City-utility partnerships: The ultimate power couples

Wed, 2018-07-11 14:58 -- Jesse Berst

Music has Beyonce and Jay-Z. Britain has Meghan and Harry. But in the world of smart cities, the ultimate power couples are partnerships between cities and electric companies.

You’ll find several examples below. If you’d like these benefits for your city, click here to learn about a free city-utility workshop August 16, 2018 in Houston. (You can see what we talked about at our first workshop held earlier this year in Santa Clara, CA.)

But don’t miss out. Space is limited, so please register today. — Jesse Berst

Why is the city-electric company connection so powerful? First, because it’s about energy and therefore about essential outcomes such as sustainability and efficiency and economic development. Second, because it is perhaps the biggest single opportunity to make smart cities affordable by sharing infrastructure, costs, and data.

What electric companies offer
In theory, there’s no better partner for a city than an electric company, which typically has:

  • Infrastructure. For more than a century, electric companies have been installing expensive infrastructure throughout their service territories. Power plants and power lines, to be sure. But also communications networks and tens of millions of smart meters and other sensors.
  • Insights. The electric power industry was one of the first to install large area communications networks; and sensors and smart meters; and to learn how to gather, store, safeguard and analyze massive quantities of data.
  • Incentive. Electric companies can’t grow and prosper until and unless their cities grow and prosper. They want their cities to succeed. They need their cities to succeed.

In practice, however, it can be hard to get started. Some states have regulatory restrictions that make it difficult for electric companies to share infrastructure or to offer new energy services. And both cities and utilities are often unsure when, where and how to get started.

Smart city partnerships are proliferating
Despite the initial obstacles, cities and utilities are increasingly finding ways to work together. On smart street lights. On microgrids. On distributed renewables. On self-healing grids. On EV charging. On communications networks. On solar power. And much more. Here are a few well-known examples:

Austin-Austin Energy. Austin Energy has kept this Texas town at the forefront of smart technology for more than a decade. It has ambitious clean energy goals, smart meters, a mobile app for outages, citywide EV charging and a community solar program that lets residents get 100% of their power from solar without installing panels.

Birmingham-Alabama Power. Its partnership with Alabama Power was one of the reasons Birmingham was a winner of a 2018 Readiness Challenge grant from the Smart Cities Council. For instance, a Birmingham suburb is home to Alabama Power’s Smart Neighborhood, where a microgrid integrates high-performance homes, energy efficient appliances, connected devices, solar power, battery storage and backup generation.

Charlotte-Duke Energy. Duke was a charter member of Envision Charlotte, the non-profit that has led a number of smart initiatives. The Center City program led to a 19% reduction in energy use in the downtown core, which has resulted in $26 million in aggregate savings to date. Duke is also leading Smart Energy in Offices, a program to drive energy efficiency savings.

Denver-Xcel Energy. Xcel has teamed with Panasonic and the city of Denver to build out a “mini smart city” in the Pena Station district. The project will feature smart streetlights, free WiFi, air quality sensors, and a solar-powered microgrid.

San Diego-SDG&E. San Diego Gas & Electric is a core partner in Smart City San Diego, a public-private collaboration to improve energy independence, to empower electric vehicles, to reduce emissions, and to encourage economic growth.

How your city can become a power couple
If you want to accelerate these kinds of benefits for your city, please join the Smart Cities Council and the Edison Electric Institute Thursday August 16 in Houston for a Summit Meeting that will bring together cities, utilities and experts from the private sector. Click for Summit details and registration. Attendance is free, but space is limited.