Cities can’t function without energy. It fuels our cars, subways and trains. It cools, heats and lights our homes and businesses. It pumps our water and processes the food we eat. And it powers the technologies that are the foundation of a smart city. To ensure a smart energy future, cities and utilities must work together – regardless of whether the utility is part of local government or a private investor-owned utility that supplies the city’s energy.

So it’s easy to see why energy is integral to all city responsibilities and profoundly impacts livability, workability and sustainability. This chapter covers energy’s critical role in smart cities, from enabling small-scale power plants that generate energy close to where it’s used to advanced technologies that help keep the lights on during power outages. We use the term “energy” broadly throughout to encompass all infrastructures that cities use to produce and deliver energy – electricity, gas, steam, renewables, etc. Whether or not your city directly provides electricity or natural gas as a city service (as in a municipal utility), you’ll want to make energy the foundation of your smart city planning.

Energy as a smart cities starting place. Since city leaders are well aware of their own city’s pain points, we said in the introduction to this Readiness Guide that we won’t recommend which responsibility areas cities should tackle first. But given the critical role energy plays in just about everything that happens in a city, leaders uncertain where to start their smart city journey should consider making smart energy a priority.

That’s because the success of a smart city relies on creating and supporting a smart energy system. That’s a system that knows in real time where a transformer has blown and automatically reroutes power to keep the lights on in homes and businesses. It’s a system that collects and manipulates data from sensors and smart devices to give operators a complete view of the energy infrastructure – for instance, how much power solar installations are generating or when they need to signal a demand response call to help balance the load on the electric and gas grid.

ICT’s role in smart energy. Information and communications technologies (ICT) help cities optimize these energy systems, making them more efficient and more resilient. Implementing smart energy systems also helps preserve precious natural resources and gives residents, businesses and cities themselves a whole host of ways to monitor and control their energy consumption to save money.

There are a number of components of a smart energy system. In the pages that follow we’ll identify the technologies and technology-supporting practices involved and the array of benefits that cities accrue when they implement them.