Communication Technology, Electric Vehicles, Energy Efficiency, Executive Insight, Smart Grid, Solar

City-of-the-future fosters high-level of utility customer engagement

Sterling Ranch. Credit: Burns & McDonnell

How a “future-proof” fiber network is powering a cutting-edge community in Mile High country to unprecedented heights

If you journey down U.S. 85 South from the heart of Denver for a little over half an hour, you will come across a community that differentiates itself not only by its quality homes and pristine setting, but with cutting edge technology.

A master-planned community equipped with fiber connectivity, cutting-edge in-home technology, smart city infrastructure and environmentally conscious systems, Sterling Ranch may well become the benchmark for residential-commercial joint development.

The Project

Initial planning for this innovative city began in the mid-2000s when the Smethills family, sharing a collective vision of creating a “live-work-play” community, established the Sterling Ranch Development Company to reimagine this cattle farming area into an eco-friendly, technology-driven community. The community received approval for its zoning request in 2011, green-lighting land use for more than 12,000 residential units and 3.5 million square feet of commercial space. Sterling Ranch, the “small city with an urban feel in a suburban environment,” broke ground in 2016.

The community’s full buildout is slated to be completed in two decades and will comprise nine uniquely themed villages, each complete with access to sports facilities, retail and office space, hotels, restaurants and schools. Projections estimate that by 2040, approximately 45,000 people will occupy Sterling Ranch’s 12,000 residential homes.

Sterling Ranch’s goal is to create a holistic way of life by incorporating advanced technology into nearly every aspect of residential and infrastructure operations.  

An Ambitious Proposal

Armed with the vision of becoming a pilot demonstration for how future communities incorporate a robust fiber network as a pillar of core infrastructure, Sterling Ranch’s subsidiary, Lumiere Fiber LLC, turned to Burns & McDonnell to design its unprecedented internal network. From the outset of its commission, the Burns & McDonnell team knew it had to deliver revolutionary design applications for a community that will continue to seek out progressive technological advancements well into the future.

At the heart of the firm’s proposal was the idea to equip the Sterling Ranch fiber network with spare network capacity. By “oversizing” the network, Sterling Ranch would always be prepared for future technological expansion. Whereas most residential developers utilize 1 by 32 or 1 by 64 GPON splits with one fiber per household, the Burns & McDonnell team is designing a fiber architecture strategy that features a 1 by 16 centralized GPON split with two dedicated fibers per residence.

Sterling Ranch’s smaller split ratio will pay tremendous dividends as future network capacity requirements steadily increase. The community’s residents will be able to employ new technology faster because their network capacity is partitioned amongst fewer households than that of average American neighborhoods. This innovation in network infrastructure allows Sterling Ranch the flexibility to “future proof” the fiber infrastructure thanks to the pair of fibers that are allocated to each residence. One fiber provides symmetrical gigabit connectivity to residents while the other fiber is left dark for future applications such as 5G, autonomous vehicles and telemedicine. Due to its centralized split, the network is capable of being converted to an active Ethernet configuration with minimal network interruption and at a reduced conversion cost. Excess conduit stored in the ground ensures the ability to install even more fiber to enable yet unknown technological progressions.

Visionary Interconnectivity

This hearty fiber network is already providing connectivity to cutting-edge community technology solutions developed in partnership with global technology powerhouse, Siemens. Sterling Ranch’s interconnected streetlights enable custom lighting configurations, mass notification, security management and wayfinding. Its interconnected water infrastructure helps reduce peaking and enables rightsizing of water storage and consumption. State-of-the-art interconnected building management systems monitor the health and efficiency of commercial buildings, reducing maintenance costs and environmental footprints.

The technological innovation isn’t limited to infrastructure ­⁠— every home in the development is also built with the future in mind. Symmetrical gigabit connectivity enabled by fiber and a best-in-class mesh networking system provide an optimal home-wide internet experience. A custom home automation system combines real-time utility data, community notifications, and control over devices such as lights, thermostats, and security systems to provide home-wide control from any remote location. Intuitive irrigation controllers adjust watering schedules based on local weather conditions, conserving resources and saving money. Pre-wire for solar panels and electric vehicles affords homeowners the potential of adopting these technologies as they become ready for implementation in the coming years.

Thanks to this community’s interconnected systems, future possibilities for even more progressive technologies like community power demand management, community telemedicine, and autonomous local transportation are now within reach.

Residential Innovation

Sterling Ranch homeowners are already reaping a wealth of benefits of their home automation systems. Designed specifically for the Sterling Ranch community with plans to launch more broadly, the home automation system, STEWARD, equips homeowners with an array of functionable assets:

  • Integration with devices such as lights, thermostats and smart speakers allows homeowners to activate “scenes” with a double tap of a light switch, a push of a button or the sound of their voice. Activating the “I’m leaving” scene turns off all the lights in the home, adjusts the thermostat and arms the security system.
  • Connected water meters enable homes to automatically shut off their indoor water supply if an automated leak detector senses a defect.
  • Real-time utility monitoring allows homeowners to set monthly budgets for water, gas, and electricity usage in monetary terms. Homeowners can opt to receive notifications regarding their utility usage for the month in relation to their preestablished budget.
  • Smart irrigation controllers optimize watering patterns to align with local weather conditions, helping homeowners save money and resources without taking additional action to meet irrigation demands.
  • Dual water meters allow for separate billing of indoor and outdoor water usage, creating additional incentive for homeowners to reduce wasteful outdoor water consumption.
  • Community notifications let people know what events, alerts and general announcements are occurring within their community and help boost resident engagement in these actions.

In addition to residential benefits, the community is also reaping the rewards of its interconnected streetlight infrastructure. With the press of a button, Sterling Ranch can notify its residents of a severe weather alert, turning RGB beacons green and delivering safety instructions over the community’s speakers. Using the same system, Sterling Ranch is also capable of setting up custom wayfinding configurations.

Tomorrow’s Future, Today (and that’s Just the Beginning)

Much like the water lines and power grids of the present, a complete fiber infrastructure will undoubtedly play a major part within the core infrastructures of the future as applications, devices and technologies continue to exponentially improve.

In Sterling Ranch, the STEWARD home analytics and automation system will increase functionality throughout the coming years. Future Sterling Ranch homeowners will be equipped with even more detail about their utility usage, how their usage compares with their neighbors and options to put their homes in energy saver mode with a simple click of a button. Utility usage data feedback throughout the community will enable smart solar power sharing, helping drive progress toward established net zero energy goals. Community water system analytics will enable Sterling Ranch to optimize outdoor irrigation patterns for both community spaces and individual homes.

Pedestrian and vehicle heatmapping will help the city and local businesses understand patterns and optimize approaches. 5G will lend itself to spreading internet everywhere, further enabling connected autonomous devices to interact with heatmapping and other sensors. This technological interaction will assist automatons in identifying where services are needed, move to the designated assistance area and perform the required services with little human interaction on the system.

With over 300 currently occupied and 1,500 additional homes in design and construction, for Sterling Ranch — and future work-live-play communities — fiber network infrastructure creates nearly limitless possibilities for development, innovation and evolution.

Great innovations for an untraditional neighborhood.