SECTIONS - Boardroom Report
November 23, 2016

Helping Cities Take a Holistic Approach

By Special Guest
Taynah Reis, Chief Technology Innovation Officer, Tarsier Ltd

Late last year, the Obama administration announced a new $160 million smart cities initiative designed to reduce traffic congestion, fight crime, foster economic growth, manage the effects of climate change, and improve the delivery of city services. Today, hundreds of projects are under way nationwide that are integrating formerly isolated legacy systems with smart technologies and sensing devices to achieve citywide efficiencies.

Although smart city definitions are as varied as their implementation strategies, many municipalities are working to achieve these goals through the upgrade of an antiquated, but extremely ubiquitous technology. In many instances, streetlights are not only in the process of being retrofitted with cost-saving and maintenance-free light emitting diode lighting technologies, but also sensors positioned to gather information ranging from air quality and traffic conditions to weather and parking details. Other IoT implementations are under development that will use street light networks as hubs for delivering instantaneous messaging through digital signage, detecting noise, or increasing security through CCTV camera feeds.

Operating as a Wi-Fi hotspot with an endless supply of power delivered with solar panels or other sustainable technologies, these systems will also supply a limitless amount of opportunities for sensors connected to the network via light poles and implemented to provide real-time analytics and data through the cloud. In essence, each new LED fixture is destined to become a single node within an intelligent control network that reduces energy consumption, while generating revenue via advertising, smart parking, and even by issuing of parking tickets.

However, there are numerous challenges to the implementation of existing smart systems, which are constrained by the budgetary limitations of cities mired in economics. In addition to lacking the upfront capital to transform their municipalities, many city planners and administrators have yet to develop master plans encapsulating the technologies that would substantially enhance the quality of life of citizens. 

Furthermore, the successful implementation of smart city solutions requires the effective coordination of multiple institutions and government agencies on everything from financing and best practices to service delivery processes. Another major challenge for municipalities interested in implementing smart city technologies is that smart city infrastructures are comprised of components that originated from multiple vendors. Therefore, it takes an experienced team to research, test, and integrate these components to maximize the stability of the smart city solution being deployed. 

To overcome these challenges, energy management companies have begun working with communities to bring together the various subsystems, pre-packaged platforms, financing, and end-to-end integration necessary to make smart cities a reality. This includes whole cities that will one day be connected by the internet and Wi-Fi via millions of sensors and efficient eco-friendly transport mechanisms.

Most recently, these efforts involved plans to modernize the lighting grid infrastructure and expand the existing Wi-Fi network of a major Midwestern city. When implemented, this lighting-as-a-service initiative will save millions in annual energy costs, reduce carbon emissions, and yield an expected net profit of more than $15 million through the commercialization of smart pole activities.  

The first phase consists of the upgrade of more than 300,000 streetlights with the latest LED and mobile connectivity technologies. This will also enable city authorities to offer space within their connected lighting poles to network service providers looking to reach local citizens with cost-effective and immediate mobile broadband communications. 

Among the many benefits will be the ability to optimize: 

•           parking, since drivers will be given real-time information on available parking spaces;

•           traffic flow, given that congestion will be reduced through sensors generating real-time traffic routing information based on weather, construction, and traffic-signal timing; and

•           environmental conditions through the constant monitoring of air and ground quality trends.

By 2025, the global smart city marketplace is expected to approach $3.5 trillion, with whole cities realizing an estimated $800 billion in energy savings and revenue-generating opportunities. With a focus on bettering quality of life, smart technologies will even make it easier for emergency responders, firefighters, law enforcement officers, and traffic control workers to respond more effectively to critical situations.

The early stages of this evolution are under way. The City of Dubuque, Iowa, for example, has helped households realize about seven percent in water consumption savings thanks to a smart water system running since 2010. Meanwhile, Seattle, Wash., has initiated a high-performance program to cut energy consumption via the analysis of real-time electrical grid data. And San Francisco is on course to launch the I-80 Smart Corridor project featuring a network of cameras, sensors, and high-tech road signs.

Taynah Reis is chief technology innovation officer at Tarsier Ltd. (

Edited by Ken Briodagh

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