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.


Building an Energy Efficient Detroit

— January 30, 2014

The headlines coming out of Detroit recently have largely been focused on bad news.  However, as anyone who lives here knows, Detroit and the surrounding area has a lot more of interest going on than what the headlines and images of “ruin porn” portray.

Most recently, Wayne County (the county that contains Detroit) voted to allow Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing by working with Lean & Green Michigan to administer the financing.  While PACE financing often conjures images of solar panels glistening in the California sun, in Detroit, it seems likely to be more closely associated with building remodeling and renovations.  In terms of PACE financing, Michigan’s is certainly small in comparison to the rest of the country, which was anticipated to reach $250 million in 2013.

However, the opportunity for using PACE financing to improve Detroit’s building stock is a significant one.  The city, state, and federal governments are going to great expense to clear abandoned structures in a city where the precise number of building to be razed or refurbished isn’t even known (the figure most often cited is 78,000).  A public-private partnership is doing a survey of every structure in Detroit to determine the extent of the blight.  But really, this is all just a prelude to the real work of figuring out what to do with the abandoned neighborhoods and city blocks.

Closing Down Coal

At the same time as PACE financing gains momentum in Michigan, the state is starting to push toward a future with less coal being burned.  Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has laid out goals for the state’s energy policy, including increasing renewable energy (particularly from onshore wind), reducing coal usage, and improving reliability.  While he campaigned against a failed 2012 ballot proposal that would have required 25% of electricity production in Michigan come from renewable resources in 2025, Snyder now says that the current requirement of 10% by 2015 is too easily achievable.  Of course, the first pass at the new energy policy is heavy on broad goals with little specifics to offer much guidance.  The cynical environmental watchers will also point out that a good part of the push away from coal has more to do with economics than the environment: Michigan has lots of natural gas but imports all its coal from other states.

At this point, the alignment of the goals for PACE financing and the state’s push for more environmental energy production seems likely to happen by happenstance, rather than by intent.  The timing of the PACE financing announcement, however, is fortuitous.  The city’s tools for helping with energy efficiency costs have come to an end, leaving only modest state tax rebates and utility programs.  Michigan is already gaining notice as one of the leaders for growth in renewable energy.  PACE financing can play a key role in keeping the new commercial building stock as energy efficient as possible – and perhaps even improving the distributed generation picture in Detroit.


Smart Grid Vendors Embrace Life in the Big City

— December 2, 2013

Smart meter manufacturer Itron and smart grid networking provider Silver Spring Networks (SSN) have both recently embraced new smart city initiatives, becoming the latest vendors to focus attention on a market that is expected to grow to $20.2 billion by 2020, according to Navigant Research’s Smart Cities report.

Itron has joined Microsoft’s CityNext effort, which aims to encourage cities around the world to chart a new future where technology combines with creative ideas to do “new with less.”  The lofty ambitions of CityNext include bringing municipal governments, citizens, and businesses together to build more efficient and sustainable urban areas and do so at lower costs.  Itron’s focus will be on the intersection of energy and water – the nexus, as it’s known – where the company’s technology can be brought to bear to help cities better manage these two vital resources.

City of Light

Silver Spring announced a new network-as-a-service (NaaS) product as part of its smart city solution.  The new service offering aims to help cities avoid upfront capital and deployment costs, and it can become a foundation for adding new smart city applications over time.  The company says its smart city solution helps cities meet some of the key challenges they face in four areas: environmental sustainability, transportation management, health and safety, and economic growth.  The company notes that both Paris, France, and Copenhagen, Denmark, have chosen SSN for projects.  For Paris, the company is providing a new street lighting and traffic control program as the city attempts to cut public lighting consumption by 30% during the next 10 years.  Copenhagen chose the company to deploy a citywide network for connecting 20,000 street lights, which can be leveraged for future smart city services.

Both Itron and SSN join a long list of other smart city technology vendors targeting this market, including Cisco, IBM, Schneider Electric, and Siemens, among others.  (See the Navigant Research Leaderboard Report: Smart City Suppliers for our ranking of this group of companies).

With these initiatives, Itron and SSN are looking to broaden their reach beyond the U.S. market for smart metering and networking, which has peaked for now with the winding down of federal stimulus money.  Different opportunities lie elsewhere, and often the need is for solutions that solve urban problems not often found in the United States.  For instance, Itron is supplying new advanced water meters to areas of New Delhi, India,  in a project aimed at providing a continuous water supply where, before, water was only available for several hours each day.  In China, Itron has supplied smart water, heat, and gas meters, along with networking gear, for the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City – a city built with efficiency and sustainability squarely in mind.  We can expect to see more of these types of city-centric and integrated solutions in coming years.


How Self-Driving Cars Will Change the World

— November 13, 2013

The steady advance of automated driving will have a number of impacts on the automotive and transportation industries in the coming years.  While the technology for fully autonomous vehicles on public roads has not yet arrived, the first test programs are scheduled.  In the United Kingdom, a pilot program slated for launch in 2015 will see some small autonomous vehicles moving people around the city center of Milton Keynes, although initially the roads used will be restricted to these small cars only.  It will be the first implementation of self-driving vehicles in a public environment; the U.K. already has autonomous vehicles shuttling people from the business car park to Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport, on a dedicated roadway.

The transportation industry relies heavily on drivers for buses, taxis, and road haulage and delivery.  In the long term it seems inevitable that autonomous vehicles can take over more and more of that work.  Although the technology is under development, it is still many years from being ready for widespread implementation.  Only a few thousand are expected to be in service by 2020.  (Details are covered in the Navigant Research report, Autonomous Vehicles.)  But road haulage companies are looking at all aspects of their business to find ways to remain competitive on cost, and while approximately one-third of their cost is fuel, another third is the driver.

Passengers Only Please

The likelihood is that more pilot schemes will get underway in cities around the world in the next few years.  Initially the automated vehicles will be tested as a local taxi service, but will then move on to include local delivery.  Linking the vehicles with the infrastructure will be the first phase of a smart city approach to managing logistics in a defined local area.  As experience grows and the benefits are quantified, the areas covered will expand.  At some point, it’s likely that conventional vehicles with drivers will be limited and then excluded.

The effect of this will be to change the nature of the market for vehicle manufacturers.  People will come to see a vehicle as a service rather than as a possession.  Once transportation is available when you need it and can be summoned by clicking on a smartphone app, owning a car will become a choice rather than a necessity.  It may be that in the future manufacturers will appeal to consumers by the quality of the features offered by their local vehicle fleets, rather than targeting their marketing to influence individuals to purchase a specific vehicle.

The Next Transportation Transformation

Vehicle design will change significantly, as well.  For vehicles made specifically to move slowly around city roads only, the design specifications will be very different than those for vehicles expected to travel at high speed on freeways.  Electric drive with wireless top-up charging makes a lot of sense for powering driverless city vehicles, leaving liquid fuels as the source of energy for inter-city vehicles.  Safety specifications will be very different as well.

A little over 100 years ago, the vehicle market made a huge shift from horse- and man-power to the internal combustion engine, ultimately delivering individual freedom to travel in a way that could not have been imagined.  Self-driving vehicles have the potential to spur a similar transformation in the future.  For a deeper look at the emerging market for autonomous vehicles, please sign up for our webinar, “The Era of Self-Driving Cars,” on November 19.  Click here to register.


Blog Articles

Most Recent

By Date


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

By Author

{"userID":"","pageName":"Smart Cities","path":"\/tag\/smart-cities","date":"4\/24\/2014"}