The vision of a smart city decked out with millions of sensors feeding useful information to city officials and citizens is almost out of science fiction. To reach that point, though, it’s best to focus on something much more prosaic, such as helping citizens find parking spaces or switching out the bulbs in streetlights.
Cities around the world have long-range initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and better prepare cities for severe storms and other climate disruptions. But in most cases, achieving those goals with top-down, technology-driven projects is bound to stumble, said Charbel Aoun, president of smart cities for Schneider Electric.
“As much as we believe technology is critical to enabling smart cities, we avoid talking about technology,” said Aoun. “Smart cities is about cutting-edge innovation, but cities don’t like innovation — they can’t afford to fail.”
Instead, city officials need to modernize their infrastructure one chunk at a time and create a technical architecture that allows them to integrate their IT systems with their operational systems — electric and water grids, transportation systems and other infrastructure.
Schneider holds meetings with city officials to discern their priorities and then seeks out a project that can demonstrate some sort of energy savings, such as building efficiency upgrades. Ideally, those savings can fund further work. “You have to sell the value to the mayor, the management and the different department heads,” Aoun said. “It’s the basement connecting to the data center connecting to the mayor’s office.”