How Georgia Power Is Delivering Intelligence as a Service
Smart cities need smart utilities. Today—behind a growing array of intelligent streetlights, substations and energy meters that light, power and analyze our world—there are electric utility companies leveraging the latest Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to solve tomorrow’s challenges and help cities thrive.
Electric utilities and cities share a unique alignment—their success is collaborative, cooperative and indelibly linked. From community boards to council gatherings, utility directors and planners are embedded in the fabric of the city and often work side by side with elected officials to restore order when extreme weather threatens or natural disasters occur.
Cities also lean on utilities to help things go smoothly when hosting a major sporting event, large convention or other popular attraction; and when population growth demands additional electric infrastructure, it’s utilities that quickly answer the call. At the same time, utilities can enable entirely new possibilities, such as “active grid” modernization that can serve as the backbone of smart city systems.
PUTTING PEOPLE FIRST
Above all, cities and utilities have a goal to serve the public equitably and efficiently and to be accountable to all citizens. This requires infrastructure that can be a platform for communities to grow and prosper, and for over 100 years, utilities like Georgia Power, the largest subsidiary of Southern Company, have built electric grids that deliver power to millions of customers, enabling countless businesses and individuals to generate their own successes every day.
For Georgia Power, the smart city is not a new concept but an extension of its core mission to be a positive force throughout Georgia and the Southeast. Recognizing the opportunity to use data to make better decisions, Georgia Power has piloted numerous programs in recent years aimed at making communities more connected and responsive.
Including investments in smart meters, renewable power solutions, electric vehicle initiatives, LED lighting deployments and more, Georgia Power has established an impressive track record for innovation as the utility focuses on defining what “smart” means to city officials in the regions where it operates. Already, the success of these projects shows how smart utilities are imperative to improving urban spaces.
Once counted on to simply keep the lights on, many utilities now offer myriad ways to intelligently manage cities’ needs, and a peek at Georgia Power shows how utilities can also be instrumental in bringing city departments together while building public support for digital infrastructure. Truly, the smart city vision requires partners who can bridge the gap between local governments and residents, and across the country, electric providers are leading the charge.
Here are three reasons smart cities need smart utilities:
1. BIGGER POPULATIONS REQUIRE BETTER PROBLEM-SOLVERS
The latest United Nations estimate places 55% of the world’s population in urban areas—a figure that’s expected to increase to 68% by 2050. Today, the most urbanized regions include North America (82% of people living in urban areas), Latin America (81%) and Europe (74%). As the global population swells, sustainable development depends increasingly on the successful management of urban growth, and this has smart utilities thinking about how to stay ahead of the curve.
“Our customers are changing, where they live is changing,” says Christine Primmer, smart cities strategy manager at Georgia Power. “In the heart of Atlanta, we’re expecting another 2 million people over the next two decades, which is going to put a dramatic strain on infrastructure on top of the issues we’re already dealing with.”
Primmer explains digital technologies can enable electric service improvements and efficiencies as more people connect to the grid. Georgia Power’s advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) system, for example, allows the utility to remotely read a customer’s meter without having to visit the property. The information received from the meters also helps the utility company speed up power restoration to its customers in the event of an outage. And as the city grows larger, the system can scale in size to accommodate new demands. It’s one way that Georgia Power is helping Atlanta prepare for a smarter future, but it’s not the only consideration.
“Extreme weather events such as hurricanes and flooding are also causing cities to think differently about the concept of resiliency,” Primmer adds. “Smart infrastructure that can monitor the environment, sound alarms or direct people to safety in an emergency is important, along with solutions that help reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality. Cities like Atlanta are looking to radically elevate all aspects of urban living, and we have a responsibility to assist.”
According to the Chief Technology Officer for the city of Atlanta, Tye Hayes, “Atlanta is experiencing large increases in urban population, visitors and the number of businesses developing in or relocating to the city. These increases create new challenges in handling street, foot and data traffic, as well as ensuring a safe and sustainable environment for the city’s residents and businesses. At the same time, the expectations of the city’s residents, visitors and businesses are undergoing a massive shift toward greater demand for connectivity, immediacy, sustainability and safety. Couple those shifts with Mayor (Keisha) Lance Bottoms’ vision, and what we are doing creates the framework for the city to remain a thought leader when it comes to smart initiatives. Technological advances in fiber, wireless, sensors, big data analytics and connected devices have created avenues for us to meet those demands.”
Hayes further explained, “The constant demand to be innovative while marrying the citizens’ needs with the municipality’s duty to provide efficient and effective services for our constituents is a top concern when prioritizing smart city initiatives. Public safety, public services and overall public experiences are the things that drive how we look at technology innovation for our infrastructure and, ultimately, for the future of the city.”
Clearly, electric utilities can play a leading role in smart city development due to their infrastructure offerings like smart meter networks and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, as well as wide geographic coverage of vital infrastructure, including streetlights, distribution poles and rights-of-way.
In fact, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, over 70 million smart meters have already been deployed in the U.S. alone. Now, utilities look for ways to enhance their IoT investments to go beyond the traditional utility function and support municipal monitoring and response. Some utilities like Georgia Power are even taking these investments to the next level by becoming information-driven partners with an abundance of valuable data on energy usage, electric-vehicle charging, geospatial facilities and topography. Using emerging analytics to draw insights from the data, utilities are beginning to fundamentally change the way cities operate.
Furthermore, utilities can help cities access the capital that is required to deploy IoT technologies at scale and can be instrumental in lining up public-private partnerships that get projects off the ground. Just as important, utilities can accelerate the digital transformation of cities through skillful diplomacy with decision-makers and community leaders.
As evidenced by an upsurge of smart deployments, utilities can offer cities many different options to help manage future needs.
2. UTILITIES ALREADY OWN THE MOST CRITICAL ASSET
Smart utilities enable smart cities by serving as part of the fabric of local communities, adds T&D World. After all, no one knows city infrastructure better than electric utilities that already have relationships with thousands of customers. Utilities own the rights-of-way, hold the franchise agreements and know where the lines are buried. They also have the equipment and crews necessary to deploy, operate and maintain smart city technologies.
Georgia Power, for instance, owns more than 850,000 streetlight poles across the state that can serve as prime real estate to host IoT devices for data extraction. Importantly, the utility is backed by a robust logistics network ready to support intelligent infrastructure growth, such as upgrading streetlight poles with connected nodes that can capture and share data in near real time.
Many cities also own streetlight poles but lack convenient access to the experts that make intelligent infrastructure work seamlessly. To solve this problem, utilities like Georgia Power have spent years cultivating a broad ecosystem of solutions providers ready to respond to the challenge—partners committed to making meaningful contributions to city efficiency, economic development, sustainability and citizen welfare. As a result, many electric providers are now strongly positioned to introduce new smart city applications.
“About half our LED streetlights are connected through network controls, making it easy to switch them on and off or to adjust the intensity of the light when it’s appropriate,” says Primmer.
Primmer also points to cameras for serving up public safety options, crosswalk sensors tied to traffic signals and attention-grabbing digital signage as potential add-ons to intelligent infrastructure, including stormwater detection and flood monitoring devices.
“Regardless of the technologies you choose, you’re going to need someone to consistently manage those services, and that’s where smart utilities shine,” she says.
And by working with Current’s own ecosystem of intelligent partners, Georgia Power has tapped into an even larger portfolio of apps aimed at helping cities operate more efficiently. In fact, many of these solutions are now being tested throughout Atlanta, including:
- Gunshot detection that broadcasts alerts to 911 dispatch centers, patrol cars and even smartphones, with the precise location, number of rounds fired, multiple or single shooters, and other valuable situational intelligence, dramatically improving emergency response time;
- Video management tools that allow the police department to pull data from CityIQ nodes and store files in its evidence management systems;
- Parking detection that alerts the city when a vehicle is parked where it shouldn’t be, and, with time, wayfinding abilities to navigate drivers to open spaces.
“The same way the smartphone is a way to conveniently integrate an almost limitless number of applications, digitized infrastructure can be a platform for many types of apps that will only continue to grow as the technology evolves,” says Primmer. “By digitizing our lighting assets, Georgia Power is furthering its commitment to provide safe and reliable services to every community.”
Moving forward, Georgia Power, Current and AT&T will continue to evaluate new applications that can raise the IQ of cities, such as improving pedestrian and cyclist safety along busy roadways. And by capturing information about how traffic conditions affect the environment, cities like Atlanta could eventually gain access to actionable analytics to pinpoint sources of pollution and drive climate change initiatives. Additionally, there are a growing number of apps that promise to transform the way real estate and facilities are planned, utilized and optimized, as well as technologies that enable remote monitoring of roads, tunnels and bridges to determine when repairs are needed.
Ultimately, smart utilities can help city departments align their strategies with community priorities using an ever-expanding array of IoT applications, many of which can be directly tied to existing streetlight infrastructure that is ubiquitous across all urban centers.
3. IT TAKES SOMEONE TO BRING EVERYONE TOGETHER
Smart cities require cooperation across the public and private sectors, and utilities can be at the center of it all, helping department leaders, technology partners and citizens see the greater vision for how transformation will play out in their communities.
Only it can be hard to know when and where to get started, again putting the focus on forward-looking utilities. The hurdles that must be overcome to launch a smart deployment can be prohibitive to swift, decisive action without a champion to spearhead the project. For Georgia Power, it’s a role that starts with building relationships at every level.
“We’re really excited about our sensor-data deployment in Atlanta because it touches multiple city departments and outside organizations,” Primmer explains. “This program is unique because it pulls together many functions inside Atlanta—public works, traffic management, public safety and IT.
“It’s powerful because getting these groups together around new collaboration objectives will help carry us through the innovation process. So often it’s an open exchange of ideas that leads us to the ‘aha’ moment or an opportunity that wasn’t as obvious before. Creating intelligent environments starts with creating dialogue because technology can’t fix everything. You still need clear goals and group alignment to achieve success.”
Georgia Power is building smarter cities by engaging stakeholders and citizens on the same streets that promise to unlock urban innovation.
Just as critical, adds Primmer, is that smart utilities create consistency across government transitions, such as when a new mayor is elected. This helps ensure the city’s vision is carried through from administration to administration, even as parties and politics change.
Utilities can also play a big part in educating key players about what’s coming next and why they should be excited. Recently in Atlanta, Georgia Power participated in Georgia Tech’s Smart Cities Inclusive Innovation Initiative—a roundtable event featuring the Georgia Public Service Commission, followed by a walking tour of the city’s North Avenue smart corridor. In attendance were representatives from Georgia Tech, Renew Atlanta and Georgia Power who talked about how making data actionable requires a closely coordinated effort from different stakeholders and state agencies, and that all parties must stay informed and involved in the process.
In addition, Georgia Power is a sponsor of the Georgia Smart Communities Challenge at Georgia Tech—a first-of-its-kind opportunity for communities across the state to receive the funding and support that enable them to envision, explore and plan for their smart future. Select communities are given $50,000 in grant funding, a partnership with a Georgia Tech research team, networking opportunities and access to local resources to execute their projects. These resources include connections to industry experts as well as access to technology solutions provided by other program partners.
“We’re also an enthusiastic supporter of local events and programming that encourage our entrepreneurial community to create the solutions that use data to advance the livability, workability and sustainability of our cities,” says Primmer. “We want to be a master innovator and, at the same time, an enabler that helps others make sense of this landscape.
It takes a village to raise a smart city—Georgia Tech’s Georgia Smart Communities Challenge is made possible by multiple organizations with a commitment to improving government services and citizen welfare.
“People are moving and connecting to cities at an incredible rate, and the question we’re asking is how do we accelerate innovation while not leaving communities behind? Finding those answers is how Georgia Power is staying true to its mission to deliver outstanding customer service while providing power at prices well below the national average.”
PREPARE TO ACTIVATE
As smart city growth gathers speed, many municipalities are wondering how they can capture the momentum. While citizens express the desire to live in smart cities, there is a disparity between residents’ expectations and the reality for elected officials and their resources. In all cases, the greatest barrier to intelligent infrastructure is the complexity involved in going from concept to reality.
Current is committed to educating citizens about the promises of innovation and economic expansion offered by connected lighting platforms. And while shifting to an open-data policy can require a significant change in mindset for some cities, it can also unlock a wider app economy, as Atlanta is demonstrating.
Along with its IoT partners, Current is on a journey to activate smart cities using simple and strategic approaches for creating public support. Cities embracing their own digital transformation are invited to come along and discover a world of possibilities.
Visit www.currentbyge.com/contact to get in touch with a representative.