Voices of Digital Communities

103° F. in the Shade and Feeling Fine

It was one hundred three degrees Fahrenheit (39° C.) in New York City's Central Park on Wednesday.  The temperature set records.  A newspaper reporter ...

by / July 14, 2010

It was one hundred three degrees Fahrenheit (39° C.) in New York City's Central Park on Wednesday.  The temperature set records.  A newspaper reporter tried but failed to fry an egg on the pavement of Times Square.  

But you know what didn't happen?  New York's electrical grid did not go down, despite logging some of the highest demand in its history.  No more than 4,000 customers in a city of 8 million lost power for some hours.  That's it.  

From the vantage point of my air-conditioned office in the Financial District, I can point to at least one reason.   The connectivity revolution.

In 1977, during a heat wave lasting many days, lightning strikes took out electrical generators and triggered a 2-day blackout that affected almost every neighborhood in the city.  America was deep in recession and the city was in the midst of a fiscal crisis.  The blackout led to riots, looting and vandalism that made headlines across the US.  It was one of those touchstone events that long-time New Yorkers can still talk about with dread.  

A smaller version, during another heat wave in 2006, killed power to 100,000 customers for more than a week.  It happened because the utility, Consolidated Edison, made poor decisions based on poor information about its aging infrastructure and current demand.     

But it didn't happen on Wednesday.  This time, Con Ed had the right management systems, connectivity and a rudimentary smart-grid system in place.  From its command center, Con Ed responded to a substation that caught fire by instantly dispatching a replacement generator.  It arranged for horse-racing to be called off in Belmont Park and for trains to slow down in order to save electricity.  

Con Ed signaled building managers throughout the city, including mine, to help.  Shortly before noon, we heard over the public address system that elevator service was being reduced by 25%, and lights turned off in common areas.  We were asked to turn off any nonessential lights and equipment.      

Using radio technology installed by Carrier, the air-conditioning manufacturer, Con Ed signaled 20,000 residential air-conditioners to cycle on and off more slowly - only once every 30 minutes - to reduce demand.  

All told, by using ICT effectively and staying ahead of the potential crisis, Con Ed shaved 400 megawatts off total demand, which would otherwise have exceeded 13,500 megawatts.  It made all the difference.    

In 2001, ICF named New York City as its Intelligent Community of the Year.  And the Con Ed story shows an Intelligent Community at its best: collaboration among multiple government agencies, for-profit businesses and individual citizens, enabled by information and communications technology, to master a crisis and maintain quality of life.  

There are stories like these in communities around the world, and we want to hear them.  ICF has opened its 2011 Intelligent Community Awards cycle .  Communities have until the 24th of September to nominate themselves.  In October, we will announce our Smart21 Communities in Suwon, South Korea, our current Intelligent Community of the Year.  Three months later, we will narrow it to the Top Seven, announced at a ceremony at the Pacific Telecommunications Council conference in Honolulu, Hawaii. And at our own Building the Broadband Economy conference, one will be named the Intelligent Community of the Year.  

The payoff for communities is substantial.  Just ask our "alumni" - the more than 80 Smart21, Top Seven and ICs of the Year - about the image value, the local excitement and the regional pride they earned.  Not to mention the affirmation of the path they are on.  And now, there is another benefit: the opportunity to join the new Intelligent Community Association, whose members are all honorees of our program.   Together, they will be raising the bar for us all.   

Robert Bell Co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum

Robert Bell is co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum, where he heads its research and content development activities. He is the author of ICF's pioneering study, Benchmarking the Intelligent Community, the annual Top Seven Intelligent Communities of the Year white papers and other research reports issued by the Forum, and of Broadband Economies: Creating the Community of the 21st Century. Mr. Bell has also authored articles in The Municipal Journal of Telecommunications Policy, IEDC Journal, Telecommunications, Asia-Pacific Satellite and Asian Communications; and has appeared in segments of ABC World News and The Discovery Channel. A frequent keynote speaker and moderator at municipal and telecom industry events, he has also led economic development missions and study tours to cities in Asia and the US.