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Smart Cities are Advancing with IIoT

Aug. 30, 2023
While technology plays an ever-increasing role in supporting the objectives of local governments, better cooperation with regulators and utilities could help accelerate the delivery of smart city services to the general population.
City governments work to improve the quality of life for their residents by leveraging smart city capabilities. For smart city applications, connectivity is key, and there are a number of new technologies available to support the growing number of applications designed to improve the life of the community. However, while city managers deal with population growth and demographic changes, they must also work to address various priorities. In addition, they face a number of challenges – from infrastructure requirements to high operating costs.

While technology plays an ever-increasing role in supporting the objectives of local governments, better cooperation with regulators and utilities could help accelerate the delivery of smart city services to the general population.

Priorities for those uplifting and fostering smart cities

The first step in implementing smart city services is to match these services with the city’s priorities. While priorities vary from city to city, priorities for most city governments typically include public safety, improving citizens’ convenience in transportation, public health, information exchange, and energy resilience.

Technology will play a vital role in improving the health and safety of citizens. Which technology investments a city prioritizes will depend on the needs of any individual city.

Let’s take traffic considerations, for example. Cities like Atlanta and Austin are experiencing a major influx of people. In fact, Austin experienced the 6th largest population increase in the United States between 2021 and 2022. As similar areas continue to grow and adjust to accommodate a higher population, traffic control needs to be better prioritized to support traffic flows to minimize congestion, pollution, and time lost.

Another priority for city managers and city governments should be to ensure reliable energy, especially with the increased variations in weather across the country. Rooftop and community solar, district heating and cooling, and the electrification of vehicles will require more visibility into electric grid operations to ensure optimal use of energy resources and minimize the risk of brown- or blackouts.

While city administrators address these priorities and work to provide better services for their citizens, there are a number of challenges to fully realizing the benefits of smart city services.

Challenges facing smart cities today

There are a few key challenges facing today’s cities: high cost of new infrastructure and regulatory considerations. These challenges impede smart city growth and innovation.

To keep up with the rapid growth of smart cities, government administrators should recognize that serious investments in technology and infrastructure will be needed to transition to smart cities.

Budgetary constraints and competing priorities may make it difficult to implement smart city changes quickly and keep pace with urban growth. Technological innovation often outpaces city budgets and then this technology, when deployed, may not be leveraged to the fullest extent possible.

Of all industries, electric, gas and water utilities are uniquely positioned to support smart city services, given their existing communications infrastructure. The use of utility infrastructure could both accelerate the introduction of smart city services and significantly reduce the cost of deployment. In some cases however, existing public utility regulations may actually present a major roadblock. Due to regulatory constraints and concerns about utility returns on investment (and the associated prices of electricity distribution), cities may be forced to spend large sums building out their own infrastructure, rather than leveraging the existing infrastructure of public utilities, driving up costs and delaying the pace of innovation.

The regulatory structures of public utilities may also act as barriers to modernizing cities. For example, when a public utility builds out its infrastructure, it needs a certain rate approval from Public Utility Commissions and other regulatory bodies. These regulatory bodies generally focus on the businesses of public utilities, and their primary concern is the impact on the electric consumer. Determining how smart city services provided by a public utility should impact the rate base is a complicated task, and one that makes infrastructure improvements even more challenging.

Utilities, regulators and governments need to align on how to best provide smart city services. Smart cities cannot grow and develop if city governments cannot afford to invest in the technology and infrastructure needed to improve their citizens’ quality of life.

Digging into the technology

Considering the needs of each city will determine the appropriate technology needed for an optimal smart city – from IoT sensors, Public or Private LTE to broadband mesh.

There’s rapid innovation occurring with the IoT space. IoT sensors can be used in a wide range of smart city applications and the technology can transform urban living. For example, sensors in trash cans can be used to monitor the weight of garbage bins so trucks are only deployed to relieve garbage bins where and when they’re needed, reducing air pollution, traffic congestion, and waste management costs. IoT sensors can also be used to monitor for air quality and noise pollution, alerting city managers to changes in environmental conditions before humans could and alert the necessary parties of a potential problem before it becomes a serious issue.

In terms of other necessary city improvements – like reducing traffic congestion – broadband mesh can enable video monitoring of passing cars for improved traffic control and public safety.

5G technology may enable faster communication across devices for smart cities, enabling all-around improvements in communication and safety. Specifically, 5G can assist in ensuring energy efficiency and resiliency by improving communication between systems, notifying network operators of failing systems to prevent potential outages. Implementation is especially effective in most urban areas that can support 5G infrastructure.

One downside to 5G, however, is its newness. Infrastructure outside of large urban areas or more rural areas may not yet have the same capabilities to support these use cases. As time passes and adoption of 5G becomes commonplace, this will change. By that time, standardization bodies will change their focus on the next generation of communication. It is important for governments and utilities to control the lifecycle of the services provided, and of the communication infrastructure that supports them.

While there are still many challenges facing city planners, technology has the ability to enable all-around improvements to city life and to make more convenient, efficient smart cities a real possibility.

Preparing for impact

By incorporating new technologies to improve public safety, convenience and health, and prioritize information-sharing and energy resilience, cities are advancing to meet the evolving needs of their growing populations. The success of smart cities will depend largely on the ability of utilities, regulators and local governments to collaborate to improve city infrastructure and implement new technology for improved quality of life.

Michael Dulaney is Global Head of Sales, Wireless at Hitachi Energy. Dulaney brings more than 25 years of utility experience ranging from corporate development to power generation to IOT. Since 2010, Dulaney has spoken with utilities about business transformations and governments on the importance of expectation management and standardization. Dulaney currently leads Hitachi Energy’s efforts to grow its wireless communications business, with a focus on the utility, Oil & Gas, Mining and Transportation industrial verticals. Dulaney also has extensive experience in power utility M&A and project development, participating in over $10 billion in M&A and $4 billion in development activities.

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