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ssn-1119-11.jpg.crop_display Illustration courtesy of Silver Spring Networks

The Smart City Common Denominator

Cities and utilities binding urban infrastructure in transformative web.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Dresselhuys, co-founder of Silver Spring Networks, drafted this position paper on the future of energy in smart cities to support The Energy Times' recent landmark event, Empowering Customers and Cities. Silver Spring Networks was part of a broad cross-section of the utility sector that supported the event.

This is the first of a two-part series. Next week: Utilities and Smart Cities Join Forces.

Smart cities encompass a full spectrum of city systems, including transportation, energy, water, engaged citizens, health and safety, environmental sustainability, building management and so much more.

Eric Dresselhuys


The associated applications and citizen services must seamlessly integrate together – enabling the sharing of information between people and their city to deliver more efficient, prosperous and economically thriving communities.

Many different stakeholders are buzzing about smart cities these days, and for good reason.  Implementing ‘smart’ solutions can dramatically improve safety, efficiency and economic competitiveness for all citizens.

But many of these efforts are happening in silos, creating more heat than light in delivering real benefits at scale.  And, a critical stakeholder is often missing. The local utility may be deploying ‘smart’ in parallel and is already the established player responsible for providing critical infrastructure.

The common denominator in helping both groups is simple: a networking platform on which critical infrastructure connectivity is created – allowing the entire city infrastructure to interact with the community and with itself – by creating an Internet of Things connected by advanced IP technology.

The standards-based wireless IP-based networking that we’re deploying is particularly well suited for connecting all of the devices and infrastructure in hard-to-reach parts of cities.  You can imagine that the sensors and control devices that control the distribution of energy, roads and bridges, trains and traffic are often underground, down the ally, in a metal box or behind the doors of a steel vault. 

These applications are now looking to leverage the advancements made in intelligent sensors, distributed processing and advanced networking to make modernizing cities, particularly older cities, more possible than ever before.

Imagine algorithms that notify when trash cans are full, where parking spots are available in city centers, how to direct traffic flows and emergency vehicles during car accidents, and when to illuminate bike and pedestrian pathways during bad weather or after community events using adaptive street lights. 

If done right, the same platform being deployed to control electricity grids can support these additional applications at a fraction of the cost and with much greater reliability than alternative approaches.

Combining this open connectivity with open data will create new applications and value that we can’t even imagine today. The data from the platform can allow entrepreneurs, start-ups, and academia to invent a whole new raft of devices and applications.

These innovations will help drive increasing sustainability and energy conservation, new smart city services in areas like transportation, health, safety and public infrastructure, and incentivize greater business and economic investment within a community.

Eric Dresselhuys is Silver Spring Networks co-founder and executive vice president.

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