Clever communication for Smart Cities

Last updated: 11 April 2014

World population is predicted to hit 9 billion by the year 2050 according to UN estimates, and those next 2 billion people will be urban dwellers. Managing the cities of tomorrow will require doing a better job at providing housing, transportation and energy than the clogged and polluted mega-cities of today, and doing so in a sustainable way. But everything is interconnected in an urban environment, and a solution for one problem can have unintended consequences elsewhere.

For instance, I’m personally a big fan of electric cars. They promise to reduce emissions, noise and CO2. But as I listened to Bernard Bonnet of EDF, a French electricity provider, speak about broad adoption of electric cars at a recent EBG conference, I began to see things differently:

“When people arrive home, they create a peak demand for electricity: they turn the lights on, the heating, the television, and they begin cooking. If they now also plug in electric cars, we’ll have a real problem meeting that need with sustainable sources.” — Bernard Bonnet, EDF

Ideally then, activities like charging your car should be matched to periods of low overall demand on the grid, and that’s something that is being experimented in Germany and some other European countries (and probably elsewhere; please let me know in the comments).

Electric Vehicle charging controlled by M2M
Fill 'er up, when you've got power to spare

One of Gemalto’s companies, Cinterion, is involved in these rollouts. Their role is putting the intelligent communication in place on electric vehicle charging stations. In Europe, cars stay parked on average more than 90% of the time. This can let the charging station communicate with the grid to charge a parked car at the “right” time, matching the needs of the user (car charged by 7am) and the availability of power (wind turbines producing at 3am). Plus, that same communication channel is used to handle authorization, billing and even to let other drivers know where the nearest available charging station is located. All done through wireless, machine-to-machine, or M2M, communication which means flexibility and ease of installation.

Communication, both between devices and control centers, and between city administrations and their citizens, will be an important component of the smart cities of tomorrow. And while we’re thinking holistically, let’s not forget about security and privacy concerns, which are intelligently discussed by Andy Bochman on the Smart Grid Security blog.

But above all, sustainable cities will require co-operation between developers, city officials, equipment manufacturers, utility suppliers and citizens to keep our cities thriving.

P.S. You can see a more complete explanation of the electric vehicle charging solution on the Gemalto stand at the Cartes exhibition this week (Nov 15 – 17), or look at the Electric Vehicle Charging page on the Cinterion web site.