Harness your data for a cleaner future
Randolph Wheatley, VP Communications Solutions, Sensus – a Xylem brand
Rapid advances in technology are transforming the world as we know it, and offering new solutions to old problems. One major shared goal for the international community is protecting the environment while creating a stable economy for the future.
The Paris Agreement on climate change establishes clear targets for 2050, with a long-term goal of keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. These might look ambitious, but international resolve has only strengthened following the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the agreement1. It might be an uphill effort to meet these goals by the mid-century, but the rise of big data offers hope. Data can provide governments, cities and countries with intelligence that will enable them to understand and modify their own energy and water usage. In time, this data could guide communities to meeting environmental goals – but converting this potential into success rests on the data being accurate and harnessed effectively.
The rise of smart cities offers governments the opportunity to take a holistic view of how and where energy is being expended and water is being consumed. Take lighting as an example – outdoor lighting consumes 19 per cent of global energy use2. Smart lighting solutions can help reduce this through enabling more variables to be considered before outdoor lighting is utilized. Vehicle and pedestrian traffic might indicate that lighting may not be necessary throughout the day, whereas poor weather conditions might mean brighter lighting is needed. The time of year will change the length of time overnight lighting is needed, and safety issues might mean it is necessary to ensure a particular area is brightly lit. In the same vein, smart meters allow consumers and utilities to track energy and water usage in real time – helping users to cut the cost of their household bills. In the US, 38.5 per cent of electricity is used by the residential sector3 – if consumers understand their own energy usage, this could be significantly reduced in the years ahead. Taken in isolation, these two examples are unlikely to push the international community towards their environmental goals. However, combining numerous data sources can offer the insight necessary to make more efficient business decisions in order to drive real change.
The data collected from these connections is nothing without a communications network that is fit for purpose. A dedicated, secure, reliable and resilient utility-grade communications network is the essential foundation upon which an intelligent, critical and national infrastructure should be built. Where water was the lifeblood of historical societies, the communities of the future will run on data. Water allowed early civilisations to grow and flourish, and data could act as the catalyst for progress today – but only if it is leveraged effectively.
The data revolution has only just begun
Gartner analysts predict that in 2020 almost 1.4 billion connected sensors, meters and other devices will be installed in cities globally. Of these, approximately half a billion will be dedicated to utilities. These devices enable individuals and communities to understand their energy and water usage, which may lead to a decrease that is necessary to drive climate change goals. For this to be achieved, the data generated must be accurate and easily available. For this reason, the communications network infrastructure behind these devices will be crucial. The network is often forgotten against the visible face of smart cities, but as the fundamental element, it is too important to implement incorrectly. As data collection and analysis becomes a core component in the city planning process, a reliable, utility-grade network is essential for connecting every piece of the puzzle.
Two core strands will feed into this network – residential and industrial data. Both will need to run smoothly for consumers to have faith in meeting national and personal energy goals. As these technologies improve and transform the world as we know it, governments will increasingly add new elements to their smart cities. Eventually all of the mission-critical infrastructure that communities depend on will move onto networks that are fit for purpose – with energy, water, and street lighting, all feeding into the same grid–and these are only a sampling of applications. Essential services are too important for the network connecting them to fail. In fact, Gartner predicts that half of all smart cities’ objectives will include key performance indicators (KPIs) around resilience and sustainability by 20204. The protocols and integrity that exists around critical services must be maintained in this digitisation. Without assurances around service level agreements (SLAs) and KPIs, progress will be stunted.
Finding the right technology solutions
Governments around the world are facing increased pressure to save money by cutting costs. When it comes to considering their options for future-proofing their infrastructure, governments must be acutely aware that the right decisions are paramount. The technology chosen needs to offer long-term performance for key infrastructure at the lowest total cost of ownership – with the capacity to effectively serve society and help maintain a sustainable economy far into the future. Governments know the one thing must be infallible is their infrastructure – and that they are ultimately responsible for maintaining these vital services.
We are already seeing the effects of poorly devised and implemented networks. Cellular networks are often selected due to their lower initial instalment cost, but they are not built for municipal or utility-grade data. We have all experienced the frustration when our cellular telephone loses service. As this type of network cannot always reach more rural locations and/or devices located in cellars or deep in buildings, they often require expensive in-fill technology to achieve the coverage needed to connect to fixed devices. It is hardly optimal in the 21st century.
New technology developments and the growth in connected devices are producing more data than ever before. The sheer quantity is impossibly hard to visualise. By the year 2020, about 1.7 megabytes of new information will be created every second for every human being on the planet5. As more data is fed into networks, there is an increased risk of congestion and therefore a decrease in the speed at which data can be processed. Even back in 2010, questions were already being asked about whether the rapid growth in data would overwhelm wireless networks6. The more traffic generated, the more network infrastructure needed to process the data. This means a network might appear to function well but any surge in data traffic, such as during a natural disaster or global sporting event, could lead to a network blackout7.
Driving behavioural change
In the context of smart cities, connected devices should be able to drive meaningful behavioural change. This is a difficult task, and could take generations for changes to become the new normal for consumers – but this is vital in order to have any real effect on the climate. If the supporting infrastructure network fails, the ability of this increased data to create change ceases. This is especially critical where energy goals are reliant on consumer support. One example is the move towards smart meters. These encourage consumers to monitor and adjust their energy usage, and if these devices fail to provide accurate and up-to-date readings across the network, it will be harder to encourage the change necessary to decrease national carbon emissions. A dedicated, utility-grade network can help ensure such devices are connected, helping communities take advantage of the efficiencies, cost savings and innovations that smart infrastructure promises.
The future of energy
Smart cities and networks offer a vision of a new energy and water landscape that wastes less, produces more and benefits everyone. In the past, power was produced at one end and used at the other. This one-way traffic is becoming a thing of the past as people increasingly generate energy in their homes and communities through solar panels8. Smart meters are required to monitor multi-source energy usage. In the same way that hybrid auto drivers are informed whether they’re drawing power from the car’s battery or engine9, these meters help users to make smarter choices about how and when they consume power.
In the future, with solar technology prices likely to fall and electric vehicle usage likely to rise, the smart energy market will proliferate into a new economy of person-to-person energy storage and sale. Consumers will be able to invest in their preferred choice of energy and sell surplus energy directly back to the grid or to their neighbours according to their usage and needs, further driving efficiencies in the energy market.
Once micro-generation picks up on a local level, consumers will have more options for energy usage. Local economies will facilitate a reduction in energy wastage, encourage use of renewable energy and help balance national energy requirements. Without a reliable infrastructure network it would be impossible to manage such a complex balance of energy infrastructure. The Sensus Long range radio (LLR) communications technology platform, operating on a dedicated, licensed radio spectrum, is a proven solution which already connects 37 million end points around the world. Unlike other cellular technologies, LLR operating on a dedicated spectrum effectively provides a utility-grade service which is more reliable and secure than unlicensed and shared networks. A dedicated LRR network is designed for 100 per cent coverage, without the limits of existing shared cellular networks. This would give countries the perfect platform to develop a utility-grade network that will be fit for purpose now and into the future.
Making the right decisions
Technology is transforming the world around us, with smart cities using these innovations in energy, water and lighting to reduce energy and water consumption and lower carbon emissions. There is also the promise of economic benefits for both consumers – through reduced utility bills – and governments – through keeping public spending down. For example, Great Britain’s smart metering project is expected to produce benefits reaching US$11 billion10. However, to realise these ambitions, it is essential that these devices generate accurate data. A failure to do so will damage consumer confidence and limit the chances of reaching our environmental goals.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Randolph Wheatley is Vice President of Product Marketing at Sensus, a Xylem brand. Sensus helps a wide range of public service providers—from utilities to cities to industrial complexes and campuses—do more with their infrastructure to improve quality of life in their communities. He is responsible for all product marketing efforts on behalf of the global communications portfolio. Mr Wheatley holds a BS in electrical engineering from Arizona State University and an MBA from the University of Texas at Dallas.
ABOUT SENSUS, A XYLEM BRAND
Sensus helps water utilities, energy providers and cities do more with their infrastructure to improve the quality of life in their communities. We enable our customers to reach further through the application of technology and data-driven insights that deliver efficiency and responsiveness. We partner with them to anticipate and respond to evolving business needs with innovation in communications technologies, advanced metrology, data analytics and services. Learn more at sensus.com and follow @SensusGlobal on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.