Black & Veatch report: Skepticism grows around smart cities



Black & Veatch released its 2018 Strategic Directions: Smart Cities and Utilities Report, which found growing skepticism around the long-term benefits of smart city infrastructure.

Black & Veatch report: Skepticism grows around smart cities

For its report, Black & Veatch surveyed utility, municipal, commercial and community stakeholders. About 15 percent of survey participants believe that smart cities are a passing fad without long-term substance. Last year, only 6.3 percent held that belief.

It could be due to the "hype cycle," Fred Ellermeier, a vice president and managing director of Black & Veatch's Connected Communities business, told the Kansas City Business Journal. When a new technology is introduced, there's typically inflated expectations and overconfidence in what the technology can achieve. Eventually, however, expectations level out. Part of the issue, too, is that the rollout of smart city initiatives are taking longer than what some expected.

"There were some inflated thoughts on what smart cities were going to do and how quickly they were going to get here. We think that people are growing leery of the buzz word and the lack of apparent progress," he said. "It's going to take that process of working through the real world of getting these things deployed and starting to get value out of them."

As part of Kansas City's Smart City initiative, more than two dozen CityPost digital kiosks were installed in Downtown.

The good news is that about 85 percent of survey participants believe that smart cities will be transformational and generate a positive long-term effect on cities.

Funding woes 

One of the major factors holding cities back from adopting smart city technologies is cost, according to the report. Many municipal planners worry that it's not affordable. But smart city efforts often can pay for themselves over time and can support other developments, Ellermeier said. Digital kiosks, for example, not only provide residents and visitors with information on events and area amenities, they create revenue streams through advertising and sponsorship logos. Smart streetlights lead to dramatic savings through improved energy efficiency, he said.

Ellermeier also pointed out that a growing number of smart city initiatives are stemming from public-private partnerships, giving cities access to more funding and expertise.

Key stakeholder excluded from table 

Black & Veatch's report found that a key stakeholder is being excluded from smart city discussions: electric utility companies.

"That was a surprising finding, from the role of innovating, from the role of being at the table and discussing these smart cities, or even support roles of what benefits they can bring," he said.

One of the greatest benefits of a smart city is overlaying assets and asset analytics, Ellermeier said. It's about tying together a city's resources, including the water system, electricity and transportation to create enhanced experiences for residents.

"It's those infrastructure and data overlays that provide the biggest benefit, and without electricity in the conversation, you're missing a very large component of how to be more efficient and resilient," he said.

Electric utility companies can work with cities and other stakeholders to develop an electric vehicle charging infrastructure and energy management approach that allows the grid to meet demand as electric vehicles, including public buses, become more mainstream.

"Although efforts will be far-ranging, it will be up to utilities to drive the infrastructure upgrades and managed approaches necessary to make widespread electrification a reality," the report said.

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