The energy intersect in smart cities

An international coalition has been convened to develop an Internet of Things-enabled smart city framework.
Published: Wed 18 Jan 2017

Smart city projects are emerging in all parts of the world. A recent report from IDC estimates that by the end of the current year as many as one third of medium and large cities worldwide will have developed a smart city roadmap, with the US very much at the forefront.

But like all technology and communication based initiatives, voluntary, consensus standards developed through industry-led processes are vital for the seamless interoperability that is necessary for widespread and long term development. And the absence of a standard framework is a major barrier for smart city solutions. Many of the current smart city ICT deployments are based on custom systems that are not interoperable, portable across cities, extensible or cost-effective. Further, while a number of architectural design efforts are currently underway by various standards organisations and consortia, such as ISO/IEC JTC1, IEC, IEEE and ITU, they have not yet converged.

The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) played a key role in coordinating smart grid standards and is now taking on a similarly facilitating role for smart cities. The organisation is spearheading an international public effort to develop a consensus framework “of common architectural features to enable smart city solutions that meet the needs of modern communities.”

Partners include the American standards body ANSI, the US Green Building Council, the European standards institute ETSI, South Korea’s Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (MSIP), the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), the Italian energy and innovation agency ENEA and the FIWARE initiative.

Smart city framework

The initiative aims to draw on the lessons learned from pioneer smart city implementations to "distill a composable smart city framework,” i.e. with integration and improvement achieved through harmonising existing functions as opposed to wholesale replacement or retrofitting.

The focus is on discovering by uncordinated consensus ‘pivotal points of interoperability’ (PPI), or ‘standardised interfaces’ shared by different smart city technologies and ‘domains’.

Three working groups are convened:

• The Application Framework group is developing a document covering the scope of smart city applications and metrics. The aim is to provide a framework to measure benefits that can be derived from smart city applications and to identify metrics to assess the readiness of cities to absorb these applications.

The Consensus PPI group is determining the common concerns and the PPIs that multiple smart city technologies share, based on analysis of existing smart city architectures and Internet of Things descriptions. The principle is to find interfaces that deal with the composition of IoT systems without constraining innovation, which could result from over standardizing (the principle being that standardising everything can freeze out innovation).

The Deployed PPI group is identifying actual smart city deployments which make use of two or more different technologies and are integrated using PPIs. Five to 10 cities with existing multi-domain deployments also are being identified and the critical elements documented.

Energy in smart cities

Energy is obviously fundamental to a city and is one of the core smart city ‘domains’ that have been identified, along with others including water, transportation, buildings, waste, education, health and safety and economic development.

“Each of these domains has its practitioners and experts and each believe they are facing a unique problem,” NIST electronic engineer and project coordinator Dr Marty Burns, told Engerati in an interview. “In reality they have a similar set of requirements but they vary by weighting. We want to put all these requirements on the same page so they can be compared and evaluated.”

For example, a near unique feature of the smart grid – shared by manufacturing among a limited number of other applications – is that it comprises a critical infrastructure under a single owner that needs to be tightly managed and thus needs tight access controls and timing requirements.

“We believe that if we can discover the common and near common choices that are made it will drive convergence on the ability to propagate data for services that are independently developed rather than having to do everything end to end.”

Possible PPIs that Burns, who has a smart grid background and was involved in the development of initiatives including Green Button among others, points to as examples include IPV6 for end node network identification, PKI for protecting the confidentiality of information and key management or OAuth for authorizing third party access to data.

The smart city energy applications identified to date are broadly focused on transmission and distribution and supply side and demand side management and include demand response, smart grid applications, storage, etc.

Smart city deployment

he initial release of the smart city framework is planned for the summer of 2017. The primary users are envisaged to be technology developers and suppliers, the owners of these technologies such as city stakeholders and the standards development organisations.

“We expect a significant database of information to result. Each of the working groups is developing a methodology and tools and is doing analyses and all of these will feed into the database,” says Burns.

With such information to hand – based on real life smart city deployments and experiences – it should prove invaluable in supporting cities in their smart city activities and fostering the necessary sectoral collaboration. And once again it is clear that with their experience with data and communications the utilities are well placed to play a leadership role in any such developments.

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