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The Cloud: A Moonshot that is Paying Off for Cities and Businesses

Last June, Kansas City struck up a nearly $16 million partnership with Cisco Systems and Sprint to help make that city a lot smarter. How so? By tapping into digital technologies to improve such vital city services as energy, water and transportation.

It’s all tied to the cloud — that place in the “sky” that stores tons of data and information on servers so that businesses or cities can get a holistic view and make better and more cost-effective decisions. In the case of cities, for example, they can better control traffic, avoiding jams and limiting emissions. They can also optimize their municipally-owned grids, making room for more green energy.

As for businesses, they can make smarter decisions, allowing them to know where to allocate scarce resources. As one expert told this reporter, it’s like knowing to whom to give the basketball and where on the court to get them that ball, with just second left in the game. It increases the odds of winning.

“As urban populations continue to rise, cities will face unprecedented infrastructure demands, and improved public private coordination is needed for better management of energy, water, transport, buildings and societal needs,” writes Lauren Riga, a smart cities expert for the city of Indianapolis, in a column that will appear in Tuesday’s edition of Environmental Leader.

In an age of globalization when many of us are just a click away, cities and companies need ways to store their critical data. The so-called Internet of Things is the pathway to the cloud — the technology that gives a disparate group of individuals or business units spread around the world a chance to see the same information. Riga says that those tools are a $19 trillion industry.

She also points to the World Health Organization’s figures, which say that urban growth around the globe will rise from 3.4 billion in 2009 to 6.4 billion in 2050. “Enabled solutions” that rely on the Internet of Things have the potential to cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 16 percent by 2020, she says, referencing the 2014 Internet of Things World Forum.

Take San Jose, Calif: It is partnering with Intel Corp. to create 25,000 clean technology positions. How? By installing air quality assessments as well as climate and sound sensors, the partnership will measure airborne particulates, noise pollution and traffic patterns. Having access to that information will enable better decision making, which will lead to healthier conditions and cleaner environs.

Other cities are taking similar steps, says Riga: Carson City Nevada created an infrastructure device that controls wastewater, transportation, landfill, and energy.

“All this is happening today,” adds Kip Compton, vice president of Cisco System’s Internet of Things’ systems and software, which is working with Barcelona, Spain, in a previous talk with this reporter. “But we are still in the beginning. This will be huge.”

Beyond cities, power grid operators are taking advantage of the cloud. They have traditionally relied on scheduled asset maintenance to keep the lines open and the power on — all based on “silos” of data compilation, as opposed to a holistic aggregation and analysis. That has made it difficult to assimilate the plethora of information coming at them.

Now, though, with cloud-based solutions that can store and analyze big data, those same professionals have a 360-degree view of their assets — everything from the transformer to the entire grid. Such views are in both real-time and over prolonged times so as to make long-term projections. And corporate energy and environmental managers are the primary beneficiaries of those tools that keep outages to a minimum and that increase energy efficiencies.

“We have a place you go where you can see everything you want to know about the assets. We are also getting the ability to see asset conditions — a really useful way for us to manage risk in this business,” says Jon Fenn, head of network engineering for National Grid.

It’s a moon shot that is paying off — one that is figuratively storing all the essential data in a central location in the “cloud” and enabled by the Internet of Things. And it’s helping both cities and companies make better decisions and ones that are saving time and money.

Ken Silverstein is editor-in-chief of Business Sector Media, publisher of Environmental Leader and Energy Manager Today.

*Don’t miss our Environmental Leader 2016 Conference  in June. 

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One thought on “The Cloud: A Moonshot that is Paying Off for Cities and Businesses

  1. Let’s not forget that along with the potential promise of greater interconnectedness comes greater vulnerability to hacking and other cyber attacks. Planners need to keep this in mind as these systems are only as strong as the weakest link and these systems need to be carefully analyzed for robustness.

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