One of the things that George Karayannis deals with is trying to make cities smarter by helping build smarter and more sophisticated core infrastructure. As he puts it, cities need to be more efficient, sustainable, resilient, and ultimately, more livable.
Many of the systems that city planners and efficiency experts want to change and improve are essentially technical. It’s a matter of adding more sensors and networking them to send information about the flow of power and demand patterns for electrical current. Schneider Electric has been involved in that effort for years because it’s difficult to make things better in the future if you don’t know how they are now.
Often though, a technical solution is only part of the larger picture. People invariably enter into the mix because they are what inhabit a city. And that’s where things can get complicated. I doubt any citizen would disagree with any of the four elements Karayannis mentions. Those are all good things, but people sometimes have strange attitudes when it comes to specific implementations. Improvements are fine, but don’t ask me to change my behavior.
That’s why it is important to make sure citizens are informed and empowered. If a utility is trying to create a path for changes in the way it works with its customers, it has to make the case clearly and in a way that individuals see and understand the ways in which they engage. Electrical customers are not universally demanding smart meters or smart thermostats. People that understand the benefits might already have upgraded in one way or another, but that number is still too small.
As Karayannis observes, utilities have to engage on a deeper level. Citizens do need to be smarter to understand the benefits of cooperating, and utilities need to make that clear or individuals will always assume those changes are for somebody else. I don’t have to pay attention to my electrical consumption patterns because one person doesn’t make a difference.
The ability of utilities to test different approaches in eco-districts helps them to see how such a message might be gaining traction, or not. Making changes on a smaller scale lets a utility reach out in a way that there can be more individual engagement between a utility representative and consumer. The relationship becomes between people rather than a faceless corporation. This applies where the utility is investor owned and it can work equally as well when it is a municipality. Dealing with a faceless city bureaucracy is just as bad as a corporation.
Something as simple as a Schneider Electric’s Wiser smart thermostat can go a long way in building that relationship. It’s easy for users to understand, and it is a scalable, cost-effective method for utilities to use. Maybe a thermostat is just a box that mounts on the wall, but it has the ability to inform and empower. I can now see how I’m consuming power and what it costs, and I am empowered to do something about it. I can change my behavior because it saves me money, and over time maybe I’ll even realize that I am contributing to the greater good of the community. A smarter citizen can make a smarter city.