How utilities can help smart cities drive a greener future

Posted on: September 17, 2019 by Bruno Morel

Everybody knows we have to manage our energy better. But turning knowledge into action is never easy. To initiate change, smart cities must engage and motivate their inhabitants.

Take smart meters, for instance. We’ve heard so much about how they will help reduce energy consumption. But this will only happen if inhabitants are willing to share their data and to act of the insights derived. Utilities can help smart cities encourage inhabitants to play an active role in smart metering initiatives, as I will explain.

The smart meter digital dilemma explained

Smart grids are undoubtedly critical to a sustainable energy future. They allow DSOs (distribution system operators) to manage energy distribution more effectively and efficiently at a time when the energy mix is evolving rapidly. Smart meters are one of the smart grid’s most critical element, providing vital real-time insights on energy demands – insights that, incidentally, will also help energy retailers identify new markets.

Smart meters benefit cities too, contributing to making their environments cleaner and a more pleasant place to live. But how smart meters improve the inhabitants’ lives? These real-time data collectors certainly do impact inhabitants’ lives, particularly, they often feel, their privacy. This is driving one of the ‘digital dilemma’ facing actors deploying smart metering today.

Since the implementation of GDPR – the European regulation relating to data privacy that came into force in May 2018 – data privacy has become an important issue for those actors. The challenge they face is two-fold: how they manage personal data to be compliant with the law and how they encourage inhabitants fearful of the impact of smart meters on their privacy to become active players in their smart metering systems.

Our experience in working with ALEC (Agence Locale de l’Energie et du Climate – the local energy and climate agency) in the French metropolis of Grenoble has revealed a key strategy for overcoming this digital dilemma: engagement.

Reducing energy consumption in Grenoble

Created in 1998 to ‘contribute locally to the energy transition,’ ALEC is part of a network of around 250 European agencies acting locally for the global preservation of our environment. It provides energy consumption information to inform the city’s building refurbishment and construction programs. To accelerate change across the city, ALEC also needed to motivate inhabitants to reduce their energy consumption. While everybody knows we have to manage our energy better, individual tend not to act, most often because of a lack of guidance and support.

The VivaCity collaborative energy data management program offers a potential answer.  An experimental VivaCity platform, which is run by GEG in collaboration with Atos Worldgrid and utility operators in Grenoble, demonstrates the positive role such a solution can play in introducing energy changes. In 2019, ‘Grenoble Metropole’ confirmed that it would extend the program in 2020 to cover all Grenoble metropolis, renaming it as ‘Metro Energies’.

VivaCity recognizes that inhabitants are more likely to take part in smart metering initiatives if they have confidence in the project. So, it clearly explains the aims of the initiative, along with why these goals are so important and how it hopes to achieve them. It also addresses privacy concerns by demonstrating GDPR compliance, explaining how it manages personal data and, most importantly, allowing inhabitants to manage that data – to view it and also delete it if they want to. VivaCity’s web portal has an ‘About Me’ area where any inhabitant who sets up an account on the portal can quickly and easily see all the personal data the system holds about them.

Confident they can access and control their data, and that they are sharing their data for the benefit of the metropolis rather than a private company, inhabitants are more willing to take part. And by engaging in the smart metering initiative, inhabitants benefit from accurate information about their consumption of gas, electricity and water.

Engaging inhabitants, so they act

But the overall aim of the VivaCity portal wasn’t to allow inhabitants to manage their data; it was to engage inhabitants in thinking about the future and encourage them to take action for a more sustainable future.

While today inhabitants may consume a lot of energy; in 20 or so years, their consumption will be lower. To speed up this transition, the portal pushed advice to help inhabitants engage with this vision of the future and take action toward making it a reality. Anyone using the portal could quickly and easily access a series of leaflets produced by ALEC addressing real energy and water concerns: saving energy and water and improving comfort in their homes.

The VivaCity platform allows utilities to help smart cities break down the digital dilemmas that may prove to be a barrier on their journey to a greener future. Utilities, cities and their agencies can use it on top of smart metering initiatives to make inhabitants aware of their energy consumption, then push information to them to encourage them to take action to reduce it. After all, encouraging inhabitants to participate is critical to enacting the transition to a sustainable energy future.

Smart metering systems are a critical new digital technology that E&U companies need to adopt to ensure a more sustainable future. Like other new technologies, smart meters bring with them new digital dilemmas that neither E&U companies nor their smart city partners have ever faced before.

Read our Journey 2022 ‘Resolving Digital Dilemmas’ publication, researched and written by the Atos Scientific Community, for guidance on how best to develop strategies to resolve this and other emerging E&U digital dilemmas.

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About Bruno Morel

Project Manager
Bruno began his career in industrial software as a developer and consultant before joining Atos in 1998. In 2002, he joined the smart utilities division to work on advanced automated metering. The first major project was the well-documented Linky smart metering pilot for ERDF. Since 2013, Bruno has been working on research and development in numerous smart city projects.