesel will have a limited effect on air quality. If the main problem is congestion, encouraging people to choose electric vehicles is unlikely to deliver a solution.

City Transportation Needs

Vehicles are needed in cities to move people and goods. Garbage must be collected and disposed, and stores must be restocked. Public transport offers efficient point-to-point movement of large groups of people at busy times, but for much of the day large city buses contribute to congestion and poor air quality without actually moving many people around. Established subway systems are almost all electrically powered and don’t affect air quality or make congestion worse, but building them is very expensive. Trams, though they use electric power, do influence congestion because they operate on city streets.

The challenge is to provide a clean transportation system that meets the needs of the people who wish to travel in a cost-effective way with maximum efficiency. Low cost and easy access are what most people want. The system must cater for people who are prepared to pay a little extra for comfort or privacy to convince them that they no longer need to own private vehicles. It must be able to collect and drop people off within a short walk of where they are or want to be. The ideal system will interface with longer range point-to-point transport by providing first- and last-mile service on demand.

The Autonomous Fleet Option

As a large range of companies continue with self-driving vehicle testing, from established OEMs and Tier One suppliers as well as new market entrants such as Google and Tesla, consideration is being given to the potential for these vehicles to operate in a shared fleet rather than being owned by individuals. The biggest challenge for autonomous driving technology is interacting with existing traffic and drivers. If a fleet was given exclusive access to certain roads, the implementation would be easier and the benefits could be properly assessed.

Implementations of autonomous fleets are already under consideration. In California, the city of Beverly Hills wants to be one of the first to do this. The city council believes it can afford to fund the investment in vehicles and fiber optic infrastructure to add another layer of security. In Europe, a new agreement to standardize traffic laws is laying the groundwork for an autonomous fleet in Amsterdam in 2019. More details are available in Navigant Research’s recent study on Autonomous Vehicles.

 

Cities Seek a Bigger Say in the Energy Market

— February 26, 2016

Bangkok SkylineNavigant Research estimates that the market for smart energy technology for smart cities will be worth almost $21 billion by 2024. Early smart city and smart grid projects focused on the city as a site for technology and market pilots, with utilities taking the lead role. As documented in the Smart Energy for Smart Cities report, cities are now taking a more proactive role in the evolution of local energy provision. Cities are becoming active players in their energy markets, collaborating with their existing utilities where it makes sense but also becoming increasingly willing to challenge and even compete with those traditional providers. This is becoming particularly evident in the United Kingdom.

In February, Bristol became the latest U.K. city to launch its own community energy company. Bristol Energy is owned by the city council and run for the benefit of the whole community. As well as offering competitive energy deals, the company’s objective is to reinvest any profits to fight fuel poverty and support locally generated renewables. It also aims to increase low-carbon energy generation in the city and to eventually manage a new district energy network for the city.

Increasing Initiatives

Bristol is part of a wave of initiatives to form new city-owned energy companies in the country. In September 2015, the Nottingham City Council established Robin Hood Energy, the first non-profit city-owned energy company in the United Kingdom since the nationalization of the industry in 1948. The country nationalized and centralized its energy grid and market after World War II and since then has had no equivalent to the myriad of municipally owned utilities found, for example, in the United States or Germany. The process of deregulation and privatization in the 1980s created a clear split between the transmission, distribution, and retail markets, with the retail market led by the Big 6 energy suppliers. The new city energy companies have been established within this market structure and in response to some of its perceived weaknesses, not least of all a lack of local influence on the market.

Other major cities in the United Kingdom are considering setting up their own energy company alongside other initiatives such as the establishment of new energy service companies and increased investment in district energy networks. The Greater London Authority, for example, is in the process of establishing itself as a junior energy supplier, which will enable the city to support renewable energy generation and provide energy to local public bodies at an attractive rate. Some advocates are calling for London to go even further and follow the same path as Bristol and Nottingham.

A Worldwide Trend

Beyond the United Kingdom, this trend echoes broader moves by cities worldwide to be more active players in defining their energy future. In some cases, this is leading to a move toward remunicipalization (as in Hamburg, Germany), but this is not the only path for cities looking to accelerate their energy transition. Many are working in close partnership with their local utilities to drive the adoption of renewables and to introduce energy efficiency schemes.

Utilities cannot be complacent. The continued interest in smart city ideas reflects a new confidence and impatience among city leaders as to the pace of improvement on a range of issues including energy policy. If existing energy markets and utility models are not helping them achieve those goals, then we can expect to see more cities challenging the status quo.

 

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