Smart Grid, Smart Cities, Happy People

Author: Marco C. Janssen, UTInnovation, the Netherlands

When thinking of smart grids and smart cities often the first thoughts utility staff have is about the diversity and complexity of the technologies required to create a smart grid or city, the money required to build it, and their justification.
However the role of a utility in a smart city or grid environment is not centered around technology. It is in its most basic form keeping the lights on, the water running, and the gas flowing.  Technology is merely a means to achieve that goal and its complexity and costs are irrelevant as long as the main objectives are met.

So when looking at cities and the role of the utility for the city, one of the most important questions is what the objectives of a city are which are relevant for the development of a utility and the landscape it is trying to manage.
Given that in a few years from now it is expected that more than 60% of the world’s population will live in cities, it will be the cities that will drive the need for development and technology.  It will be the cities that will decide how the world will evolve.

From a city perspective the main objectives can be summarized in a few catch phrases. The leadership of a city wants the city to be attractive to the people that live in it and visit it. In short, it wants its citizens and visitors to be happy!

It is the definition of happy which then drives the creation of the smart city image. From that smart city definition the cities policy makers derive the developments required and their priorities. These required developments turn into projects and these projects turn into technologies being deployed and in the end the smart city is realized.
So when looking at the role of the utility in such an environment it is clear that the utility cannot isolate itself from the smart city objectives and its envisioned developments. It is quite the opposite. The utility should in my opinion focus its short, medium and long-term strategy on keeping pace with the development of the major cities it serves. This not only provides justification for projects to be developed and technologies to be deployed, it provides the financial motivation for them and creates buy in from all the stakeholders.

For example the Middle East may not be the first region to be considered when discussing the introduction of electric vehicles. However when the smart city plans include a chapter on green economy and cleaner forms of transportation, then it is clear that the utility has a motivation to develop an electric vehicle charging infrastructure as this will be supporting these objectives.

Although the principal task of the utility to keep the lights on, the water running and the gas flowing will not directly change, the motivation for investments in the necessary infrastructure will be a lot easier if these investments are focused on boosting the smart city development, increase the happiness of the people and promote the city as the place to be.

Based on the aforementioned I think that linking the smart grid strategy to the smart city objectives is the way to go. Every city has the same service verticals yet every city is different when it comes to defining happiness for its citizens and visitors. Basing your smart grid strategy, project definition and prioritization, technology selections and budgets on achieving the envisioned happiness level creates a broadly accepted approach and pushes the development of the smart city forward.

In the end, we are all citizens and visitors of cities in some form and wouldn’t it be great to be a happy citizen or visitor wherever you go? So, to facilitate the definition of happiness, maybe every city and every government entity and every utility should have a department identifying what happiness means for the city, the government and the utility… This will allow every citizen to decide which happiness level suits him or her and decide in which (type of) city would like to live. So let us focus on the happiness supporting smart grid and this world will become a much happier place! 


Marco C. Janssen graduated the Polytechnic in Arnhem, The Netherlands.  He developed further his professional skills through programs and training courses. Marco is President and Chief Commercial Officer of UTInnovation LLC, a company providing consulting & training services in the areas of protection, control, substation automation and data acquisition,  and support on the new international standard IEC 61850, advanced metering and power quality.  He is a member of WG 10, 17, 18, & 19 of IEC TC57, the IEEE-PES and UCA International Users group.

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