Dependencies in energy
Improvements in a city’s energy infrastructure – deploying a smart grid, for instance – can’t occur without an understanding of dependencies between energy and other city systems and services. Three stand out: communications, transportation and the built environment.
A smart grid is by definition a specialized communications network that moves electricity and data to balance supply and demand and maintain reliable service. The distribution lines and underground cables that are part of the energy grid often follow the layout of city streets (part of the built environment), creating dependencies between utility services and the various transportation systems that also rely on streets.
The built environment is also a major consumer of electricity and natural gas – and potentially a producer of electricity too. As distributed generation evolves and building owners adopt solar, fuel cell and related technologies, utilities and city governments will form even closer alliances.
Benefits of realizing the energy targets
What kind of results can smart cities expect once they’ve walked down the smart energy path? We’ve highlighted many of them below, based on their relevance to livability, workability and sustainability.
Empowering customers with choice and control. Instrumentation, connectivity and analytics combine to give electric and gas customers more information about when and where they are using energy, plus tools to help them control that usage so they can lower their bills.
Improving reliability and resilience. Smart grids can “self-heal” from simple problems, making them more resilient to storms and disasters. With outage management systems, trouble areas can be pinpointed, shaving hours or even days from restoration times. And most smart grids make it easy to combine centralized, “long-distance” generation with local distributed generation, making the system more resistant to supply interruptions.
Lowering costs for citizens. Operational optimization means fewer resources are consumed and paid for. These savings can be passed along to citizens, resulting in lower energy bills.
Improving competitive advantage. A U.S. Department of Energy lab estimates that economic losses from outages cost $80-130 billion per year in the U.S. alone. Businesses in cities with modern, ultra-reliable energy systems have a competitive advantage.
Creating new jobs. Renewable energy and local energy typically produce more local jobs than “traditional” energy (where energy may be shipped from large centralized plants outside the region).
Generating business investment in cities. A study of the correlation between smart grid – a key component of the smart city – and economic growth discovered that cities with a smart grid have an annual GDP growth rate that is 0.7% higher, office occupancy rates 2.5% higher, and an unemployment rate 1% lower when compared to less advanced cities.
Using less energy. Smart energy means energy that is cleaner, more efficient and produces less impact on the environment. A smart grid makes it easier to use wind, solar and other renewable sources and waste less energy during transmission and delivery. A smart energy strategy gives customers tools to reduce their energy usage and costs. So a key benefit of a smart energy system – e.g., smart grid plus distributed generation plus ways to engage the consumer – is in reduced carbon production from avoided fossil fuel-based generation.
Decreasing reliance on nonrenewable energy sources. Smart grids make it far easier for customers to generate energy on premise (for instance, via rooftop solar) and to trade energy back and forth with the grid. Implementing the right devices and instrumentation, such as improved solar meters, have led many financiers to offer $0 down residential and commercial solar programs, reducing the barriers to solar generation. And smart energy, with the help of reliable two-way communications, makes grids more flexible overall to customer demand.
Lessening energy operating costs. Smart energy reduces operating costs compared to traditional methods. For example, sensors and monitors can report on the actual condition of expensive equipment so it can be serviced based on actual condition and not a guess. This kind of asset management can squeeze many extra years of use from an asset, without compromising safety. For another, smart systems can manage peak times by briefly reducing demand (called demand response) instead of building new standby power plants that will only get used a few times per year, and can even dim LED street lights to enable lower operating costs.