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Charlotte reviews progress on ‘Smart Cities’ race

An electric meter placed outside a home by Duke Energy measures how much electricity flows from solar panels to the grid and balances that amount with the amount used by the home.
An electric meter placed outside a home by Duke Energy measures how much electricity flows from solar panels to the grid and balances that amount with the amount used by the home. mhames@charlotteobserver.com

The 8.4 percent in electricity savings uptown Charlotte buildings have achieved under the Envision Charlotte initiative is just a start, experts say.

Sensors and communication networks will increasingly put data to use to make businesses, households and whole cities work more efficiently and happily, panelists said at a lunch meeting Tuesday.

And it’s a worldwide competition.

“The world’s not waiting,” said Jesse Berst, chairman of the Smart Cities Council, a global organization that promotes use of digital technology and intelligent design for cities. “You’re in a race, whether you realize it or not.”

The event was part of the council’s quarterly forum, held Monday and Tuesday at UNC Charlotte’s Center City uptown campus.

Broadband internet is to present-day cities what river, railroad and interstate highways were to previous generations, Berst said.

His advice: Build digital infrastructure, networks and groups that serve multiple purposes, have easily interchangeable components and emphasize sharing of data.

Innovation means collaboration, not just technology, added Philip Mezey, CEO of Itron, a Washington state-based tech company that helps customers save water and energy. Itron is working with Envision Charlotte to integrate water sensors into uptown buildings.

“It’s really about our economic vitality and competitiveness,” Mezey said.

Envision Charlotte’s 8.4 percent drop in electricity use since the initiative launched in 2011 translated into $10 million in savings for uptown commercial buildings. The program has a 20 percent energy-reduction goal by 2016, in addition to water- and waste-saving components.

Duke Energy, a backer of the initiative, says other customers are also demanding more control of their energy lives.

New customer expectations are among the changes facing the nation’s largest electric utility, one that once simply “sold kilowatt-hours,” said Lloyd Yates, president of Duke’s Carolinas region.

The growing use of energy management systems and alternative energy gives homeowners that control, Yates said.

Digital sensors make the utility better able to predict future demand, meanwhile, as it moves to smart technology such as “self-healing” systems that route electricity around power outages.

Henderson: 704-358-5051;

Twitter: @bhender

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