Smart City Tech Is Evolving to Include Sustainability Features

New opportunities continue to arise around the development of smart cities as local, state and federal governments advance electrification and decarbonization efforts. Many of these programs require cities to collect new types of data, creating the need for more sensors, better software and new technologies. 

Cities, school districts and other public-sector organizations are prioritizing sustainability and climate policies, turning to smart city tech to help them achieve their goals.

“From our experience, many cities are making some progress on sustainability and decarbonization planning, but we’re still in early stages of the process,” said Doug Davenport, founder and executive director of clean tech nonprofit Prospect Silicon Valley. “The opportunity to leverage smart city technology will come as projects are developed, so it’s a critical time for cities to be aware of the advantages and risks of new technology solutions in their project horizon.”

Fremont, Calif., recently partnered with the nonprofit to help it find a fast-charging solution to quickly recharge electric police cruisers. In 2019, the city was the first in the country to demonstrate that an EV can perform as a police vehicle through a partnership with Tesla.

“That puts a very intense level of demand on our electrical systems,” said Hans Larsen, public works director for Fremont, a city in the California Bay Area, during a panel at the Smart Cities Connect Conference and Expo in November.

Other cities like San Jose, Calif., are moving forward with the development of microgrids and battery storage for some of the city’s 130 most critical buildings.

“We’ve had a vision for decarbonization for a some time,” said Carol Boland Whattham, program manager for sustainability and microgrids in San Jose, during a panel at the conference. Whattham went on to note the city adopted its Climate Smart San Jose plan in 2018, and aims to be a fully decarbonized city within six years.

“We’re trying to really think of resiliency in terms of not only backing up buildings for the big earthquake, but backing up buildings for 2030 and beyond when we want to decarbonize,” said Whattham.

Prospect Silicon Valley has been working with the Twin Rivers Unified School District (TRUSD) in the Sacramento region in California to implement an emissions reduction strategy. The project, which is grant-funded by the California Air Resources Board, will include the purchase and installation of zero-emission vehicles and equipment, charging infrastructure, solar-power generation, vehicle-sharing programs, and extensive community engagement and workforce development, said Davenport. TRUSD is already one of the largest operators of electrified school buses in the country.

“In addition to helping the district expand their fleet and build out a functional zero-emission transportation system, this effort will provide key examples and resources for other school districts to develop fleet electrification strategies,” said Davenport in an email.

To support these transitions, cities and related organizations are turning to smart technologies, opening up new opportunities for urban tech beyond smart streetlights, environmental sensors or intelligent transportation systems.

“There has been a notable shift in smart technologies and applications towards the energy sector, driven by cities’ decarbonization and resiliency goals,” said Davenport, offering “smart charging” as an example. The technology helps fleet managers optimize charging around factors like cost and operations.

“Expanding renewable energy and microgrids provide opportunities to support community resiliency services in protecting critical facilities — such as a school or community center — when grid energy is threatened,” he added.

The classic “smart city data” collection approach becomes a critical aspect for determining localized impacts related to issues like fire risk, sea level rise and other threats, as well as ensures smart technologies are serving the affected parts of the community, said Davenport.

“That’s where smart cities can go,” said Davenport, speaking at the Smart Cities Connect conference. “It’s not just the data that you can start to derive from those gadgets you want to put on streetlights. It’s about how those gadgets now serve a purpose, because the infrastructure can react to it.”


This article is written by Skip Descant from Government Technology and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the DiveMarketplace by Industry Dive. Please direct all licensing questions to