Our cities are getting smarter. Look around any modern metropolis, and you’ll see hundreds of Smart devices. Devices that provide better convenience, increase our safety, enable connectivity anywhere, reduce our traffic jams, improve our economy – all with a view to improving the quality of life for all.
But with this tech revolution comes a need to change how our cities are powered – to get rid of all that cable and wiring that brings with it costly and disruptive construction. These smart devices are digital, and require very little electricity – that old security camera that needed 200W, now runs on your phone, and needs perhaps 1-10% of the power that it used to.
Wiring each IoT device to the power grid is the most expensive part of our electricity grid – particularly when you have hundreds or thousands of them in a city. And it’s the reason why so many people are wondering why their energy bill keeps going up, even as the benefits of new renewable energy should be reducing those costs.
As these three Smart Cities show, greater connectivity is changing the way we power our cities in North America.
- Toronto, Ontario
As in most cities, grid power is costly – Toronto is no exception. Government deficits at all levels are forcing “downloading” of budgets and costs. Pressures in one cost area are forcing power agencies to revisit costs elsewhere and are starting to allocate elsewhere. As an example, one city in Ontario found that they were experiencing a 1,400% increase in their streetlight electrical bill from 2005 to 2019. These cost implications are so great that it is even pushing some power utilities into bankruptcy, as was recently experienced in California.
That is why Toronto has started to switch to solar-powered Smart City street lights instead. For instance, on Bloor Street West, the Business Initiative Association installed solar-powered Smart City poles with LED lighting, Wi-Fi hotspot capabilities, as well as other IoT devices.
As these poles are 100% solar powered, they didn’t need to be connected to the grid, resulting in an estimated savings of $1.4 million CAD in cable trenching and one-time grid connection costs. And the Smart aspect – remote monitoring and management of the systems – means that the BIA makes sure they stay on even during a polar vortex!
In another part of the city,
Under the proposed plans, Quayside, in an undeveloped area of the Toronto waterfront would integrate smart technology throughout its infrastructure. Sensors would measure factors like traffic usage, air quality, noise and building occupancy. Energy efficiency technologies would significantly decrease the burden placed on the grid. And off-grid solutions are a logical and natural part of such an eco-system.
By collecting all of this data, performance improves over time. For instance, when the next polar vortex does hit, weather sensors would tell the pavement to heat up to melt the snow. It sounds like something straight out of a sci-fi movie from the ‘80s!
The ability to build a Smart City from the ground up means that Sidewalk Labs will be able to incorporate solar and wind power into the design. The company aims to move towards reducing neighborhood emissions by 75 – 80% through solar power generation and energy monitoring systems, among other factors.
- San Diego, California
California is ahead of the curve in adopting electric vehicles. But as we head toward a point where we are plugging our cars in, instead of filling them with gas, that creates a problem for power supply.
San Diego’s “Solar-to-EV” project at the San Diego Zoo uses solar power to directly charge plug-in electric vehicles, and sends any excess energy stored into the city’s grid. Incorporated are 5 charging points and 10 solar canopies, which store enough energy to power 59 homes.
The city has also installed 3,000 LED street lights with adaptive controls, and will deploy 3,200 smart sensors to track air quality and traffic to create the biggest IoT platform in the world.
- Highland Park, Michigan
Unless you live in Michigan, you probably haven’t heard of Highland Park. Surrounded by Detroit, the declining population of 10,000 was switched onto Detroit’s water and sewage system, increasing bills by over $1,000. Many citizens were not able to afford these additional charges, and when the payments weren’t made, the city took the hit. 1,000 streets lights were removed to help citizens pay the electric bill, leaving the city in the dark.
The solution was for Highland Park to replace all streetlights with community-owned, off-grid, solar powered lights. All solar-powered street lights are now lit with an LED lamp, using 40 – 50% less energy than the grid lights had previously used. With no operating costs, the battery packs charge even on cloudy days, saving money, being more reliable, and lighting up the Highland Park community.
The global market for IoT is expected to grow by over 21% CAGR between 2017 – 2026. And as our cities get smarter, local governments across North America are turning to off-grid, nano and micro-grid power as a cheap, reliable way to fuel the IoT revolution.
The story of the Smart City is also a story about innovations in the ways we build out our power infrastructure. Recent developments in the power industry – from small solar cells to lithium-ion batteries – are paving the way for the smart city revolution, creating a whole new smart power industry.