The smart city opportunity
The Australian smart cities market is growing by the nanosecond. In this race among cities to become smarter, network infrastructure and outcome-based approach will be critical for success.
Rising urban population, need to better manage limited natural resources and increasing focus on environmental sustainability is driving demand for smart city solutions, according to consulting firm Grand View Research, Inc. The firm predicts the global smart cities market size to reach US$2.57 trillion by 2025.
The Australian Government’s $50 million Smart Cities and Suburbs Program, launched in March 2017, is supporting the delivery of projects that improve the livability, productivity and sustainability of cities and towns across Australia. Under Round One of the Program, 50 projects received US$28.5 million in government funding. Round Two was announced in May and will support US$22 million of funding available through a competitive grant process. Funding flowed to all states and territories with nearly 40% of projects located in regional areas.
According to Mark Atkinson, Director of Sales, Australia-Pacific at Itron*, a global provider of smart meter, data collection and utility software systems, in the next 12–24 months, the market will be driven by two trends — the nexus between smart grid and smart city and the need to enable energy market efficiency. “The first will see the leveraging of existing investment to provide services; the latter will see solutions that enable improved network asset management and advanced services like demand management; behind the meter solutions,” said Atkinson.
Network infrastructure is key to a smart city deployment, according to Atkinson. “That said — it’s the outcome, not the technology that should be the focus. We see a lot of attention on specific network technologies in this space. Itron’s view is that the network forms a canopy for connectivity. It is unlikely that one technology will do everything you need. Hence our focus on standards-based solutions.
“For some time a lot of the debate has been around LPWAN/Cellular technology wars. We are seeing that these projects are maturing with the market starting to look for genuine outcomes in the form of benefit for the city/citizen. Itron has positioned itself as an outcomes provider as we see this trend accelerating,” said Atkinson. Itron is focused on Open Architecture solutions. “As such, we are focused on IPv6-enabled networks and leveraging the upcoming WiSUN standard.”
Enabling the end-user community to add devices and applications (distributed intelligence) is critical to the future of smart city/smart grid/IoT solutions. Atkinson said that at the moment, there is a lot of interest in the sector but there is little consensus in the approach. “The user community are coming to grips with the real issues; and we are starting to see the emergence of more consistent approaches. This will take time. For this reason Itron has invested in a process to help the customer community understand how to successfully kick off a project; and see it through to achieving real business outcomes.”
But what do smart cities do to succeed? “There is no secret sauce — this is about discipline in understanding the business issues; pain points and the need for improvement. So cities need to have a process to step through identifying the issues. The solution; how to pilot the system and then scale. Having a process and access to the experience to take this journey successfully is key,” said Atkinson.
“Itron is transitioning from a ‘vertical utility’ (water, gas. electricity) focus to ‘customer solution’ focus,” said Atkinson. “We also see the continued expansion of Smart City/IoT activity and the expanded overlap of Smart Grid/Smart City. Our teams will focus on a go to market approach looking to provide business outcomes (consulting on how to operate the business and achieve better business results from investment through to managed service solutions on behalf of our customers).”
The company has a number of smart city-related projects in Australia. The company’s recent project at ACTEW AGL Distribution is a finalist for the IoT Alliance Australia Awards this September. The ACTEW project combines both mesh and cellular data solutions to achieve the business outcome, said Atkinson.
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