Charlotte Envisions a Smart Future

By Samuel Greengard  |  Posted 2015-09-03 Email Print this article Print
Smart energy systems

The City of Charlotte turned to smart energy systems in order to build a more sustainable and economically viable future for its businesses and residents.

As cities look for ways to build a more sustainable and economically viable future, many are focusing on smart energy systems. One city that has amped up its efforts: Charlotte, N.C.

The city of about 810,000 people has developed a unique public-private partnership focused on "intelligent buildings" and analytics that gather real-time energy consumption data from smart meters and sensors. That data is delivered to businesses and individuals through interactive kiosks and social media alerts.

The sustainability initiative is spearheaded by Envision Charlotte, a not-for-profit organization that works with the city and private companies to plug into better energy performance and, ultimately, a more robust local economy. The project, which has been in place for about two years, includes energy, water and waste.  

The results? The initiative has reduced power usage by 8.4 percent, and it has saved more than $10 million during that time. "Businesses are seeing significant results," says Amy Aussieker, executive director of Envision Charlotte.

The City of Charlotte worked with Verizon and Duke Energy to develop and implement the community conservation program. Verizon developed the wireless transmission system that supports the smart city initiative, while Duke Energy put the smart meters in place.

The University of North Carolina, Charlotte is another partner in the program. Data scientists and students at the university manage the big data framework that produces the results and delivers the insights.

Measuring the Results

So far, 61 of the 64 buildings that are 10,000 square feet or larger have enrolled in the program and installed shadow meters that collect data at 15-minute intervals. The data is uploaded to the cloud, where it is aggregated and analyzed, and then sent back to kiosks in 54 of the buildings for real-time readouts. The system generates more than 150,000 data points per building per month.

"Envision is unique because we actually measure our results and know if we're doing better or worse based on our constant analysis," she says.

Leaders from 28 organizations oversee the program, which has set a goal of 20 percent energy reduction. There's also a goal to reduce waste and manage recycling more efficiently.

The organization is continuing to work with the city to introduce chips, sensors and systems that eliminate current inefficiencies. Aussieker says that as data streams become more robust and data analysts continue to review results, efficiencies should continue to improve.

"There is a great deal of synergy when we can look at all these data streams in a more coordinated and cohesive way," she explains.

The idea for the smart city initiative came from Duke Energy chairman James Rogers, who pitched the idea to the Clinton Foundation's Clinton Global Initiative, which provided guidance.

Envision Charlotte was awarded a $500,000 U.S. Department of Energy Grant in May. It plans to help the city expand the use of energy-saving initiatives to other buildings within the area. The grant is part of a $6 million investment as part of the administration's effort to cut energy waste in the nation's buildings and double energy productivity by 2030.

"By looking at factors more holistically," Aussieker says, "we are able to reduce costs and build better systems that benefit everyone."

Samuel Greengard writes about business and technology for Baseline, CIO Insight and other publications. His most recent book is The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015).

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