Does the smart city concept have teeth?

“The reason we continue to talk about this subject is because it addresses three fundamental issues for cities: how do they continue to grow economically and do it sustainability and still deliver core services with all of that. And what is the role of technology in those goals?” asked Eric Woods, research director, Navigant, during the Smart Cities and the Energy Transition session on Wednesday during the DistribuTECH conference.

The session (co-chaired by Tom Eyford, global industry specialist, operations at Oracle) painted a more complete picture of the smart cities concept that has been floating around the industry for a number of years now. But, rather than the old discussions about dreams, now we’re drilling down into details, into pilots, into technology—into the nitty gritty. And, according to Woods, there’s also a real discussion about real opportunities as this concept evolves.

“We believe in San Diego that smart cities is an economic issue,” said Erik Caldwell, economic director for the City of San Diego, reiterating one of Woods’ original points. Caldwell noted that the economic opportunity of smart cities requires a real conversation with utilities about energy and technology. And, he added, if they get this conversation right, it helps not just their city but cities around the world looking at the same issues.

“Ten years ago, it was all about building the next billion-dollar power plant in this industry,” said Cris Eugster, chief operating officer at CPS Energy, discussing the industry culture change that makes smart cities both possible and probable. “Now the conversation is all about the grid… now that plant-building view is mostly in the rear-view mirror.”

Eugster added that the smart city concepts bring together the ideas they’re already working with: demand-side programs, customer focus, grid-edge renewables. (One out of seven customers are participating in those programs, giving CPS a virtual power plant to replace those plant builds, he noted.)

Scott Osterholt with AEP Ohio joined in Eugster’s utility-sided conversation about the topic, showing how they are bringing their smart city approach to fruition.  AEP Ohio is working from the outline of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge. (Seventy-eight cities applied for the grant.) In fact, a grant was eventually awarded to the City of Columbus, Ohio, which gave the local AEP arm lots of experience in the building of a smart city from the ground up.

AEP Ohio’s initiatives include microgrids, clean energy R&D, energy efficiency, electric vehicle work, vehicle-to-home connectivity research, smart lighting, and solar and wind deployment.

Charlie Gay, director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, added the government renewable perspective to the smart city discussion as well. Gay did point out the massive effort this concept requires, given that—just with solar installations—we’re dealing with 18,000 jurisdictions across the U.S. and 3,000 possible utility partners.

All the session’s panelists agreed that smart cities were, in no way, an easy feat. They all noted that it will be a lot of details, a lot of technology and a lot of cooperation and collaboration. But they were all happy to report that getting to a smart city reality has already begun. We’re baby-stepping our way from grand visions to completed customer promises, and it finally looks like these dreams will be more than ethereal in the near future.


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Opower Author
Kathleen Wolf Davis /

In the shortest terms: I'm the writer here at Oracle Opower. Been penning pieces about the energy biz for almost 20 years with stints at Electric Light & Power magazine, POWERGRID International magazine and Intelligent Utility magazine.