A Global Perspective: 4 Smart Cities with Lessons for the U.S.

Recently, the White House announced a $160 million ‘Smart Cities’ initiative, “to help local communities tackle key challenges” including novel approaches to integrate distributed power sources, such as rooftop solar panels and storage batteries, with the existing electric power grid and smart building technologies that optimize operational performance, maximize energy savings, and participate in smart communications within buildings, from building to building, and from buildings to the grid. Building off of this announcement, cities, universities, industry leaders and stakeholders are getting excited about the project and will be contributing their own resources.

So, how do we actually make a city smarter?

The definition of a ‘smart city’ is yet to be decided on in any official capacity (sorry, Wikipedia). But, one thing is certain: the number of smart cities is steadily growing—to an estimated 88 by 2025!

At the very least, a smart city starts with smart meters and a smart grid. That is, the city has had digital upgrades to the existing electric infrastructure and has replaced some (or all) of its analog meters.

A smart grid serves as a foundation for other smart projects, like city-wide EV charging stations, LED streetlights, smart traffic lights, energy efficient buildings and many more. With the capabilities of an IoT connected city, readily available data has exciting new uses that benefit citizens, local government and the natural environment of a city alike.

World GridFor some nations, the push for a smart grid comes from a more critical position. Brazil, for example uses hydropower for around 75% of its electricity—a problem since enough water isn’t always available due to changes in seasons or weather conditions such as a drought. Smart grid projects are underway to ensure future grid stability by providing grid operators with new tools to deal with changes in generation and demands.

While many utilities have already implemented smart metering program, the U.S. is just getting started on the development of “smart cities;” Charlotte, NC and Chicago, IL are notable parties. As we smarten up our own cities, we can benefit from the lessons learned from smart city pilots abroad. These international cities will be looked to in order to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

Let’s take a look at some of the programs currently underway around the globe:

Jeju Island Smart Grid Test Bed, South Korea.

This $64.5 billion investment marked a new chapter of green-growth for South Korea. The program focuses on five areas: grid infrastructure, efficient energy use, electric vehicle use, renewables/clean energy and new electricity services. The most exciting part is that U.S. players are in on the deal, giving us a chance to test out these smart upgrades. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory and Chicago University are working on the project—hoping to apply successful tactics in Chicago!

GrowSmarter’s Lighthouse Cities: Barcelona, Cologne and Stockholm
This EU-funded initiative is showcasing 12 ‘smart solutions’ in three designated lighthouse cities. The 12 solutions are very much representative of a holistic approach to sustainable growth, and include everything from green construction to smart street lights and traffic management to big data management. In 2016 GrowSmarter will enter the ‘exchanging information’ stage, opening up its doors so that other cities may benefit from insights.

Solar Cities, Australia
Australia presents an interesting case because of its size (roughly the size of the United States) and climate (mostly sunny and dry). These two factors make Australia a prime candidate for the use of solar power and they’ve put it to great use. Today the continent leads the world in household solar installations. With all that solar power being generated, it’s no surprise that Tesla made it a priority to release its Powerwall battery in Australian markets.

National Smart Grid Mission, India
Like Brazil, India’s drive towards a national smart grid is motivated by the need to solve issues like power theft, state-wide blackouts and a large—and still growing— population of which only 66% have electricity. India’s government has earmarked billions of dollars for smart grid and pilot projects that explore different smart tech areas like distributed automation while additional home energy management are already underway.

As smart cities become more commonplace, the term will come to define itself. Eventually, when you hear “Smart City” in conversation, a specific location will spring to mind…maybe even the city you live in! In these early stages, the U.S. continues to collaborate with other nations and use their projects as lessons learned, bringing the promise of a smarter future closer than ever.

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