How US utilities are leveraging IIoT for smarter and safer cities

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Utilities are leveraging advanced metering infrastructure and mesh networks to pilot smart city initiatives, and these projects are making a tangible difference in communities in the US.

The Itron Inspire virtual event recently allowed utilities to showcase some of the cutting edge pilots in the smart city space. Two such projects are situated in Wilmington, Delaware, and Annapolis, Maryland and are using street lighting to deliver smart benefits to communities.

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Connecting Wilmington

Gary Missan, Smart Grid & Innovation principal at Pepco Holdings, explains the pilot project, Connect Wilmington, which aims to investigate smart street lighting. About 200 street lights were converted to LED, including a 50 light demonstration area set up by Itron as a proof of concept network.

“In general these pilots aim to address major issues that the cities are having, identify existing or near-future technology that can leverage AMI networks and provide clear benefits to connected communities,” said Missan.

The utility, Delmarva Power, used StreetLight Vision as the Content Management System (CMS) in the test environment. Widgets on the CMS allowed for snapshots based on data collected every 15 seconds. The system also allowed the team to configure direct links from inside StreetLight Vision, such as to the AeroQual cloud. This allowed the monitoring of air quality over time.

“For Wilmington, the largest city in Delaware – this was a big deal,” said Missan.

The project made use of three main technologies attached to the street lights, namely: traffic monitoring, air quality monitoring, and gunshot detection

Lessons learned from the pilot include:

  • Dont provide technology for technology’s sake – it stimulates conversations about the future, it may not solve the current problems.
  • Ensure tech is also thoroughly tested
  • Ensure there is a single point of contact for all stakeholders at the municipality who is invested in project success
  • Pay attention to what the city wants or needs
  • Set expectation around long lead times, the smart node supply chain is causing delays
  • Build business case for full deployment
  • Identify and design a repeatable process for evaluating technologies

“We are doing these things on a test network right now, we’re still not at the point of doing a third-party sensor pilot. We want to put this out on a production system, but we all know it takes a lot of cybersecurity, and a lot of regulatory and legal [issues], etc.”

“We, as the local utility, should be an enabler of technologies for the greater good. With that in mind, we developed a roadmap in our service territory,” said Missan. After setting a needs statement and conducting a conditions assessment, Delmarva Power began a period of stakeholder engagement, allowing for greater alignment between the utility efforts and community needs, explained Missan.

In phase 2, a full LED conversion of about 6 400 lights is planned for Wilmington. There will also be investigations into pilot testing of smark parking, digital signage, and flood sensing.

“Aligning with the community priorities is the challenge and the fun in getting these technologies in the pipeline,” concluded Missan.”

Smart lighting in Annapolis

Another smart pilot is taking place in downtown Annapolis, Maryland.

Sam duPont, Principal, Utility of the Future, Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) delved into their smart pilot. Together with Itron, BGE is demonstrating different types of AMI powered smart lighting systems.

The sensors being deployed are used for gunshot detection, traffic monitoring and control, as well as to monitor the weather and the environment. Wind speed, rainfall, and tide level data are being provided to the city like this for the first time, explained duPont.

duPont highlighted the pilot lessons learned and emphasised ensuring community buy-in and having a single point of contact in the community.

Said duPont: “I draw a distinction between the political by in and the staff. Once an elected official moves on after an election, having that structural buy-in is vital for project success.

“That’s one thing we looked for in Annapolis, we looked for the political buy-in and really worked through the agencies we are partnering with, ensuring we build [good] will from the bottom up and from the top down.”

duPont believes the importance of partnerships can’t be overstated. “It’s really key, such as private vendor partnerships, partnerships with the city, even local non-profits and business groups – they enable a lot of growth”.

Finally, duPont mentioned one of their most important lessons: “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. When demonstrating this technology, you could sit around for a long time before you actually do anything – really looking for perfection”.

“We have our standards, of course, I’m not saying be cavalier, but if you’re working at a scale that allows you to take some risk, go ahead with that”.

Take a look below at the impact smart street lighting has had in Baltimore.

Visit the Itron Inspire website for more recorded sessions from the event.