Navigant Research Blog

Better Late Than Never for Smart Cities in Australia

— December 29, 2016

SmartCityAs noted by my colleague Eric Woods in a previous blog, despite being one of the most urbanized countries in the world (with around 90% of the population living in urban areas), Australian cities have played a relatively small and subdued role in the development of smart city concepts and project demonstrations. While Sydney and Melbourne have been promoting building energy reporting and energy efficiency and a number of cities have sustainability goals (e.g., the Sydney 2030 program), there has been little in the way of significant focus and innovation around the key issues of urban development and sustainability.

Federal Government Taking a Larger Role

However, the focus on smart cities in Australia is now beginning to intensify, as the federal government is taking the challenge of updating city infrastructure more seriously. 2017 appears poised to be a significant year for smart city development. The Australian government’s recently announced AUS $50 million ($35.8 million) Smart Cities and Suburbs Program will provide funding to support projects that use innovative technology-based approaches to improve livability and sustainability of cities, building on and supporting the country’s national Smart Cities Plan, which was launched in April 2016. Draft guidelines for the 4-year Smart Cities and Suburbs Program were recently released, and the first round of grant funding is expected to be opened in the first half of 2017.

The draft guidelines include four program priority areas and their key goals:

  • Smart Infrastructure to improve safety, efficiency, reliability, and the delivery of essential services
  • Smart Precincts to make community precincts more livable, productive, sustainable, and safe
  • Smart Services to deliver citizen-centric local government services and improve community engagement
  • Smart Planning to build adaptable and resilient cities through improved land use and strategic planning

These priority areas are indicative of where many global smart city projects and challenges are present today. If successful outcomes and innovative solutions can be achieved from the new plethora of smart city projects to come in Australia, the country could transform from its current follower position into a leadership role as part of the global pursuit of smart cities.

 

Smart Street Lights a Key Platform for Smart City Infrastructure

— December 2, 2016

The city lamppost is increasingly recognized as a valuable asset that can support a range of smart city applications beyond smart street lighting. There are significant benefits to be had from smart lighting deployments, considering that networked LED street lights can offer 65%-75% energy savings for cities. However, the full benefit of the lamppost is reached when it can act as infrastructure for multiple smart city applications. These additional applications can include air quality monitoring, security alerts, parking and traffic management, electronic signage, mesh Wi-Fi services, and more.

New York-based startup Totem Power recently unveiled its Totem platform for smart city projects, which combines communications infrastructure with energy infrastructure. The company’s prototype lamppost platform is powered by solar energy and supplemented by battery storage to provide capabilities such as Wi-Fi, 4G communications, and EV charging, in addition to traditional smart street lighting services. The first Totem street light model is expected to be released in summer 2017.

Totem Power’s Smart City Platform

Smart Lighting

(Source: Totem Power, Inc.)

Established Suppliers Utilizing Street Lights as a Platform

There is also an increasing recognition by more established players in the market that smart street lighting can serve as the foundational infrastructure for a variety of smart city technology deployments. Panasonic recently entered into a partnership with LED streetlight provider Schréder to integrate its sensors, cameras, and software applications into the company’s luminaires in an effort to transform existing lighting infrastructure into an integrated smart city platform.

Siemens is planning a new smart parking system both within existing smart street lighting infrastructure and in combination with traffic management applications. In addition to detecting open parking spots, Siemens’ overhead radar sensors (in development) are expected to measure speed and traffic conditions, detect parking violations, and detect the flow of pedestrians. Sensity (acquired by Verizon in September 2016) is also combining smart street lighting with other applications, namely with its NetSense smart parking solution. This integrated application enables owners and parking operators to increase parking revenue while simultaneously achieving additional cost savings associated with LED lighting. Established smart street lighting provider Silver Spring Networks has also been active in using street lights as a platform.

Benefits Too Large to Ignore

Using smart street lighting as a platform for other smart city applications provides benefits to both cities and suppliers. Cities can save on infrastructure costs through the integration of several applications within existing street light infrastructure, resulting in lower average project costs (per application) and additional valuable services being provided to its citizens. This approach offers the potential for added revenue streams (for both cities and suppliers) related to the lampposts. Suppliers offering the delivery of multiple services through street light infrastructure have the potential to increase revenue through recurring software fees, since services such as advanced analytics will be increasingly important under a multiple service model.

Cities are increasingly demanding services and products that can be shared across departments, not in siloes. Suppliers offering a variety of services that can be delivered cost-effectively through existing street light infrastructure are likely to differentiate themselves in the marketplace.

 

Utilities Need an Innovation Reset

— November 28, 2016

SmartCityUtilities should take a cue from customers: Go ahead and innovate. That is the clear conclusion from a recent study that says consumers want their utilities to be more innovative and expand offerings into the home.

The study, a SmartEnergy IP survey of 1,500 US customers, finds 32% of respondents expect their utilities to adopt technologies that automate energy savings and 20% expect their utilities to build smarter communities. There is a downside in the data, however; nearly 40% of respondents do not view their utilities as innovative, meaning there is room for improvement.

Not all utilities lack for innovation. At Navigant Research, we have chronicled the efforts of utilities willing to pioneer new technologies for customers. For example, Green Mountain Power in Vermont has led the charge with its eHome program, a holistic approach to home energy management that leverages technologies such as heat pumps, solar PV, storage, and EV charging, as noted in our IoT Enabled Managed Services report. Other utilities like Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Oklahoma Gas & Electric, and Kansas City Power & Light are promoting the adoption of smart thermostats as a way of helping customers reduce their bills and promote overall grid efficiency.

Among utilities innovating within their communities, San Diego Gas & Electric stands out for its efforts to create smarter cities from an energy perspective. The Southern California utility, a subsidiary of Sempra Energy, has been collaborating with local city governments on projects that leverage smart meters, demand management, and energy efficiency to lessen the impact of changing load patterns. By working together, the utility and local cities have forged an integrated approach for smarter energy use. Similarly, Duke Energy and ComEd are two other broad-thinking utilities that are leveraging ties with the cities of Charlotte, North Carolina and Chicago, Illinois to foster the same type of smarter community.

While these examples are encouraging, the SmartEnergy IP survey indicates customers in many locations have not seen much innovation from their utilities. Nearly a third are saying that it’s okay to step beyond the normal bounds and offer new products and services that help customers save money and use energy more wisely. There is a message here for regulators as well: customers are ready for innovation, and new rules that enable utilities to expand their product and service offerings would be welcome. It’s time for an innovation reset for utilities.

 

Safer, Stronger, and Brighter Streets through Lighting Controls

— October 6, 2016

SmartCityWhat impact do street lights have on a city’s populace? According to Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, street lights make the city’s streets “safer, stronger, and brighter.” This is the justification being used for the launch of a new service that allows residents of the district to report street light outages via text message. The challenge with city street lights is that they have a greater impact on how citizens feel than on more quantifiable measures.

The conventional wisdom says that brightly lit streets reduce crime and traffic collisions. Yet, a 2015 study published by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found little evidence of harmful effects of reduced levels of street lighting on road collisions or crime in England and Wales. Researchers analyzed 14 years of data from 62 local authorities that implemented strategies such as switching lights off permanently, reducing the number of hours that lamps are switched on at night, dimming lights, and replacing traditional orange lamps with energy efficient white light LED lamps. Empirically, permanently switching off lights did not lead to an increase in crime or car crashes.

But it is too simplistic to conclude that better street lighting has no impact on a community. Another study, this one published in Safety Science, found that well-lit streets make pedestrians feel safer. Politicians, the ones who often shape street lighting decisions, get elected by what the electorate feels to be true, not what actually is true. Moreover, advanced control of street lights can reduce energy and save money.

Where DC Gets It Wrong

Washington, DC’s street light outage monitoring plan relies on residents reporting which of the city’s 70,000 street lights are out. At one point, crowdsourcing a problem like this was innovative; the ubiquity of smartphones and other connected devices only recently permitted such engagement. But, as noted in Navigant Research’s Outdoor Lighting Systems report, adding controls and communication networks to street lights enables municipalities to reduce energy consumption and make monitoring and management more efficient.

The City of Oslo, Norway faced the same challenge in 2010 (back when crowdsourcing was still a thing). The city relied on reports from residents to identify street light failures for its 55,000 street lights. Oslo wanted to make repair crews more efficient and also be able to reduce light levels as needed. In response, the city connected its street lighting into a single remotely accessible network that allows monitoring and control of light levels through Internet-based applications. The move reduced energy use by 62% while also reducing lamp downtime.

 

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