Time and tide wait for no man, and our world continues to present us with alarming new challenges to battle: cyber-attacks, terrorism, erratic weather patterns, water scarcity, food shortages – to name just a few. The modern world is not standing still, however, and as our technologies grow ever more advanced in a push to overcome these difficulties, municipalities around the globe are morphing into fully connected, highly integrated entities known as smart cities.
A smart city aims to improve quality of life for its citizens by harnessing technology to connect infrastructures, resources and services, and make the municipality safer and more sustainable, livable, workable and competitive. A 2016 President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology report states, “Information and communication technologies, the proliferation of sensors through the Internet of Things, and converging data standards are also combining to provide new possibilities for the physical management and the socioeconomic development of cities … Digital and mobile technologies are making the connections between service providers and users tighter, faster, more personal and more comprehensive.”
To facilitate these connections, an important aspect of any smart city is its communication network, which should allow real-time monitoring of utilities, buildings and infrastructure as well as remote operations that automatically adjust for environmental factors. The Smart Cities Council states, “Super-fast, high-capacity broadband networks are considered essential to economic growth, job creation and competitiveness.” Without a mobile, scalable, reliable wireless network that allows real-time data transfer, many parts of a city may be running on outdated data, or no data at all.
There are multiple ways that a reliable communication network can benefit a city and make it smarter. For example, deploying a wireless network to create integrated, more efficient power and water utilities can help cities become more resilient in the face of manmade and natural disasters and provide better services to its citizens – enhancing its overall livability.
Making Power and Water Smarter
A city that owns and maintains its own water and electric utilities can find value in installing a communication platform that allows constant access to real-time data with no downtime.
A common challenge for power utilities is ensuring there is enough power on a grid to support the energy draw. Outages are almost always unplanned, and an outage-to-restoration process can involve several steps with long lead times. Multiple field visits may be necessary to identify, locate and fix the problem: An inspection crew would go track down the problem, then return to headquarters and report findings to a service crew, which would then go out to repair the issue.
The operations center may be unable to provide much assistance: It would be working off outdated information collected and compiled from multiple sources at different points in the process, so analyses would be limited. This communication breakdown drags out repair times, creating longer outages for residents.
A utility grid connected to a wireless network that never experiences downtime – is a much smarter way to deal with outages. Vehicles are equipped with mesh or Wi-Fi-enabled laptops and handheld monitoring devices. The in-vehicle computing platform and vehicle network can be used to store field maps, detailed engineering diagrams or schematics, and best practices and procedures. Field technicians can connect through their devices, pull up the most current data, and send their own findings back to the operations center or other field technicians through the mesh while on site.
Everyone connected to the network can give and receive real-time information, enabling an end-to-end view of the detailed outage process and allowing timely analysis and decision-making. Dispatchers can take into account location- and terrain-specific information, outage type, traffic times and closest available crew, optimizing dispatch decisions.
Water and sewer departments manage and treat potable water and sewage. If a city does not have an intelligent water system – one that integrates water treatment systems with information and control systems using real-time data – response times will be slower, information may be inaccurate, and water quality and quantity may suffer.
Real-time data via a reliable communication network will make water utilities more intelligent. Smart water technology covering key elements of plants and distribution systems will provide the capability to more efficiently manage system infrastructure and extend resources. Installing real-time meters will make it easier for utilities and their customers to track and manage usage.
The integration of real-time data to make smarter short-and long-term operating decisions will be particularly relevant for systems that deal with both drought and flood conditions. Smart water systems can incorporate features to adapt to changes in demand and supply patterns. Monitoring water supplies using analytics will allow a utility to track and anticipate challenging flow conditions.
In the case of low water flow, utilities could preemptively introduce alternate sources of supply. Greater accessibility to data can likewise facilitate collaborative planning on a regional scale between stakeholders to effectively plan and manage storm/flood conditions.
All of these applications would require other sensors and software, but the one thing they have in common is the need for a reliable wireless communication network.