The NCSL Blog


By Anne Kolesnikoff

Los Angeles—As their lives become increasingly digital, urban residents of all ages expect government services to interconnect with them.

Smart Cities IllustrationThe Energy Policy Summit, held during the recent NCSL Legislative Summit, explored how technological trends are transforming the electricity and transportation sectors and how policymakers can support advances in technology to create responsive government policies and productive communities.

In the session “Smart Cities,” legislators and staff got an on-the-ground view of how innovative technologies and policies can transform energy efficiency and distribution in urban areas.

David Graham, deputy chief operating officer for Smart & Sustainable Communities for the City of San Diego; Julia Thayne, head of innovation and technology for Cities at Siemens USA; and Nancy Sutley, chief sustainability officer for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, shared their perspectives on how connected communities leverage innovation to serve their constituents.

Three major themes for creating successful smart cities arose: the need for adaptable and flexible policies, the strength of investment partnerships and the critical role of energy infrastructure.

Private sector investment in smart city development and innovation requires legislative and policy support, according to the panelists. Graham stressed the importance of adaptable and flexible policies that foster continued technology development as new ideas emerge.

He said policies that can respond to and support innovation also can support economic development and private investment in communities. An example: The development of San Diego’s entrepreneurship community grew from the public sector’s support for IT innovation and business development.

Since local and state governments often can’t find room in tight budgets to foot the bill on upgrades to energy infrastructure to digitize old systems and integrate new technologies, the role of the private sector as a partner to the public sector can be critical.

The development of public-private partnerships can foster innovation and leverage the strengths of each sector. Additionally, building codes and regulations supporting energy efficiency and the adoption of new technologies can help with the adoption of smart technologies.

Beyond building smart structures, updating utilities to create a dynamic grid may be critical to sustaining smart cities, especially as distributed energy generation, such as solar panels, become more popular. Further, digitizing the electric grid provides new data and a foundation for innovation and technological developments to better serve residents.

And these suggestions don’t just apply to large urban centers like Los Angeles and San Diego. The panelists offered suggestions for smaller communities to adopt new technologies, including data sharing, community forums to determine constituent needs and sharing resources between communities.

While some innovations may not be feasible outside urban cores, the panelists emphasized that analyzing data on energy consumption and energy rates could greatly enhance the lives of residents in all cities by helping increase energy efficiency and the ability to respond to energy needs.

Anne Kolesnikoff is an intern in NCSL's Energy Program.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.