Today, numerous cities across the US and the globe as well, are quickly adopting and leveraging innovative technologies, transitioning into what has been deemed “smart cities.” Harnessing digital technology and intelligent design to create a sustainable city, services like power or public safety are seamless, efficient, and provide for a high quality of life for citizens.
A smart city does this by collecting data from places like street lights, building sensors, and from citizens in their interactions with city services. It would share operational data across city agencies to reduce costs and improve efficiencies, and then it would communicate that data to city analysts to make city services more efficient and responsive to citizens’ needs. The goal is to improve the quality of life for city residents and streamline city operations.
There are already 174 smart cities worldwide, but only 12 within the United States. The global smart cities market size is currently USD 410.8 billion, but it’s expected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 14.8 percent, reaching USD 820.7 billion by 2025. But, creating a smart city involves using a myriad of new technologies, meaning for some cities, the cost of implementation is just too much, even knowing the benefits. However, the solution to this probably may be here soon, as the US attempts to put in place a massive infrastructure bill, some of which would help the creation of more smart cities.
The bill, which passed through the Senate back in August, is one of President Joe Biden’s top domestic priorities and includes $550 billion in new spending, while the rest of the $1 trillion is previously approved funding. And of that one trillion, a $500 million grant program over five years for projects involving connected vehicles, autonomous transportation, and “smart” traffic sensors, among other technologies.
The program, which is being called the Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) grant program, would offer funds to governments for demonstration projects for new technology. The technology could touch a number of topics, ranging from transportation to energy efficiency to connectivity, and grants would be distributed to a range of partners based on geography, size, and effectiveness.
It’s no surprise that the US would look to upgrade its infrastructure, lest there be a repeat of the Texas incident. Back in February, temperatures in Texas dropped into single digits, nearly causing the state’s power grid to collapse. A state known for its abundant energy resources saw widespread failures of natural gas and electricity systems that left more than four million Texans without power for days. However, by implementing a national energy plan. The US can be more prepared to swoop and help when or if something like this were to happen again.
On top of being prepared, upgrading infrastructure and the energy grid with smart technology also simply holds a myriad of benefits for both the efficiency of the systems and for those using the systems themselves.
Firstly, modernizing our electric grid through smart grid enhancements is an integral first step to enabling smart cities. Making renewables like rooftop solar power more realistic is a game-changer for sustainability. By using air, sound, and climate sensors to feed an internet-based platform, a smart city can focus on improvements to public safety, transportation, public health, energy use, and economic growth. For example, dirty energy produced close to cities contributes to unhealthy air quality, but a smart grid enables the integration of renewables and allows the production of clean energy close to where it is needed.
Smart grid enhancements also allow better integration of new technology like electric vehicles, which, in turn, creates a bevy of possibilities down the road for urban areas. Cities are already integrating intelligent transportation management software and roadway sensors that monitor freeway conditions and can re-route public transit when necessary. New transportation apps are being developed for trip-planning, navigation, and smart parking. Future possibilities would include city-wide zero-emissions transportation and electric vehicles that act as power storage in case of emergencies.
Lastly, the smart grid helps consumers access their energy data. Two-way digital technology makes data more accessible to consumers and city services. This enables utilities to offer new pricing programs that can lead to increased energy efficiency. Additionally, a smart grid results in more reliable power through better power outage management. Each of these components serves as a building block for smarter cities.
Overall, the current trend towards urbanization puts pressure on existing city services and systems. More people mean more complications for public safety and health, transportation, energy, and water, among others. Much like electrical grid modernization efforts, decisive action is needed to revitalize our cities and the opportunities they offer, and the ability to make this transformation happen currently sits in limbo, with the US government having all the power.