I’m sitting here in a large convention center in Los Angeles about to deliver the closing keynote at the Southern California Public Power Authority annual conference. It’s basically a gathering of the top municipal utilities in Southern California that serve more than 5 million people and deliver 16% of all power used in the sunny state.

And it’s all about the future, disruption, and coming up with new ideas about how to transform our public utilities into powerhouses of innovation.

A big topic in the event is “smart cities.” Smart cities aren’t exactly reality yet, but they’re becoming reality. So, what’s a smart city?

Just think The Jetsons.

In 1962, The Jetsons cartoon came on the scene and gave us an idyllic world enabled by technology. Things like video chat, holograms, jet packs, 3D printed food, and smartwatches were science fiction at the time. These things are all reality today. While the vision for a truly “smart city” might seem like science fiction to some, it’s fast becoming reality.

Smart Cities are fully connected, sustainable, energy efficient, and socially friendly communities that use their infrastructure to intelligently improve the quality of life of those who live and visit there. According to Dukku Lee, the General Manager of Anaheim Public Utilities, for example, Anaheim recently installed a number of remote “wildfire cameras” to detect and prevent wildfires. Other speakers at the conference included various experts in energy like Southern California Edison, as well as companies building out smart city infrastructure like T-Mobile and Panasonic. Some of the key elements of Smart Cities include:

  • Ubiquitous Wifi – availability of wireless internet anywhere and everywhere
  • Electric Vehicle Charging– networks of charging stations that support the growth of electric vehicles
  • Connected Vehicle Infrastructure – connected vehicles that “talk” to each other to prevent accidents
  • Smart, Sustainable Electricity – data and information that give people the power to conserve and manage energy
  • Smart Street Lighting – lighting that turns on or off based on the presence of vehicles and people
  • Smart Parking – parking systems that keep traffic flowing
  • Interactive Signs – displays and signs that provide information, directions and help when needed.
  • Smart Water Systems – from leak detection to smart sprinkler systems to conserve and manage water
  • Smart Buildings – smart heating and cooling, ventilation, and lighting systems
  • Wildfire Cameras – cameras in remote areas to detect and prevent fires
  • Autonomous Electric Shuttles – self-driving, transportation services using carbon-free electric vehicles
  • Housing Solutions – affordable, efficient, and sustainable housing for all citizens

While technology enables much of what makes a city “smart,” – like sensors, data analytics, etc. – the future really isn’t about technology as an end itself, but rather serving the needs of the various stakeholders that comprise a community. Using technology to solve social problems while improving quality of life is truly the definition of “smart.”

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