Smart City 1.6: Smart Energy

smart-energy1“We should see information technology as the circle that links energy production, energy use, and the management of energy efficiencies, increasing productivity and saving money and time while reducing pollution.” – Joe Browder, U.S. Energy Consultant

Energy management across a city is a daunting proposition. The diverse nature of both energy sources and energy consumer needs is high. Like ICT infrastructure, energy is critical, arguably more so than communications. The goals of a smart energy are wide and varied, but can be summarised as decreased household and company energy spend, better uses of City energy requirements, less pollution, and a move away from unsustainable forms of energy to sustainable ones.

Smart energy must be pragmatic. Just because windmills are good, does not mean that every household should have one, where telecommuting for one household works, for others it won’t, the demand for energy is increasing, and must be balanced against available energy resources.

This needs to be a portfolio in itself managed by the Council proper with a set of transparent outcomes and activities that are well funded and have high priority. In the case of energy, the problem is how we better use it. These are some ideas.

A massive amount of energy is simply wasted from poor housing and insulation. We need to subsidise more intensely, the introduction of insulation into households in the city, not just for Council housing (gains have been made here), but for every household. This reduces overall energy usage, puts money in people’s pocket for the local economy, and the health benefits increase productivity while reducing demand on services.

Instead of just talking about alternative energy sources, we should start piloting them at the household level and subsidising those technologies that prove themselves.

For example, the advances in solar energy have been significant over the past few years. For those that can afford it (it’s not cheap) they should be encouraged to do so and potentially subsidised. Solar power for hot water is now a workable technology that would reduce the overall energy usage.

New builds should include optional smart energy sources. I don’t believe that this should be mandatory, however I do think it should be strongly promoted. New builds should include full insulation, efficient heating & cooling energy sources and options on solar, or wind.

The Council should lead by example. Energy efficient systems should be the norm. One of the places that they could save a great deal of energy, as could businesses across the city, is Cloud computing.

Traditional computing requires you buy your own servers and then house them yourself. The Council runs at least two data centres. Each server, as rough rule of thumb, consumes about the same amount of power each year as the average New Zealand household. That means that if the Council has four hundred servers, it consumes enough energy to power four hundred houses.

As another rough rule of thumb, each kilowatt hour produces about six-hundred grams of CO2. That means that for a four hundred server data centre, we are pumping out around two-thousand eight-hundred tonnes of Co2 per year, just to run one data centre.

Cloud computing reduces that energy burn by an average of eighty give percent. So moving that computing load into the Cloud reduces the energy requirements to sixty households worth of power and four hundred and thirty tonnes of carbon.

As an exercise, let’s run some average figures for all of government computing in Wellington. Let’s say there are fifty agencies with their own data centres and each has an average of four hundred servers.

That load is consuming enough energy for the entire Eastern Suburbs of Wellington, twenty-thousand homes and expelling 140,000 tonnes of Co2. Put that into the cloud and we reduce those figures by eight-five percent to twenty-one thousand tonnes of Co2 and the energy equivalent of three-thousand homes.

That is a significant drop in energy usage across the entire city which, at the same time, releases a lot of money that is simply being put into the coffers of overseas owned energy companies. That money can be used to improve the bottom line of our companies (and Government) and reallocated to innovative projects as opposed to being a sunk cost.

“In 2010, I was working with Vattenfall to see if we could bring an electric car programme to Wellington. As I didn’t win, it didn’t come. The reasoning behind this was not just about carbon emissions—after all I had co-written a Carbon Neutral book in 2003 so I was always conscious of this—but to encourage innovation. If we had a cutting-edge, world-class opportunity, then we could be the first to create innovations from it. Innovations which we could then license offshore to generate income and taxes here at home. I see smart energy as a two-fold deal: one where we learn to use resources more efficiently, and one where our city’s businesses earn royalties.

   So linked to this programme, could we use the wind farm energy to power the electric vehicles? Can we encourage greater efficiencies through crowdsourcing solutions and having a wiki where we learn from each other on smart-energy usage? Could we work with Wellington Electricity on a lower-cost, more reliable management on the grid to get a real-time look, and with Capacity on having water-conservation sensors without needing to meter individual homes? We can think of other ways that keep left and right political views happy—because I believe Wellingtonians are pragmatic and welcome creativity.” – Jack Yan, Mayoral Candidate

More than fifty-thousand cars come into the city each day and the airport alone claims twenty-thousand vehicle movements every twenty-four hours. This figure could be greatly reduced by local companies providing for telecommuting. While it won’t work for every business, it will work for a lot of our office, government, and ICT community.

Of course we run into the dinosaurs again. The managers who think that if someone is not at their desk they are not working and the IT department who thinks it’s too insecure. Both of those dinosaurs need to realise it’s the twenty first century.

Let’s say working from home reduces traffic movements by ten percent each year. The net effect is significant. In addition, scientific studies have shown that people who regularly work from home are more productive, happier, and more likely to stay in their job longer.

The management of the city lighting system is another area that could be improved. In general, the older style of lighting are about thirty percent less efficient than the new. By moving to newer lighting, once again, energy demand is significantly lowered over time.

All of this needs to be managed as one of the things that we will see in the future of the Smart City is the Smart Grid, sometimes referred to as the “Internet of Things.” Basically, it means that there are more and more censors deployed to manage the city. Each utilises the local net to push information back to the City about how it is functioning, arterial traffic flows, hazard information, and dozens of other applications. This will all require more energy use and it is critical as the City starts to move down this path that those devices utilise solar power where possible.

If we do not prepare for and implement Smart Energy now, then we will find the cost of energy will eventually impact the health and economy of the Smart City.

The cities’ increased influence over their own energy investments is important because most Americans, and most citizens in the world’s industrial economies, now live in urban societies. Technology developments now make it more economic for most major metropolitan regions to invest within and near their own urban economies, in the distributed generation of electricity, from multiple and often small-scale resources and technology systems—rather than continuing to depend on and pay for the old model of importing electricity from very large remote generating plants. – Joe Browder, U.S. Energy Consultant


  1. Have a look at our call for Smart Energy Initiatives and connect your thoughts on sensors and wiki and information. As well as boosting Home Energy Audits and insulation of private homes as well as social housing, we added $250k to attract companies to partner with us on innovative projects.

    1. Hi Celia,

      I spotted that going through the other day, I need to do some research. I like your connections sentence; smart energy -> sensors -> wiki -> information.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: