Five areas where electric companies want to help advance cities

If you are launching your smart cities efforts and you haven’t talked to your utility, you are missing out on a valuable source of help. And electric companies are making a substantial effort to contribute even more to their communities.
 
At Smart Cities Week Silicon Valley, they participated in the first ever Electric Companies Advancing Cities summit, lead by Council Lead Partner EEI. There will be three summits this year, each designed to come up with strategies to build engagement between utilities and their communities.
 
Below, read about their first five focus areas. Future summits will explore these areas in more depth to offer more concrete guidance. And stay tuned for your opportunity to participate in upcoming summit meetings. — Kevin Ebi
 
People-focused efforts
It takes people who are motivated and empowered to act to turn a vision into a reality. The summit explored how electric companies could better work with not only city staff, but community members to drive progress.
 
The suggestions included identifying and engaging community leaders from the beginning, as well as involving area universities and using them as partners. The working group will also explore steps that could be taken to help projects continue relatively seamlessly even when the city leadership changes.
 
Developing visions, goals and timelines
By the end of the three summits, organizers plan to build a smart cities strategy playbook to share the lessons and approaches they develop over the course of the meetings with a broader audience. 
 
In the area of developing visions and goals, participants suggested that they advice trying to truly understand the motivation behind a desire to change so that they can better target their efforts to address it. They also suggested coaching cities and utilities to think in terms of tangible benefits to citizens and providing quick wins.
 
Overcoming financial and regulatory barriers
The working group at the summit suggested a critical shift in mindset is needed. While people usually start from the position of trying to come up with funding to launch something new, there is great potential in finding value in assets that you already have. An educational campaign and advice could help cities and electric companies see the potential in things like light poles or other assets.
 
When it comes to trying to win new financing, the working group pointed out that it’s easier to get it when you can clearly articulate how the solution addresses real problems.
 
Improving transparency and alignment
To get everyone aligned, all of the stakeholders need to understand what’s in it for them. It’s important that the everyone involved focuses on the desired outcome (and that it’s defined as a specific objective). A cost-benefit analysis also needs to show that the investment of time and other resources is worth it to the community.
 
Participants also suggested that people try to step out of their own shoes and consider how other participating agencies see the project. Consider other perspectives.
 
Scaling and risk mitigation
The summit participants advise that cites and electric companies consider using multiple vendors when appropriate to mitigate some risk. Acquiring the technology through a service model or perhaps a revenue-sharing agreement may also make sense.
 
While some innovative cities and utilities say that “it’s OK to fail,” participants say it’s critical that they give guidance on when exactly that is OK and to also be clear about the measurements.