Yesterday, I had the opportunity to join government and business leaders in our nation’s capital to discuss the importance of investing in infrastructure from energy to buildings and transportation to our U.S. industrial base. There, the American Society of Civil Engineers released a new report on the critical consequences of not investing in our country’s aging systems. Unfortunately, the outlook hasn’t changed much as we’re still looking at a significant gap between what we are investing now and what is required to ensure the United States maintains its resiliency and competiveness.
As a result, most of the focus continues to be directed at how we will pay for our infrastructure – but not necessarily what it should look like in the future. Going forward, we need to keep the actual infrastructure in mind – and not just how we’ll fund it.
The 21st century will be the century of cities, with two-thirds of the world’s population projected to live in urban areas by 2050.
Our roads and rails, our electric grid, and our buildings are already struggling to meet demand in 2016. As we replace or upgrade these systems, we can build something that is modernized and smarter. We have the potential to make our cities greener and potentially carbon neutral.
The technology and software that are improving so many other aspects of our lives can also change our cities and communities. This includes microgrids for managing renewable energy. It’s shifting to communications-based train control to increase rail capacity, and using software to manage traffic better and improve commutes. And there are also big opportunities with our buildings.
Buildings consume 40 percent of all energy, with up to one-third of it unnecessarily wasted. This is a significant cost that continues to grow year after year.
But we can move the needle in the other direction. There are intelligent technologies now that use data, sensors, connection points, and analytics so that maintenance is only performed when needed.
We recently began working with Lake Worth, Fla., on a comprehensive infrastructure improvement program through a performance contract. As part of this work, the City’s 4,000 streetlights will be fully retrofitted with LED technology, and advanced water and electric metering technologies will be installed at residences and businesses throughout the City. The project is expected to save the City millions of dollars in its first year post-construction and a total of $33 million over the course of the 15-year contract. The annual savings will be used to finance the cost of the project, at no cost to taxpayers.
In California’s County of San Bernardino, Siemens installed a distributed control system that could tie together disparate systems such as building automation, fire and life safety, lighting, power, and water, on a single network. Technicians can now use handheld devices such as iPads to make system adjustments and fixes remotely, rather than by troubleshooting onsite. The capability to address issues from afar saves in travel costs and reduced downtime while also enabling the adoption and integration of more sustainable and energy efficient advanced technologies.
A lot of opportunity for improvement remains. Twenty years from now, we’ll be able to say that we reduced our impact on the environment and alleviated traffic jams. By then, smart cities will become less of the exception and more of the norm. Without a doubt, intelligent technologies will play a deciding role in this success.