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Update on Smart Cities: Envision America and what it means for smart green city investments

Smart green cities: getting it done

Cities face significant challenges in how to bring rapidly changing technologies to bear on traditional city problems, including the pressures of their expanding populations. This worldwide phenomenon is being wrestled with by US cities of all sizes with the ingenuity that is typical of the best local government innovators. Cities don’t have time to ponder; they have to get things done.

To help cities, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy launched the Envision America initiative in September 2015 to accelerate deployment of innovative technologies that tackle energy, water, waste and air quality challenges at the local level.

Envision America

DNV GL attended the recent Envision America 3-day workshop held in Charlotte, NC, home of Envision Charlotte, a unique public-private partnership focused on sustainability as a catalyst for economic growth. With $160M in funding, Envision America is an information transfer program aimed at smart city transformations through sharing of best practices and knowledge.

Table 1 summarizes ten smart city projects that participated in the Envision America workshop, where city leaders worked with leading experts like DNV GL to diagnose needs, possible solutions and brainstorm solutions to challenges. Most of the projects have energy as their central theme, with transportation challenges also a key focus area.DNV GL attended the recent Envision America 3-day workshop held in Charlotte, NC, home of Envision Charlotte, a unique public-private partnership focused on sustainability as a catalyst for economic growth. With $160M in funding, Envision America is an information transfer program aimed at smart city transformations through sharing of best practices and knowledge.

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Table 1. Envision America Participating Cities and Projects  

Launched in 2011, Envision Charlotte served as the inspiration for the national Envision America initiative. The program is a smart city partnership between city government, Duke Energy, UNC Charlotte (UNCC) and other city and private partners formed to capture energy savings in the city’s 61 largest offices buildings through behavioral strategies coupled with data analytics.  Duke provides program-related services and UNCC provides the analytical horsepower for baseline data and monitoring of progress.  Former DNV GL Energy executive Dr. Johan Enslin, PE heads up UNCC’s Energy Production and Infrastructure Center (EPIC) that is providing the student resources for the project.

The other nine other local governments were selected by the White House in late 2015 to participate in collaborative workshops with their university and technology experts, non-profits and other observers during the intensive three-day event.  Unlike other conferences, this event featured a full day “roll-up-your-sleeves” moderated consultative session per city that resulted in a narrowed project scope, action items and schedule.   The goal: move cities from the conceptual stage to action.

Early Best Practices

Some common best practices were evident across all of the smart city projects that can be adopted by any local government seeking to transform toward a more sustainable technology and data-smart environment. The following ideas emerged over the course of the Envision America workshop:

  • Form a non-profit entity – Having partners be part of a separate entity helps level the playing field, ensure that collective interests come first and importantly can open the door to specific funding and grant opportunities that individual partners may not be able to pursue.
  • Include educational partners – The aging workforce makes it critical to include a local university, college or other institute of higher learning to help prepare the workforce necessary to support the technological changes. Public-private partnerships are great, but “Public-Private Plus” with an educational partner is better.
  • Narrow the focus – Most of the participating teams in the workshop were still struggling with relatively broad visions of what they want to accomplish in transforming their cities. In the workshops, cities were encouraged to narrow their focus on one challenge requiring a solution, and leveraging their partners to help identify a path forward.
  • Identify a near-term win – Envision Charlotte’s success is based on having focused in early on one dimension of their myriad challenges – i.e., reducing energy use in large office buildings in the city. Now with significant savings to demonstrate to city leadership, it’s easier for them to take the next steps into transforming the water and other sectors of the local economy.
  • Economic development is the driver – The bottom line for taking on any smart city project is to retain and attract people and businesses into the city core so that the local economy can thrive. Whether the focus in on transportation, energy efficiency, redevelopment or sustainability, the smart city project has to produce economic development benefits.

Leveraging federal resources

The last day of the workshop included further discussion of resources that cities can tap into for help.  A few important federal grant funding opportunities are available, as shown below.

Summary of Smart City related Federal Grants and Resources

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All federal grant opportunities, whether smart city related or not, can be found at www.grants.gov.

Get started planning today

While DNV GL is staying on top of funding opportunities and other resources, we are also helping our client with smart green city planning now.  In fact, according to the DOE presentative at Envision America, to be eligible for the upcoming Smart Grid Integration Challenge, cites need to be ready with sustainability goals and a high-level roadmap for a project.  DNV GL can help you prepare the groundwork by facilitating your “public-private partnership plus” into a sustainability plan or smart green city project action plan and business case so you can start on the path to smart city transformation.

To learn more about our work with Smart Green Cities, download our whitepaper Smart Green Cities: A Survey of Local Government Leaders and Industry Stakeholders in North America. If you have any questions, please contact Luisa Freeman.

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