Smarter for All

Deck: 

Where We Are, Where We Need to Go

Fortnightly Magazine - February 11 2019

Everyone wants to be smart. That goes for communities, cities and states now too. That's why Public Utilities Fortnightly is publishing this special issue. To take our readers inside the latest goings-on in this fascinating and flourishing topic.

Yes, the smartening of communities, cities, and states is trending. Inside these pages you will find the latest and greatest information on this topic. Plus, you will get a taste of what is coming.

According to Sue Gander, with the National Governors Association, the smart state movement gained momentum in Illinois. Gander defines a smart state as:

A state that integrates information and communication technologies and other aspects about agencies, infrastructure and industries to improve the economic viability of residents and businesses.

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That's serious business. But it doesn't mean you can't have fun with it. As you read through the interviews, you'll feel the palpable excitement emanating from Duane Schell, North Dakota's chief technology officer, when he talks about drones at Grand Sky Park, sensors for autonomous vehicles, and proudly proclaims, we would love to be the Jetsons! And why not?

Then there's Paula Gold-Williams, CEO of CPS Energy. In her interview, she says she wants San Antonio to be a city of the future. To be a leader in making the technology revolution work for citizens. She adds that the smart cities ethos is that technology should make our lives better, easier and more productive, especially when it comes to city services.

According to Clint Vince, chair, Dentons' US Energy Practice:

A smart city modernizes the digital, physical, and social infrastructure of a city in an integrated way on behalf of all of its citizens and harnesses sustainable technology in a way that is equitable.

These are striking take-aways. All these great minds working to smarten communities, cities, and states are doing so to benefit all the people. They want to make all our lives better. No one left behind. To coin a phrase, as NGA did, Smarter for All. It's a noble cause to get to work building smarter everything for all of us.

But it won't be easy getting there. Itai Dadon, Itron's global head of smart city product development, and Dan Pfeiffer, Itron's vice president of government affairs, provide an in-depth look at what it will take to create the smart communities of the future. They provide a refreshingly candid take on the obstacles that need to be overcome for the predicted seventy percent of the world's population living in cities by 2050.

A consensus is that the digital divide must be conquered. Equitable access to broadband delivery of information is the baseline requirement, according to Virginia's deputy secretary of commerce and trade for technology, Robby Demeria, if we want to move forward with smart communities.

But when we bridge that divide, the real-world applications are mind-boggling. Kim Zentz, CEO, Urbanova, a collaborative among Avista, Itron, Spokane, and Washington State University, talks about using air quality sensors to measure air quality from person-to-person or from address-to-address. When someone has a chronic disease affecting breathing, it's vitally important for that person to know what they're breathing at any given time, Zentz points out.

Robert Wilhite, managing director, Navigant, notes that in addition to energy, water is often a big component of smart community programs, both in terms of clean water supply and the safe distribution of water. But also in terms of the treatment of waste water, an important factor.

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Information, check. Air, check. Water, check. These are the big-ticket items being grappled with by the great minds aiming at smartening communities, cities and states. Which leads me to the better question than why smarten communities, perhaps, is why not?

So, for those of you just arriving on the smart community scene, not to worry. The American Public Power Association is in these pages to guide you with a checklist for aspiring smart city utilities. Nothing wrong with learning from what already has been tested.

ComEd's Phil Nevels has the amazing title of director, utility of the future. In his interview, Nevels advises that how you build a smart city, and how you build a utility of the future, in both cases, is by starting with customer needs. Nevels says you've got to begin with a vision for what you think the customer needs of the future are. Through that you can identify the key priority use cases.

That is one lesson learned. Smart communities begin and end with the customer. You're going to enjoy this special issue of PUF because it's chock full of where we are and where we need to go to smarten communities. There is so much more to do in building them. But the common thread in these pages is making the lives of all of us smarter and better.