How Data Will Fuel Smart Cities
Smart cities use connected sensors, high-speed communication networks and real-time data to improve things like energy and water usage, traffic flow, security, and air quality. This article by Forbes reflects how two ongoing projects based entirely on the concept are likely to make communities more efficient in the near future.
Hudson Yards in New York and Sidewalk Labs’ project in Toronto are test cases that will radically change the way our cities work through the use of data and the Internet of Things.
As I discussed in a previous post, the Internet of Things has evolved to encompass a range of devices, from the smallest household appliance to self-driving cars. On a larger scale, smart city developments compound the benefits of IoT by collecting and analyzing data on usage patterns to create a reciprocal relationship between residents and their communities.
These projects are not only helping to implement existing technology in more sustainable ways but, by collecting and analyzing data on daily usage patterns, will also help us to optimize future sustainable energy solutions.
A Microcity in New York
Hudson Yards in New York has played a significant role in helping the public understand the potential that IoT plays in developing a more efficient community.
The project features a microgrid that consolidates the power and heat demands of the project and “connects the buildings in a thermal loop.” While powered by two cogeneration plants, rather than sustainable wind or solar power, the small plant that powers Hudson Yards is twice as efficient due to its repurposing of the hot water used in the generation of electricity for heating purposes. The immediacy of the utility plant also reduces the losses associated with transmission. All told, the project is estimated to save 24,000 MT of greenhouse gasses from entering the atmosphere each year.
In order to reduce costs, the microgrid is connected to the City’s larger grid and contributes excess power. In the event of a power outage, the likes of which have roiled New York City every few years, Hudson Yards’ microgrid can be isolated to maintain power for the buildings within the project’s perimeter.
Moreover, the project constantly collects data on the usage patterns of inhabitants in order to model future energy needs and optimize existing processes. Not only can a better understanding of system-wide energy usage help future adoption of renewable energy by helping to predict needs, but it can also help to optimize conditions in commercial workspaces to lower power usage over time.
Data as a Resource
Sidewalk Labs’ Quayside project in Toronto offers similar lessons for how smart technology is changing residents’ relationships with their communities. Quayside, a former industrial area, is being developed as a mixed-use area that aims to cut carbon emissions by 89 percent from today’s average use.
In order to do so, the project is not only leveraging a smart grid similar to that of Hudson Yards’ to either leverage stored battery power during peak times (which would otherwise require nonrenewable resources to keep up), or defer nonessential energy use until off-peak hours, when renewable sources are again available. These digital management tools leverage usage data in order to reduce energy waste and better adapt power usage to the resources available.
The Quayside project also offers an example for project planners on how to manage the data generated by such large-scale projects. While much of the discussion around data privacy and ownership has centered on individuals, where clear lines of ownership can be drawn, the collective nature of smart cities offers a new set of problems when it comes to data ownership and protections.
Google sister company Sidewalk Labs and government agency Waterfront Toronto, which jointly manage the venture, have agreed to treat the data generated by the project as a public asset, which means that it will not only be accessible to researchers, but managed according to the standards set by the Canadian government.
The benefits of such an agreement are far-reaching. In addition to ensuring that consumers’ and residents’ data is not controlled by a single entity, this also means that the usage patterns observed at Quayside may be extrapolated by independent researchers to develop future networks of smart, sustainable technology.
Cities of the Future
The “smart city” is not a new concept. However, these two projects show that we are now on the cusp of data and connectivity making the smart city a reality in North America.
This will be driven by a confluence of technological advancements: the roll-out of 5G fueling greater connectivity for IoT devices, improvements in artificial intelligence and quantum computing making it possible to analyze vast tranches of data, and lower production costs for renewable energy making power cheaper than ever.
At the same time, self-driving cars, drones, and a general increase in monitoring devices such as security cameras and environmental sensors will drive demand. In the hockey-stick analogy, we’re reaching the growth inflection point when smart cities will finally take off.