In an age of pervasive connectivity, construction companies can help build the next connected municipality.
$20 billion. That is the amount of money that will be invested in smart-city technology by 2020. The smart city is coming, and contractors need to be prepared for how new technologies will change the way the industry builds facilities, roads, bridges, and more.
This figure from Pike Research, www.pikeresearch.com, Boulder, Colo., is simply the starting point. However, more so than that, a new trend is emerging that will reshape city landscapes as we know them today.
In the past, the concept of the connected city was driven in large part by technology suppliers, but now that is beginning to change. With the world’s population on the rise and the number of people living in cities increasing, officials are being forced to reconsider how cities are being developed. The market is shifting and many public leaders are rallying around the smart technologies in the city to drive innovation and save money. As city officials begin to see the value in technology, the connected city of the future could begin to take off in the years ahead.
For construction teams working on these types of projects, the challenge is no two connected cities are exactly alike. Each has a unique set of needs, different industry players, and, in many cases, various technology systems. But as more connected cities begin to rise up across the globe, they can serve as examples for how other cities might recreate the innovation.
Take the City of Charlotte as one example. The vision here was to leverage sustainability for economic growth. A quick primer on the program: Envision Charlotte, www.envisioncharlotte.com, Charlotte, N.C., is the nonprofit organization that advocates and helps facilitate programs for sustainability. The initiative has four pillars—energy, water, waste, and air, which reside with the energy and water utility partners in the program. Connected technologies are at the heart of the vision, delivering realtime information to townspeople to encourage conservation.
Tom Shircliff, cofounder of Intelligent Buildings LLC, www.intelligentbuildings.com, Charlotte, N.C., a real estate consulting company, and volunteer chair of the board of Envision Charlotte, indicates stakeholder alignment is essential in an initiative such as this, saying if you can align the government, utility, and private business, then it can happen. He also says a true balance between sustainability and economic growth is important. “If you only pick one, you are going to immediately alienate a lot of your stakeholders. We absolutely do not compromise on either.”
Let’s dig into the first pillar. Launched initially in 2011, Smart Energy Now has been up and fully operational for more than a year. The goal is to reduce energy use by 20% throughout five years. Following the principles of the program, 98% of 65 buildings in city center Charlotte were voluntarily connected with smart energy meters. In addition, large interactive kiosks, available in those buildings, show total electricity consumption on a realtime basis to drive awareness. Duke Energy, www.dukeenergy.com, Charlotte, N.C., has been gathering preliminary data for more than a year and plans to share actual savings results this year.
The next pillar, currently underway, is Smart Water Now, the water measurement and efficiency program. Modeled after Smart Energy Now, water meters collect and share water consumption data. CH2M HILL, www.ch2mhill.com, Englewood, Colo., is managing the project. Here is how the technology connects this city: Water communication modules collect data and send that information via 4G LTE to the interactive kiosks.
There are a number of challenges associated with implementing a large-scale sustainability initiative such as this including public buy-in and funding and budget constraints. In the case of Charlotte, creating a public-private partnership and getting large corporations involved has helped the program become successful, according to Steph Stoppenhagen, sustainability client service manager, CH2M HILL.
The third pillar—waste—is additionally underway. Shircliff says, “We are knee deep in smart waste now, no pun intended, which is the same idea that you are measuring the waste streams on as near realtime basis as we can to determine how awareness and behavior can impact that as well.”
He continues, addressing the fourth and final pillar, “For air, since we have a commitment to a limited geography that is a little bit different. Instead of measuring air specifically, we do programs that impact air quality like electric vehicles.”
The hope is Charlotte can be a model for other cities in the future. Stoppenhagen says, “Replication is in the forefront of this program and we definitely want other cities to learn from this and use Charlotte as that showcase.”
Shircliff adds, “While we are using some pretty sophisticated technology, it is all available. It all exists—digital meters for water and energy, wide-area networking, LTE wireless technology, cloud computing—it all exists. We didn’t invent any new technology. We are simply using our community alignment to leverage technology.”
The case of the City of Charlotte offers many key takeaways for other cities and construction teams in the future. In fact, earlier this year, IDC Government Insights, www.idc-gi.com, Framingham, Mass., made 10 market predictions for the smart city, many of which are present in the City of Charlotte. For example, IDC predicts spending on smart water will grow and public-private partnerships will make funding sustainable.
For the construction industry, that last point is key. Stoppenhagen says public-private partnerships can help address tight budgets and limited funding on government projects. This type of partnership makes the move to implement new technologies and build up the connected city more feasible.
Another IDC prediction is the fact the majority of spending on smart cities will focus on energy, transportation, and safety. For the city of Charlotte, sustainability and economic growth were the driving factors behind connecting buildings in the city center.
Energy will likely be at the heart of many connectedcity campaigns, along with innovation and the need to improve local economy. Another example of a connected city comes out of the United Kingdom. Earlier this year, the Technology Strategy Board, www.innovateuk.org, London, England, announced Glasgow would receive government funding to demonstrate how a city of the future will work.
This city will demonstrate how new integrated services for health, transport, energy, and public safety can improve the local economy and allow businesses to test new solutions. In particular, data will be captured from the city and viewed on a city dashboard and management system. The results will be made available to interested businesses, cities, and academics, providing learning experiences to develop urban solutions.
For the construction industry, the connected municipality of the future is coming. Contractors need to be prepared to jump into new projects and programs focused on using technology to drive sustainability and innovation. Many of these projects in city centers will incorporate technologies to manage and track data from city assets. And if the predictions hold true, we will see this start happening in a bigger way beginning this year.