By Steven Lupo
In the fast-approaching post-pandemic world we’re going to come to think of change as routine. This is not a bad thing. A lot of these changes will result in major advances, from greater cleanliness of public spaces to more resilience in our critical supply chains. Already, governments, municipalities and utilities are working more productively with the private sector in the delivery of critical services.
The bright side of pandemic change is that many organizations are putting aside purely monetary considerations in favour of the essential needs of people and communities. There is a converging of municipal and utility services with the potential to provide, finally, the most appropriate services for the lowest cost.
I believe technology and willpower are ready to meet the array of demands of the post-pandemic world. Smart buildings, industrial facilities, condominiums, and hospitals are starting to be designed, built and equipped with data systems customized for the connected community. Energy utilities, city planners, technology companies, property developers, builders and trades groups are beginning to work together to develop, trial, and adopt new technologies in lighting, air quality monitoring, traffic, waste, and energy for the full benefit of citizens. Stimulus spending on infrastructure projects by governments and major corporations will jump-start many mini, smart communities and, ultimately, smart neighbourhoods.
We’ll see many changes coming from central hubs as citizens become aware of what can be done to better sanitize, customize and protect our environments. These central hubs make it possible to make changes quickly once we identify needed reforms. For instance, electric and gas meters, critical parts of central hubs, not only monitor energy use, but come with built-in abilities to do a host of important tasks and to communicate with other equipment. The meter can monitor, analyze, control energy provision and consumption, and respond to outages reliably and efficiently.
Today governments are starting to push for data sharing to accomplish better efficiency. At the beginning of November, the Ontario government announced that most electricity and natural gas utilities in the province will need to enact the Green Button standard in 24 months. This standard allows utility customers to download data about their natural gas and hourly electricity use, and authorize the transfer of this information to apps that will not only analyze the information, but could also offer ideas on how consumption can be reduced.
Across cities, in condos, commercial buildings and houses, the once-little-noticed, wired, utility meter is now a major part in stable and secure wireless networks shared with other devices and technologies. Smart meters in powerful networks are capable of realizing many of the smart city features that were often talked about, but never-before delivered.
Ironically, while the pandemic made it more difficult for humans to communicate with one another, it emphasized the value of communications between the machines on which we depend. In fact, network communication is one of the technologies that has moved to the forefront of change prompted by the pandemic. Devices, like meters, in smart communities talk to each other, to the utility and other providers through low-power, wireless wide area networks (WAN) or neighbourhood area networks (NAN). Wireless solutions can reach all critical assets in networks – like smart electric meters, street lights, environmental sensors, and many other devices. This communication opens the door to basic change.
I believe this time of trial has given us a new focus on how difficult life can be. It’s likely, in the future, we will demand more measures across the board to make our lives not only safer but easier. I’m talking about change far beyond crowd control and mask-wearing. Take, for example, traffic signals and street lights – among the many devices and services that can now be monitored in real time; failures are detected instantly; lights and signals respond to emergencies by altering traffic flow and blinking to warn of accident locations. Some benefits will be safer and less hassle driving for all, overall reduction in CO2 emissions and lower personnel hours spent looking for failures.
One of many municipalities to take a step forward with its street lights is the City of Cowansville, Quebec. Municipal employees don’t have to rely on residents to notify them or patrol to find defective lights – they are notified immediately through a powerful analytics dashboard. With smart street lights lighting is controlled remotely, lamps turned on and off as needed or dimmed for special events or residents’ safety.
No doubt, the pandemic has changed our world and change will become permanent – even to being our ‘new normal.’ However, much of this change is disruptive in ways that will increase the quality of life and customer experience of citizens and this could be a very good thing.
Steven Lupo is the managing director of Trilliant where he leads Canadian operations. He brings 20 years of experience leading both early-stage and established energy management, utility services, and smart metering/grid businesses to his role.