The world’s population is expected to reach 8 billion by 2025, and more than half of these individuals are expected to live in cities. Critical infrastructure, such as electric grids and water distribution systems in many cities are over a hundred years old and are in need of modernisation to support our economy and growing population.
Energy and water resources are the foundation of a city’s prosperity and sustainability. To ensure that people have access to these critical resources and new opportunities, managing their future through innovation in technology and resourceful collaboration will be crucial.
In order to help understand how utilities can aid in shaping cities of the future, Itron commissioned a global study of the utility industry. The Itron Resourcefulness Index is a unique study that examines both utility executive and consumer attitudes about energy and water management in a survey of more than 1,400 respondents in 14 countries in nearly every region of the world. The resulting report provides key insights about the utility industry including the need for more collaboration, technology and innovation to drive transformation in the way we manage energy and water resources.
One of the key findings of the Resourcefulness Index is that 94 percent of utility executives and 86 percent of consumers say the utility industry is in need of transformation. Additionally, 60 percent of utility executives and 70 percent of consumers think the industry is not currently running efficiently. The good news is that technology can help propel the industry forward. Technology innovation drives greater opportunities and will fuel smart cities of the future. To do this, cities need a strong technology foundation on which to build new applications. Utility investments in smart meters and smart grids help cities become more effective in delivering services to citizens, as they provide the mechanism for two-way communications and a source of real-time data for reducing energy and water waste. Linking a foundation of smart meters and smart grids with data analysis drives toward the real value of creating efficiency and conserving resources. If done correctly, moving from smart grids to smart cities will create new opportunities for a more resourceful world.
City leaders can use information captured from smart devices to pump water at off peak times, reduce waste and create awareness to drive down city costs. The underlying smart grid communications infrastructure can also be used for transportation and other services. For example, sensors using smart grid infrastructure can be embedded in parking meters and parking garages, sending information about space availability to smartphones. These sensors can also alert drivers to traffic jams and alternate routes and integrate with street lights, enabling the lights to be switched on and off when needed.
Consumers want additional information. According to the Resourcefulness Index, 80 percent say they currently do not receive an adequate amount of information from their utility companies. The good news is that the technology to provide this information exists today. We have the ability to give people the information they need in in real time to make informed decisions about optimising resources and how they coexist in our cities. Cities need to adopt the technology.
Technology alone is not the answer. The best work gets done when people collaborate. This is particularly true as we collectively try to address energy, water, urbanisation and transportation challenges. These challenges can’t be met with single-focused solutions. We need greater collaboration between all stakeholders to bring the best ideas forward to create a more resourceful world.
There’s a great example of innovative collaboration in Charlotte, N.C. Envision Charlotte is a unique public-private initiative that leverages sustainability for economic growth as a model for all communities. Envision Charlotte is developing programs to conserve energy and water resources and reduce operating costs. The goal is for Charlotte to have the most sustainable urban core, providing information to foster behavioral change, making it easier to make smarter, sustainable choices. Collaboration is at the center of Envision Charlotte’s success. Technology companies, local businesses, utilities, city leaders and NGOs are coming together to create a sustainable, thriving city core.
The way we manage energy and water will define this century. It’s time for clear industry alignment and action around management to ensure resources can meet demand. Together we can modernise grids, build smarter cities, engage with citizens in new ways, and better manage precious water, gas and electric resources with technology and innovation. Bringing innovative, smarter technologies to cities will increase the possibility of attracting new businesses as well as grow a city’s reputation for sustainability. Through innovation and collaboration, we can create smart cities and new economic opportunities for people around the world.