Pittsburgh, san diego city officials put utilities as major players in smart-city partnerships – daily energy insider gas up shawty

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Electric companies, together with city officials, technology companies and a host of others, are major players in partnerships that are accelerating the growth of America’s smart cities. And the energy grid plays a critical role in helping cities reach their smart-city goals, panelists said June 13 during the “Taking Smart Cities to the Next Level” panel discussion, held at the Edison Electric Institute’s (EEI) annual convention in Boston.

San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) is a member of Smart City San Diego, a multi-year collaboration across public, private and academic organizations working to improve the city’s economic development, ramp up energy independence, encourage consumers to use electric vehicles (EVs) and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“In San Diego, we were broke 10 years ago and we needed to find efficiencies,” Graham explained, adding that when they needed a better platform across the city to drive changes and create better outcomes for the public, it made sense to partner with SDG&E.”

A smart city essentially becomes a mega data collector starting at the smart meter. Then a variety of advanced technologies and analytics connected to the grid enable sensors to gather and analyze even more data. Sensors can be attached to anything — like street lights, buildings, etc. — by other partners that seek to collect and analyze data on a multitude of things.

In San Diego, for instance, General Electric next month begins installing cameras, microphones and sensors embedded with its sensing nodes technology on 3,200 city street lights. The smart nodes can detect where a gunshot occurred, for instance, or estimate crowd sizes, report on air quality and monitor both foot and vehicle traffic, among other information. The city plans to pass on the data to universities and entrepreneurs, who will develop new applications designed to help officials better manage city operations.

GE’s system is part of its $30 million LED lighting upgrade to 14,000 of San Diego’s roughly 60,000 street lights, a cost savings of $2.4 million annually. Graham said that in addition to supporting new smart city apps, San Diego hopes GE’s new street lighting network and grid modernization upgrades will create an innovation platform for other apps, opportunities and/or sustainability ventures.

For instance, data might inform city officials’ decisions about everything from removing trash in a neighborhood to providing more safety or building new sidewalks in another. That’s why the electric utility is vital to the smart-city partnership: it owns widely deployed assets all over a city, which ultimately can’t get smarter without installing the sensors to gather the data to be analyzed for decision-making, panelists said.

“It’s not just about the technology. A smart city is about how you leverage it to improve people’s day-to-day lives,” said Ervin, who in his city government advisory position reports directly to the mayor and guides development of the city’s resilience strategy, which was released in March.

To tackle its aged-out energy infrastructure problems, Pittsburgh city officials formed a broad collaboration that included Duquesne Light Company (DLC), NRG Energy and Siemens, as well as Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne University, to work with local businesses and nonprofits on a plan for the future.

The resulting smart-city initiative aims to move Pittsburgh toward having a series of district-scale microgrids — or grid of microgrids — that interconnect energy generation, transportation and communications, enabling the provision of high-tech infrastructure for universities, hospitals, data centers, communities and a city-owned EV fleet.

Rich Riazzi, president and CEO of DLC, which serves about 600,000 customers in southwestern Pennsylvania, said during the panel that the company decided it couldn’t “paint itself into a box” regarding how it thought about what it could offer customers.

Pittsburgh’s new cleaner, greener, more resilient energy plan also includes an eco-friendly component, Ervin said. Plans are being developed to build the Uptown Eco-Innovation District, where sustainability and environmentally friendly development would become the norm.