Smart Urban Growth Tackles Mobility and Electricity Distribution Concurrently

Cities can get smart taking control of their electrical grid and electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure as a means of addressing urban growth.  Boulder, Colorado is making a run at it but few outside Germany have taken a serious move in this direction for it requires a long-term vision.  Seeking this urban planning route is not always initiated for economical reasons.  Boulder, for instance, is driven to engage as a means of increasing renewable energy sources in their electricity generation fuel mix.  Here’s the catch, this approach may not a scalable or sustainable solution for all cities  Mega cities; no way anytime soon.  Rural environments; not likely ever needed.  So, Boulder just happens to sit in the Goldilocks Zone but even with it being “just right” the increasing digitalization of the electric grid and new sources of distributed energy will make this endeavor a tenuous pursuit.

Years ago I was involved in dozens of negotiations with municipalities throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico.  Many desired to “take control” of and then offer, as a public service, wireless Internet services for their citizens.  The complexities in equipment management and selection, maintenance, and budgeting were often solely regarded in the context of whether to make the WiFi a free or a for a fee amenity to subscribers.  Thing is, that’s not where the root challenge existed.  Even a little bit of education in these matters achieved a stakeholder stalemate for trying to figure out how to convert a privatized service into a public good without causing bias to an ongoing free market was no simple matter.  The concept of a public-private partnership was alien.

Dealing with increasing urbanization today requires a systemic stakeholder analysis and just the right sitting of pilot efforts in advance of any at-scale execution plans.  To date few cities have taken this approach but Toronto, Canada is on the way.

“...We are designing a district in Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront to tackle the challenges of urban growth…Sidewalk Toronto will combine forward-thinking urban design and new digital technology to create people-centered neighborhoods that achieve precedent-setting levels of sustainability, affordability, mobility, and economic opportunities” – Sidewalk Labs

To do as Sidewalk Labs proposes there must be an integration of technologies, policies, and financial mechanisms that allow for private and public implementation plans to surface, ones in service of many stakeholders.

  • SAMPLE TECHNOLOGIES AT PLAY
  • IMPLEMENTATION APPROACHES
    • Analyze long-tailpipe electricity generation fuel mixes
    • Promote EVs and pilots ONLY in cities that have clean fuel sources
    • Establish population growth and transport demand metrics
    • Conduct customer interviews to fit future needs
    • Create intelligent city policies to cater to DER and EV microgrids
    • Engage private-sector electric mobility companies
    • Educate citizens on mobility and clean energy options
    • Build neighborhood based pilots
    • Engage citizens via engagement workshops for updates
    • Prepared to pivot for at-scale execution
  • STAKEHOLDERS TO ENGAGE
    • City Planners & Urban Designers
    • Public Entities and Administrators
    • Private Technology Providers
    • EV Manufacturers & Infrastructure Providers
    • Load Balancing Software Solution Providers
    • Private and/or Public Electric Utilities
    • Citizens

 

JMB2408 COMMENT TO ANOTHER BLOG POST (Leaf Plates):

This is an excellent solution to consumption and in turn waste. If this was a compostable solution that can be put to use in the local houseplant or compost pile then we’re talking about a dream conversion in consumption to waste. The other thing that would be amazing is to see this scale to shipping boxes or other high consumption transport items. Awesome find, thanks for sharing.

Smart Cities Can Weather a Storm

Hurricane Harvey drenched Texas in August, Irma wreaked havoc in the Caribbean and Florida during September, and in October the United States also had major fire storms that burned in Northern California.  As usual, the media fills their audience with scenes of flooded streets, shelters crowded with people, and shows devastation to people, places, and things.  Where is this all going?  “We need to recognize it will be a new normal, a new and different normal for this entire region,” said Texas Governor Greg Abbot, when asked what the future of storms for cities looks like it will be in years to come.

Smart cities and the keys are held not by positions of politics, as they used to be in the past, in the years to come those will be held by those with the ability to advance plan for and swiftly recover.  On a practical level this often has ties to restoring electricity for those who’ve lost it are the citizens of the smart cities.  Without power efforts to return to normal are slow and often fail to deliver.  Electricity loss makes it impossible for those hit by a storm to normalize and in turn their economic occupations are also put at risk so this is an essential element of resiliency planning and ensuring sustainable futures for those residing in cities.

The primary sustainability problem is how to best plan for a disaster.  Often the focus is on recovery only and in the best of circumstances there are resources allocated to solve challenges caused by disasters, figuring how to best shelter people, fix power outages, etc..  These are reactive in nature and for some time now the trend has been to be proactive.  This is what a smart cities needs to do and in regards to electricity this means establishing grid resiliency is the place to start.  Creating infrastructure and deploying technology solutions in advance of pending storms or disasters assures optimal functioning of critical infrastructure and enables the city to recover quickly.

TECHNOLOGY ELEMENTS IN GRID RESILIENCY MASTER PLANS:

  • Self-Healing Grids
    • Identifies failing sections of the electric network, isolates, and reroutes power
  • Sensors and “Smart Switches”
    • Monitors the grid system and redirects power where needs are optimal
  • Microgrids
    • Smaller power systems that integrate with the grid or work independently

Technologies such as these involve many stakeholders – municipal planners, electricity utilities, technology providers, manufacturers of smart grid equipment, and of course the consumers or users of the electricity (just to name a few).  Large “top down” and master planned systems and their distribution approach the challenges in a way that causes different players to be involved coming from one direction while microgrids work from the opposite direction – consumers to utility as opposed to utility to consumers.  This is a fundamental issue in advance that a smart city needs to accommodate for and that stakeholder process and engagement in itself demonstrates the core value of the smart city.  The technology and the outcomes are secondary, albeit critical.

In establishing a smart city that is prepared to weather a storm in a sustainable way the first thing that needs to be done is develop a feasibility plan, especially when opting to incorporate microgrid technologies.  The next most important thing to do is establish areas of highest priority for power need (hospitals, fire departments, shelters, etc).  This is not simple nor trivial in importance.  For example, when Hurricane Sandy impacted New York City one community that was lucky and to not become devastated was the Hunts Point Market area, in the Bronx.  This area is home to one of the largest food distribution centers in the world and yet there is no microgrid and integrated planning in place to ensure it remains without fault.

In fact, to further this concern, Hunts Point is the gateway to nearly 60% of New York City’s food.  Had electricity been cut off, tons of food would have spoiled, distribution would have been crippled, and millions could have gone hungry.  Establishing feasibility is critical and defining, agreeing, and engaging in priorities with public involvement and the stakeholders is needed well in advance.  Also, even if a smart city can decide on priorities for power requirements it doesn’t mean it can address the issues of financing.  Public-private operations in themselves are significantly complex to negotiate and there is a massive difference in solutions solely run through the utility or a private enterprise endeavor.  In fact, more critical to this is the policy and regulation matters that drive these concerns for even those vary greatly throughout the United States and the pricing models established for ratepayers are far from uniform.  Everywhere it makes sense for a city to ponder these matters and aspire to smart but when considering the use of modern technologies to weather the storms that assuredly to come it means there is no better time than the present to get plans in order.

 

JMB2408 COMMENT TO ANOTHER BLOG POST (Instantly Rechargeable Batteries…a Game-changer for Electric Vehicles!):

You’ve hit most of the big bit bullet points in terms of the inhibitors that stop people from getting into an electric vehicle and buying. There is no doubt the charging infrastructure is an issue and has been used as an excuse for a long time now. If this technology can deliver, then it would be a game changer BUT it won’t address the other big problem – range anxiety – unless it really is nearly as fast as a fill up.

A lot of the “smart city” solutions are hitting the VW settlement funds to roll out chargers (think EVgo – https://www.evgo.com) and that can only work for so long. It’s exciting to see a push for technologies like this but it points to the bigger problem, who pays? If a gas station business model then this works fine as it’s just another pump, but if it’s a whole new set of infrastructure this is an issue that no city is prepared to manage well, especially one as large as New York City.

Thanks for sharing, cool work here!