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That Smarts! Cities across the United States are joining the "smart city" revolution but w

Smart phones, smart TVs, smart homes, smart watches, smart thermostats... you name it, it’s probably been ‘smart-ified’. With the advent of sensory and wireless technologies, we’ve seen huge market penetration of “smart” alternatives for life’s everyday items. Some of these transformations have become so familiar that we can’t imagine a life without them – for instance, when was the last time you unfolded a paper map? How about the last time you used that map that's in your pocket, aka your phone? Smart technologies aim to bring convenience – to make our lives easier- and this is increasingly evident on a personal level. What may be less obvious but have just as significant an impact on our lives, however, is the influence of the ‘smart’ revolution on a community scale, a development many are labeling as: ‘Smart Cities’.

Around the country, cities are joining the ‘smart’ revolution, but unlike the rapid transformation of the smart phone, which began with the introduction of the first iPhone only ten years ago, the transition is occurring at a more gradual pace. This, of course, is due to the complexity associated with this scale of change, the considerable capital requirements, and the tendency of the public sector to be risk adverse. However, as our nation’s cities continue to grow, more and more people are beginning to benefit from these technological advancements.

What does it mean to be a Smart City? A smart city uses information and communication technology –linked through the internet- to increase operational efficiencies, collect and share information with the public, facilitate the delivery of public services, and improve overall quality of life. The strategies implemented by smart cities generally apply to six main areas: water, energy, mobility, buildings, public safety, and public engagement.

Why become a Smart City? The world’s population is becoming rapidly more urbanized. Through smart technologies, cities can better position themselves to accommodate this growth, maintain high levels of service, and quickly respond to increasingly dynamic and rapidly changing circumstances.

What is the role of water and electric utilities in the Smart City revolution? The provision of water and energy are critical for any city yet water and electric utilities face many significant challenges. Whether it's aging infrastructure or the stresses of population growth, internet-enabled tools can help to overcome many of these challenges and ensure the most efficient delivery and use of these vital public services.

Here’s a look at how some cities and their utilities across the nation have responded to this call to action:

  • Energy: Atlanta has launched a pilot to test “intelligent lighting solutions” throughout the city. With a new IoT sensor platform and 1,000 wirelessly controlled LED lights, the city seeks to not only save energy but make improvements in mobility, public safety, and the environment.

  • Water: Through the creation of district metered areas within its water distribution system and the addition of sensors and meters to monitor pressure and flow, Knoxville has improved customer service and significantly reduced non-revenue water.

  • Energy: Following “smart city initiatives”, Charlotte has implemented layers of smart technology – such as remote nodes, sensors and mobile payment apps. The city has used technology to save time and resources, totaling $26 million in energy savings to date: the equivalent of 11,000 cars on the road.

  • Water: By using a smart water network, the local water utility in Fountain Valley was able to get citizens interested in conservation and exceed its 20% water reduction goal.

  • Energy: The Urban Smart Bellevue program, led by Puget Sound Energy, uses a multi-pronged approach to promote energy efficiency in commercial buildings. Using an Energy Management Information System (EMIS), Strategic Energy Management (SEM), and community-based social marketing (CBSM), PSE is combining energy tracking software and engagement tools to transform energy use behaviors.

  • Water: With sensors and cloud computing, Chicago is tackling stormwater. Launched by City Digital -a smart city incubator at the University of Illinois-the Smart Green Infrastructure Monitoring (SGIM) project aims to reduce urban flooding and prevent millions of dollars in subsequent property damage.

  • Energy: San Francisco’s Solar Energy Map provides residents with a tool for measuring solar and wind energy potential across the city. The resource also provides cost estimates on the installation of renewable energy systems and education on how to install these systems.

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