Smart infrastructure: Upstate?

Sep 21, 2010

The last tornado that hit New York City arrived two years ago. This intrepid reporter didn’t find out until, getting on the wrong bus in an attempt to bypass the flooded subways, I wandered into a neighborhood full of downed trees. 

In the world Sharon Nunes imagines, the city would have had me up to speed by the time I reached the bus stop.

Nunes heads ‘Big Green Innovations’ for IBM’s Systems and Technology group . She imagines the city’s water and emergency response communicating with the subway which would communicate with signs along my route to the station, letting me know to take the bus instead of the train.

However, Binghamton, which has floundered economically since IBM vacated in the late 90s, doesn’t have a subway. Neither does Rochester (anymore) or Syracuse, or any number of struggling, under-resourced upstate cities. So I asked Nunes, what does smart infrastructure mean upstate? What promise does  smart infrastructure hold for cities that aren’t dotted with new, smart sensors, and which don’t have a lot of resources to spend creating a smart grid?

Nunes says maybe the answer for small cities is to work incrementally.

IBM and a growing list of IT companies (GE, Siemens, HP, et cetera) are trying to help cities use data collected with their technology to make cities more efficient: keep track of water leaking from pipes, energy from the grid.

This is not a selfless effort. These companies’ investments have also  been identified as a promising piece of the sustainability puzzle. If the improvements they come up with for each piece of those smart systems work, the savings might begin to pay for the next steps: getting the electric grid tuned into when the water system needs the most power and planning accordingly.

In their pilot projects, Nunes says, “existing older cities typically start with one or two focus areas -- say making buildings more energy efficient.” There’s government money, what Nunes calls “low-hanging fruit,” out there for greening buildings, by monitoring the energy they’re using and allocating it better.

“Same thing in the water system, if you can minimize leakage and reclaim some of non-revenue water.” Nunes says in older cities with old piping, as much as thirty to forty percent of a city’s water could be leaking

Want to learn more?

Dan Delaney, President of the Demand Response Smart Grid Coalition appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered in July to talk about how smart infrastructure entered the response to record temperatures this summer.

The National Partnership for Reinventing Government – the other ‘NPR,’ did some thorough and readable work during the Clinton administration to lay out the possibilities for using data about places.