Taking a second look at Denver's transit-focused smart city project

Rendering courtesy of Panasonic

Denver officials and Council Associate Partner Panasonic have embarked on a new phase in an overall plan to make the city a more livable, sustainable place for its citizens — and better able to accommodate its growing population. As the update story below explains, it's a major and multi-faceted undertaking and one many cities would be reluctant to consider. But Denver's progress will be worth watching for two primary reasons: the project will certainly provide valuable lessons for other cities, and there may be elements of the project that could be the right solutions for the challenges many cities face. — Doug Peeples


Denver's current population of 693,000 is growing at a rate of about 15,000 new residents every year — and the city is taking several steps to accommodate that growth and ensure current and future residents will have a smarter, safer and more sustainable city to live in.

Panasonic and energy storage company Younicos began work last year at Peña Station NEXT, which includes the Panasonic Enterprise Solutions Company operations hub. That part of the project involves installation of a solar-plus-energy storage system, which will be connected to electric utility Xcel Energy's electric grid to provide frequency regulation, solar power integration, backup power and additional services.

Located in an undeveloped 400-acre parcel adjacent to Denver Airport, the project — Panasonic's first CityNOW project in the U.S. — also has a partially solar-powered microgrid, security cameras, free WiFi, dimmable LED street lights and pollution sensors, according to a Business Insider article. And more smart city infrastructure is on the way.

It's considered a neighborhood as well as an airport and mass transit-oriented project and with that in mind 220 affordable apartments are expected to be completed by the middle of this year, and the area is expected to include stores, businesses and an entertainment district.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock has said in the past that the city will try to provide affordable housing at all of its transit-oriented areas.

The city also is preparing for driverless vehicles, another element of CityNOW, with a self-driving shuttle to transport riders from a light rail to bus lines throughout the city. And with the help of a U.S. DOT grant, the city and Panasonic want to eventually deploy technologies to make a stretch of highway compatible with driverless cars.

While the project is Panasonic's first CityNOW effort in the U.S., the company had already completed a similar one in Japan. The primarily residential Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town was completed in 2015. Working with Fujisawa city officials, Panasonic installed LED lighting, solar panels, a solar-powered smart grid, energy storage for 1,000 new homes in the community west of Tokyo.

If the Denver project is judged a success, Panasonic anticipates it could take its CityNOW program to other U.S. cities.

Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.