Data from homes can help plan smarter cities

As the number of homes installing smart energy meters increases so those planning and building our towns and cities can make good use of the data that’s generated.

Smart meters: a user friendly lens through which policy makers can define, design and deliver smart cities
Smart meters: a user friendly lens through which policy makers can define, design and deliver smart cities
  • Updated: 15 February 2017
  • Author: Sacha Deshmukh, Chief Executive Smart Energy GB

Smart initiatives are transforming the way that people live in cities across the world. From automated lighting to train ticketing and integrated energy systems, cities across the world are embracing the power of digital data to create more resilient, efficient, affordable and liveable places to live and work.

In order to reach its true potential, any smart city project needs to be grounded on two key pillars.

First, is it being designed with enough insight into the priorities of the people who will use it? Does it solve real life problems and make living in cities better for residents?

And second, can the new initiative engage and inspire people to support and adopt it, so that they and the whole city can reap the benefits?

The most effective smart city initiatives become a part of everyday life for people – not an abstract policy. People need to understand the relevance of initiatives to their daily lives and recognise how they will make their lives better. Otherwise, what is the incentive for them to adopt new ways of doing things, however easy?

Digital technology that interacts with households

One important component of a smart city is its energy system and the way that households can interact with it.

This can’t happen without digital technology in every home, generating energy data which can, with the appropriate security and privacy measures in place:

  • interact with city-wide systems to manage demand
  • identify households in fuel poverty
  • interact with micro-generation of renewable energy

Digitisation of energy is well underway in Britain with around five million smart meters already installed and every home to be upgraded by 2020. This brings our energy system into the digital age with connectivity to every home that will enable cities and the entire country to better meet future energy demands.

Smart meters are an essential step for consumers to a world where they have better control of their energy, can have smarter, more energy efficient homes and can band together with their neighbours to buy and even to generate their gas and electricity.

Britain’s smart meter rollout is transforming the previous analogue experience of buying and using energy, responding to consumers’ desire for greater visibility and more control over what they’re using.

When an initiative is designed with people’s experiences and needs at its heart then the second component of a successful smart scheme – engaging residents – becomes much more achievable.

Framework for energy policy makers

It’s for this reason that we have developed the REAL Ratio, a framework for local authorities, central government and policy makers to assess how people-centric their approach to delivering smart projects is. REAL – which stands for ‘resilient, ‘efficient’, ‘affordable’ and ‘liveable’ – is a simple, user friendly lens through which policy makers can define, design and deliver smart cities.

It can help policy makers to focus on outcomes rather than methods. And it should encourage cities to avoid traditional sector based siloes by providing a way for policy makers to compare different projects through a single, user-friendly framework.

It looks at how a project can improve or support the city’s resilience against stresses that could impact its residents, such as natural disasters or a cyber attack.

It assesses the ability of a city to provide valuable services, such as health and transport, while maintaining efficiency.

The affordability of a project is also assessed, but within the context of the whole framework, to ensure that it is not prioritised at the cost of other outcomes.

And, finally, the REAL Ratio allows policy makers to measure the improvements in liveability that a digital transformation programme could enable.

Smart technology has the potential to transform our cities and the lives of the people that live in them but only if we keep in mind that cities are made of people, not buildings, roads and pipes, and that our plans must be built around them.

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