EVs Are a Key Element of a Smart City

When we talk about sustainability, it’s important to talk about cities. Right now, half the people on the planet are living in cities. By 2050, that number is expected to grow to nearly 70 percent. And by 2100, according to the UN, 84 percent (of a projected population of 10.8 billion) will be city dwellers. Already, cities emit 80 percent of all greenhouse gases. So it’s important to learn how to build cities right. As Mike Calise, director of electric vehicles, partner business at Schneider Electric, put it, “The battle for our future is going to be won or lost in the cities.”

I spoke with Calise about some of the challenges and opportunities associated with making cities smarter and the role that electric vehicles, something that Schneider Electric is keenly interested in, will play in turning this idea of a smart city into a reality. 

Much has been written about what makes cities great.

McKinsey & Co., for example, frames it in terms of achieving smart growth, doing more with less, and winning support for change through great leadership. Great City, a strategic urban advocacy group, presses for improved cities through empowerment and engagement on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis. Their key strategies include Streets for People, Leadership for Great Neighborhoods, and Green Infrastructure. H.V. Savitch writes in Planetizen about the 4Cs of a great city: currency, cosmopolitanism, concentration, and charisma.

A number of these things contain intangibles that technology may or may not be able to address directly. Though such things as doing more with less, green infrastructure, currency (as in being current), and concentration can certainly benefit from a judicious application of technological know-how.

Q: First of all, what do we mean when we talk about a smart city?

Calise: When we talk about smart cities, we are talking about real-time information sharing. We’re talking about resiliency to disruptions, like from storms or natural disasters. We’re talking about an integrated set of services that work together in a synergistic manner.

Q: And what does that buy us?

Calise: It buys us operational cost savings, an improved quality of life, safety, and security. It buys us a place that’s desirable to live, that provides value to its citizens. It’s a place that’s easy to get around in, affordable, enriching. It has a thriving economy with opportunities for well-paying meaningful work. There’s a sense of community.

Q: Sounds pretty good. Is there a difference between a smart city and a great city? Can technology alone get us there?

Calise: It can certainly help. Take the Hacienda Business Park (HBP) in Pleasanton, Calif. , a collaboration of Schneider Electric, Toyota, Oracle, City Carshare, Kaiser, and various other business park tenants. This business park showcases the multi-faceted advantages embodied in this kind of synergistic combination of urban planning with advanced technology that the term smart city implies. Toyota provides their Scion EEIQ electric two-seater, made available through City Carshare. Schneider provides the cloud-connected charging infrastructure.

You can commute to work by train (BART station nearby) or bicycle (which has been shown to increase productivity) and have a car available to run errands or go shopping during lunch hour. Multiple IT interconnections in which the car talks to the charger, the charger talks to the grid, the person talks to the charger, and the person talks to the car, ensure that when you request a car to borrow, you will get one adequately charged to meet your needs. This system is smart, efficient and clean. It reduces traffic congestion with its associated stress, wasted fuel and pollution. It also eliminates the hassles associated with parking.

Q: Making it easy and convenient for people to get around is certainly a key element in making a city work. So, Mike, how does a smart city happen?

Calise: This is an emerging area. All of these initiatives are relatively new. Mature cities are not being measured well relative to smart cities. They have a lot of retrofitting to do to become smart. It’s been 5 years or so. We’re getting smarter.  Sustainable cities are more valuable cities. They still need integration around the actual delivery of value. They have not been integrated in this way.

It’s really hard to do what I just described when we’re expert at what we used to do. The challenges are immense. Governments don’t have money. By 2050, global energy demand is expected to double (assuming we do things the way we do them now). At the same time we are trying to cut carbon emissions in half.


Credit: Jack Keene.

Q: Speaking of government, what role does it play? What represents an ideal engagement? When things go well, which stakeholders are driving it?

Calise: Government leadership is critical. Without government setting policy, taking aggressive, progressive leadership, business models based on pieces of it can work; but you can’t get the full integration. Aggressive policies can jumpstart initiatives. Government’s role is to provide safety and a thriving environment and to support people’s liberty and freedom.

We also need government to take the long term view of things, something that businesses will not always do. At the center of all this is a livable environment for people. Collaboration is key. But that’s not all. You need stakeholders. You need commercial return on investment. You need innovation that creates profit, which makes people wealthy, which drives trade that drives capitalistic outcomes. That’s just as critical as the government policy. You need those working hand in hand.

This is companies setting examples; it’s the Chamber of Commerce understanding what those examples do, and then businesses capturing incentives in sustainable ways, developing business models, carrying those models to profitability. You need both,  not one versus the other. You also need the companies who are going to supply the technology, to raise cash, to invest, to take risks, to lobby, to help drive policy.

Q: So in some cases you can do pieces of it, but to really get a comprehensive approach, you need government support.

Calise: Correct. However, if you can get enough individual pieces working successfully, setting examples of success stories, you can create a tipping point where businesses will demand that the government get involved. HBP was a relatively small, low risk investment, a small pilot, that took a number of key stakeholders who came together to prove to the world that it can be done. Compare that with how difficult it is for the federal government to align on initiatives and you’ve got a pretty good idea of the lay of the land.

We’ve seen other examples described by Cisco Systems, which recently released a study on smart cities which projected a potential value of $14.4 trillion over the next decade for technology and services that connect people to people, machines to people and machines to machines. Areas of application include everything from traffic management, parking, waste and pollution reduction, energy efficient and “aware” city blocks, rain water management, street lighting, and video conferencing capabilities that will enable leading-edge services in areas such as education, security, virtual learning, and concierge services.

It’s safe to say that the “killer apps” for some of these capabilities have yet to be found, though I am confident that as they become widely available, people will continue to find many useful and valuable ways to employ them.



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