Envision Charlotte’s Path to a Smart City

Smart City
Smart City-Charlotte, North Carolina

by Amy Aussieker, Envision Charlotte, and Russ Vanos, Itron

For the first time, more than half of the world’s population lives in towns and cities, demonstrating a trend of ever-expanding urban centers. As city populations grow, the demand for city services increases, particularly straining energy and water. Energy and water resources are foundational to a city’s prosperity and sustainability. Managing their future will require more creative thinking and collaboration than ever. The support of public, private and civic stakeholders along with technological advancements will play an important role in the responsible management of energy and water.

One city is taking a holistic and integrated approach to engaging these disparate groups and demonstrating the benefits-environmental and economic-of real, lasting change. Envision Charlotte, a smart cities demonstration project in Charlotte, North Carolina, has assembled a strong consortium of public and private interests with shared vision and momentum.

Envision Charlotte

Envision Charlotte promotes a new brand of collaboration. Currently, downtown Charlotte office buildings generate some 100,000 pounds of waste daily.

The ambitious project is transforming the center of the city-called Center City-into an incubator for smart, innovative technological solutions and long-term commitments.

The initiative’s aims include energy and water efficiency, waste reduction, green building and site planning, as well as engaged businesses and citizens.

Envision Charlotte has mobilized a community of building owners, managers, engineers, tenants and workers to work collaboratively to reduce energy consumption. The scope includes 61 buildings, 300 tenants and more than 67,000 people. The initiative’s goals include:

â–  Achieving 20 percent energy reduction in five years;
â–  Reducing net consumption of water in five years;
â–  Diverting an additional 20 percent of waste from the landfill through recycling programs or composting; and
â–  Improving air quality and the natural environment by instituting programs that encourage alternative transportation and energy efficiency.

Smart Energy Now

Energy use is the largest operating expense in buildings, accounting for about one-third of all building expenses. This energy use drives 20 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, yet about one-third of that energy is wasted, according to U.S. government data.

Smart Energy Now is a Duke Energy program dedicated to helping reduce energy consumption in Charlotte’s Uptown office buildings. To promote energy conservation and influence behavior that contributes to energy waste, the Smart Energy Now program launched “Crab, You’re It.” Workers who forget to turn off the lights or shut down their computers might end up with a stuffed toy crab on their desks or chairs. The novelty serves as a friendly reminder that everyone is part of the solution.

During the past two years, more than 1,500 people have taken an active role in Smart Energy Now and have attended training sessions to learn more about energy consumption, brainstorm ideas to reduce wasted energy and develop plans for their specific office spaces. In that time, the behavior change across Uptown Charlotte collectively has reduced energy usage 6.2 percent.

Smart Water Now

According to the Department of Energy, a typical worker uses about 15 gallons of water each day in his or her workplace. In addition, restrooms and drinking water consume the biggest share of water at 41 percent; heating and cooling buildings consumes about 27 percent of the total water usage; and all other types of water uses compose about 12 percent of water consumption.

Along with other program partners, including Verizon, CH2M Hill and Siemens, Itron is lending its expertise to the Smart Water Now program. Like its sister program for energy, Smart Water Now will aggregate information into a single number that represents total usage, then drive awareness and behavior change to reduce consumption. The results will lower operational costs, improve sustainability, engage occupants and contribute to the overall value proposition of working and living in Center City.

Innovative water technology, combined with cloud services and data aggregation, is making water conservation a reality. Water usage is measured in intervals, so insights can be inferred not just from how much water is being used, but when. That data is then made available to program participants so they can decide how they use water and save money on their bills.

Drinkable water doesn’t flow without vast amounts of energy to treat and pump it. Studies show that some 8 percent of U.S. energy is used in the water life cycle. Saving water saves energy, too.

Enabling Sustainable Buildings

In addition, Envision Charlotte recently announced a streamlined approach to upgrading each building’s operation and infrastructure. Envision Charlotte’s Energy Roundtable approach brings building managers together with The University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s Center for Sustainably Integrated Buildings and Sites (SIBS) program for free building audits. Engineering and architecture students have a chance to do hands-on audits and make strategic recommendations, and the building managers have a trusted third party to help educate them about how the building systems work together.

Since Envision Charlotte was launched, Uptown Charlotte buildings have reduced energy consumption 8.4 percent and saved businesses more than $7 million. The energy savings can be attributed to two main factors: changes in each building’s operation and infrastructure; and changes in behavior.

Envision Charlotte educational kiosk
Envision Charlotte educational kiosk

The Most Intelligent Building

Duke Energy, a lead program partner, and Wells Fargo, which owns the Duke Energy Center, are backing Envision Charlotte with big investments. The center boasts some of the most advanced building systems in the U.S. The building planners and architects considered the project’s social, ecological and economic impacts.

The end product fits squarely within the Envision Charlotte mission. Highlights include LEED Platinum Certification; 85 percent more water efficient; 22 percent more energy efficient; building automation; rainwater used for HVAC and landscape irrigation; green roof technology for heating and cooling efficiency, as well as storm water mitigation; support for alternative transportation, as well as regionally sourced and recycled materials.

Building Energy Use

â–  34 percent for heating and cooling building
â–  29 percent for lighting common areas and offices
â–  16 percent to run building and office equipment
â–  9 percent for water heaters

Connecting People

Envision Charlotte posits that awareness and knowledge are key ingredients of sustainability and change. But what’s the best way to get information into the hands of people who need it?

The approach is multipronged because consumers don’t respond to the same triggers.

Kiosks, digital displays throughout Center City buildings, informative reports and news through email and social media, program outreach with the help of consultants and analysts-the goal is to help program participants see a more direct link between their daily business and personal activities and the impacts to energy and water usage.

Technology plays an important role. Measurement technology such as smart meters and communications provide unprecedented insights with near-real-time data. By rendering the data in intuitive ways-trending, benchmarking against other buildings in the area or correlating with other data sets such as weather-program participants are able to assess better how they can build, operate and live smarter.

Working collaboratively, cities, utilities, governments, private sector businesses and technology partners can transform how energy and water are consumed and managed.

As smart city initiatives like Charlotte’s continue to expand, the convergence of energy and water data under a unified, common platform will simplify this transformation and help shape a sustainable future.


Amy Aussieker is executive director of Envision Charlotte.

Russ Vanos is senior vice president of strategy and corporate development at Itron.

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