We live in a world where “smart” has become an inescapable prefix. The advent of the Internet of Things has showered us with choice new vocabulary, including such creative(!) words as: smartphone, smart tv, smart refrigerator, smart home, smart grid, smart meter…the list goes on. Personally, I’m becoming quite immune to the prefix, but the concept of a smart city is the stuff of dreams.
As cities continue to become increasingly populated and dense centers of life, commerce, and activity, they must adopt new technologies to manage the growing strain on their existing resources and infrastructure. One of the biggest issues to address is the growing strain on energy and its associated carbon emissions. According to The Guardian, “cities are responsible for 80% of global energy consumption” and that “by 2050, nearly 70% of the world’s population will live in cities .”As sensor technology and wireless infrastructure has evolved and become faster and more powerful, companies such as Silver Spring Networks have seized digitization opportunities to help cities.
Life in a Smart City
What exactly is a smart city? It might sound like something from the not-so-distant future, but we are already surrounded by elements of the smart city today. A smart city embraces innovations in technology from a variety of aspects, including:
- Transportation: driverless cars, connected vehicles
- Energy: electricity sensors, LED signage
- Water: waste management, smart water metering
IoT-focused companies generally provide solutions in three main areas: hardware (sensors and devices), software (sits in device or sensor and analyzes data, makes decisions), and infrastructure/connectivity (connects devices with each other and rest of ecosystem).
Silver Spring Networks is one such company that has been leading the charge on smart grid technology and recently extended its solutions into the smart city segment.
The Silver Bullet
Silver Spring Networks began addressing this opportunity by providing “smart grid” solutions that utilized networking technology to connect existing power grids. These solutions allowed utility companies to integrate and communicate with various devices connected to the power grid, using both hardware and software developed by SSN and others .
Since Michael Bell was appointed CEO in 2015, Silver Spring Networks has made a concerted effort to develop broader IoT applications for the smart city (beyond just power). The company built data platform to sit on top of its networking solutions and help customers capture and analyze the data generated by devices connected to the network, ultimately aiding in decision-making. This can get a bit abstract, so here are a few specific examples of how Silver Spring Network’s networking and data platforms together help cities run more efficiently :
- “Smart Metering”
- Utilities can remotely monitor and read meters, connect and disconnect service, and detect power outages without physical inspection of the power grid
- This helps cities respond to power needs and fluctuations much more quickly and efficiently
- Demand-Side Management
- These solutions allow cities and utilities to distribute energy more efficiently and reduce usage at times of peak demand
- For example, charging electric vehicles requires significant power, and concentrated use of EV charging stations can strain the power grid. Demand management solutions help to incentivize car owners to charge during non-peak times
- Street Lights
- Street lighting is often a very significant component of city budgets, both in terms of the electricity required and the cost to repair and maintain fixtures
- Connecting these lights to a smart network can allow cities to adjust lighting levels and times much more precisely (e.g., turn off at specific times, or adjust brightness for passing pedestrians)
Nice Day for a Change
Smart city technology is still in a very early adoption phase around the world. Cities such as Paris, New York, Miami, and Singapore have implemented Silver Spring Network’s current solutions suite, but there are almost innumerable additional avenues for growth . One that I find most interesting is integrating some form of weather forecasting and predictive modeling to better manage power, traffic flows, and public transportation scheduling. Weather, especially in the Northeast, has a significant impact on energy usage, commutes, and daily life. Incorporating more accurate forecasts and using existing sensors to pick-up and understand real-time weather changes could drive step-function changes in the way we move around cities and prepare for storms. For example, lights could automatically shine brighter in storm conditions, traffic lights could re-route flow away from areas prone to floods, and subway trains could increase in frequency when rain starts to pour.
Since its founding in 2002, Silver Spring Networks has bought the Internet of Things to cities around the world – I, for one, am ready to experience the smart city for myself!
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