How do you build a smart city? Start with energy, tech, water

This is the first in Sue Lebeck's four-part series "Previewing the possible for smart cities."

Standards, prestandards and potential future standards relevant to the smart cities of the future are emerging — through new paradigms, city-centric networks, alliances and consortia and certification bodies. The best practices and more that arise from these efforts will provide or inform the standardization which will lead us to our 21st century new normal for cities.

This brief compilation of emerging standards reveals the breadth of smart city subject, the value of collaboration, the opportunities for innovation and the potential for 21st century transformation. Starting with the ICT enablers that drive smart cities, this multi-part sampling will touch also upon energy, water, transportation, the built environment, carbon and climate, resilience, community, materials and food, finance and economic development, city business and measurement indicators.

ICT enablers

ICT is at the core of the Smart City. The Smart Cities Council defines a smart city as one which "uses information and communications technology (ICT) to enhance its livability, workability and sustainability" by "collecting, communicating and crunching" data — within and across departments and third parties.

The council's Smart Cities Readiness Guide provides a framework which maps "the relationship between a city's responsibilities and its seven ICT enablers." Says the guide: "If you hope to achieve your smart city goals, different technologies from different vendors must be able to work together. … You want 'open' standards ... which contribute to interoperability, choice and flexibility. … Select suppliers with a public, proven commitment to open standards."

Connecting it all is the Internet Protocol, or IP. Says CJ Boguszewski, global director for Smart City Applications at Silver Spring Networks, "IPv6 to the endpoint [provides an] architecture [which] enables the drag-and-drop Smart City application framework to accommodate [applications ranging from] street lighting, traffic controls, and stray voltage monitoring out of the gate."

Building on the concepts of the technology-driven Internet of Everything and the humanity-driven Internet of the Right Things is the Industrial Internet Consortium, a new open membership group which will "focus on breaking down the barriers of technology silos." The IIC promotes intelligent industrial automation, allowing cities to "significantly reduce waste through sensor-embedded water pipes, buildings, parking meters and more."

Meanwhile, the Open Geospatial Consortium has created a standard way to describe and geo-locate the sensors, actuators and processors in that network. "We are rapidly moving to a CoLo SoMo world. Eventually everything, down to the smallest devices, will be connected and located," explains Jesse Berst, chairman of the Smart Cities Council.

Image courtesy of Smart Cities Reference Guide.Freely available open data is becoming a new normal for government data. While there are no standard formats yet, Open Data practitioners use common conventions and share best practices, such as those described in the Open Data Handbook and the Open Data Project. As cities enter this territory, we must take care to get the data collection and privacy right.

Beyond data and analytics per se, Smart City ICT approaches need to tap into the organic flows that make up a living city. The City Protocol Society (CPS) is bringing this perspective to its work to break "the existing intracity vertical compartments (silos) and intercity isolated solutions … by building the 'Internet of Cities.'" Explains Gary Wachowicz, industry managing director at Microsoft, "[The] philosophy [of] urban metabolism underlies and informs everything the CPS is doing. … With this as the foundation, the CPS is creating — as we speak — a common framework to help cities innovate together to address the challenges of urbanization."

With its own CityNext initiative, Microsoft brings its broad ICT menu to the city table, perhaps helping to shape the ICT city platform architectures of the future.

Meanwhile, Cisco's vision for "fog computing" can drive new architectures on the edges of the massively data-producing Internet of Things. This vision employs "edge analytics," creating a distributed application infrastructure which "allows applications to run as close as possible to the data source and create automated responses that drive value."

Energy

The Wi-SUN Alliance, which "promotes the adoption of open industry standards … to advance wireless Smart Utility Networks" as described by IEEE 802.15.4g, seeks to create the interoperability "crucial to advancing 'seamless connectivity.'" Says Silver Spring Networks' Boguszewski, "as a founding member … we've helped lay the foundation" for these Internet-based utility controls and monitoring strategies.

Microgrid deployments and other proactive energy moves by cities will facilitate innovation and evolve electricity markets. A consortium has formed in the U.S. to develop standards for and promote the growth of microgrids, aptly named the Microgrid Resources Coalition.

Microgrids can be a climate-smart city's close friend. Rocky Mountain Institute consultant Leia Guccione explains, "Combatting climate change necessarily involves a critical shift away from fossil fuels and towards clean energy, efficiency and renewable energy. Such energy resources are inherently distributed and resilient, which makes them naturally compatible with — and their benefits maximized by — microgrids."

Image by mjmonty via Flickr.The CLEAN Coalition is a nonprofit "working to accelerate America's transition away from an outdated energy system built around large, centralized, fossil-fueled power plants and miles of inefficient transmission lines; and toward a modern energy system where smaller-scale, efficient, renewable energy projects deliver affordable and reliable power to communities." The Coalition's Local CLEAN Program Guide (LCPG) includes step-by-step instructions on how to create a CLEAN Program, and the CLEAN Resource Hub provides free tools to help city leaders, utilities and advocates embrace local renewable energy.

Renewable portfolio standards, which "quicken the adoption of renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gases," have been set in 12 U.S. states, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Washington. Indeed, because of the unburnable carbon predicament, cities are among those who see that fossil fuels are the investment of the past, while renewables are the investment of the future.

Meanwhile, widespread use within an urban ecosystem of now-familiar demand-response mechanisms may become a new normal, producing the negawatts that continually bound the need to expand power capacity.

Water

At the energy/water nexus, the Thirsty Energy initiative of the World Bank "aims to help countries begin the process of co-managing their electric and water planning." Kate Zerrenner reports, "This new initiative aims to address the interconnection between energy and water head-on by providing countries with 'assessment tools and management frameworks' to help governments 'coordinate decision-making' when planning for future energy and water infrastructure."

Screenshot by Laura Blackwell for GreenBizAT&T and the Environmental Defense Fund are releasing their best practices and a toolkit that other organizations can use to assess water efficiency performance at their facilities. The Water Management Application (WaterMAPP) includes a Water Scorecard and a Water Efficiency Calculator providing decision-support when considering various change scenarios.

Meanwhile, the U.S. EPA's WaterSense program grants certification labels to products that meet its water conservation standards; such products range from bathroom fixtures to sprinkler systems.

What's next for cities

We have a long way to go before emerging standards graduate to become "business as usual." But standards such as these will lift cities to become a 21st century platform, and the starting place for an exciting next wave of innovation.

Next up: transportation and the built environment.

Boston skyline image by Bill Damon via Flickr.