Building Cities Through Smarter Decision Making

Posted on December 19th, 2012 by

By 2050, the world’s population is projected to reach more than 9 billion people – with roughly 70 percent of those individuals residing in urban areas. These rapidly growing, concentrated populations place an enormous strain on city resources and services, from water infrastructure and transportation systems to the electric grid.

In our increasingly connected world, there are many ways to leverage all of the data produced by these growing populations. This is giving rise to a new generation of smarter cities that mine information to deliver city services more effectively and efficiently. By monitoring, measuring and managing nearly any physical system, the ability to collect and analyze real-time information can provide valuable insights to help empower smarter decision making. By infusing analytics-enabled insights into municipal operations, cities are beginning to anticipate problems, quickly respond to issues and effectively engage communities to better manage resources.

There are many different entry points to becoming a smarter city — from improving the efficiency of buildings, to effective use of sustainable resources such as water and energy, to creating an intelligent transportation infrastructure.

Consider that 42 percent of the world’s energy is expended inside commercial buildings. On top of that, as much of 50 percent of that is wasted. The inability to determine power consumption and costs at a granular level means there is often little accountability for energy usage.

However with the use of analytics, new insight can be delivered to make buildings more intelligent. For example, in New Orleans, Tulane University instrumented a 100 year old building, to monitor heating, cooling, lighting and water systems in order to listen to the building in a more holistic fashion and enable better energy management decisions.  By listening to the building, making needed adjustments, spotting trends and identifying areas of energy waste, the university was able to significantly reduce their energy usage.

On a broader scale, analytics can also be used to provide vast insight for water conservation. A study by the Alliance for Water Efficiency estimates that for every million dollars spent on water efficiency in the United States, we can not only save as much as 10 trillion gallons of water, but also create about 220,000 jobs and increase economic output by as much as $2.8 million.

The city of Dubuque, Iowa is very familiar with the importance of improving water efficiency. As part of the city’s Sustainable Dubuque research, they conducted a pilot program leveraging analytics and cloud computing technology. This initiative empowered Dubuque households with information, analysis, insights and social computing capabilities around residents’ water consumption for nine weeks.

Through advanced analytics, community engagement, and cloud computing, the Water Pilot provided citizens and city officials with an integrated view of water consumption patterns. The pilot program spurred behavior changes among participants, encouraging them to be more mindful of water usage and detecting leaks in order to reduce water waste. Ultimately the program helped reduce the city’s water utilization by 6.6 percent.

Other city systems such as traffic and transportation can see similar efficiencies. Analytics can help address these challenges by providing travelers with real-time traffic information so that they can choose the best route possible for their commutes. Based on analytics models that map anticipated traffic disruptions, cities can create “what if” scenarios that provide appropriate options to minimize traffic congestion.

The Chinese City of Zhenjiang, home to three million people, uses analytics to enable real-time bus monitoring and management, and to simulate traffic flow patterns ahead of time to prevent traffic jams. By improving public transportation and traffic flow, technology will reduce the city’s need to build more roads or drastically change the existing infrastructure.

These are just few examples of how governments and communities around the world are coming together and actively driving change and delivering real results.

It’s more critical than ever for municipalities and citizens to understand their patterns of behavior and how that impacts energy consumption or waste. This information can help identify solutions to change – whether it’s how much water or energy is unnecessarily consumed, or structuring roads to meet ideal traffic patterns.

There is progress all around us and new access to information is providing communities with an understanding of how they consume resources more effectively and how patterns of behavior can be tailored to reduce costs and create more sustainable and reliable city services.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author,  Jim Fletcher, Chief Architect for Smarter Infrastructure, IBM

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