03 September 2012

A Smart City

"In the beginning there was nothing. God said, ‘Let there be light!' And there was light. There was still nothing, but you could see it a whole lot better."
Ellen DeGeneres

Some people own Smart Cars, or Smart TVs, or Smartphones. Some people wear Smart Jeans. Some subscribe to SmartMoney Magazine. Others read the SmartPlanet blog. Now, I don't want to be a smart aleck, but I am here to gloat. Within three years, Mark and I will be enjoying an opportunity that very few people are given in this world. We will be living in a Smart City, a city of new light, a city with a completely transformed electric grid. Residents of Búzios, State of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil are giddy from this news. We are told that we are going to be the first Smart City in Latin America, and the fourth Smart City in the entire world. (Although by another count I've seen there are already ten Smart Cities around the world, with six runners-up.) But whatever the truth is and wherever Búzios ends up on the list, this is going to be interesting to watch.

Looks to be a long row to hoe . . .
It all came to light (no pun intended) at the 2012 World Cities Summit meeting held some months ago in Singapore. During the summit, 100 urban infrastructure projects were submitted to a panel of judges, all industry professionals. Out of those 100 submissions, ten of the most innovative projects were chosen. And of those ten, the project submitted by AMPLA (our very own electric utility company), Cidade Inteligente Búzios, was chosen best Urban Energy Infrastructure project.

Now, with all due respect, most residents of Búzios took this illuminating news with a huge grain of salt. I mean we're talking about a city where delivery of electricity runs from just okay to almost reliable, provided there's no windstorm to knock out transformers around town. Lately we've been losing electricity about once or twice a month (it's been very windy), and for extended periods, too. But even a two-second electric blip is enough to knock our wi-fi router out for three days. And the electric bills? Extremely high. Our own monthly bill hovers around R$520, or $256, and this is for energy used by two very conservation-conscious people. But we've been told to expect that once we turn into a Smart City we'll enjoy a 20% reduction in our bill. Modern, smart meters will be installed in every home and business, all part of the gradual implementation of a new, computerized electrical network. Well, I'm always up for a discount. Can't wait for its implementation.

The city's first "catavento," or windmill, literally wind-catcher. This being an election year, everyone's of course been calling it a "catavoto," or vote-catcher!

We're also talking about a city where way too many street lights shine all day long, as well as all night. On top of that, the city government extracts a scandalous R$15 ($7.50) from every single AMPLA customer each month to contribute to this "public illumination." That's way over R$300,000 ($150,000) each month. And then they don't turn the damn street lights off! But now, in our Smart City, we're promised increased energy efficiency in all public buildings and reduced energy losses city-wide. We'll have free wi-fi all over town and energy-saving LED bulbs lighting one's way home. Can't wait to see all of this, either.

They're going to turn this . . .
. . . into this?
My favorite Smart City proposal places special posts all around the city for people to recharge their electric bikes. Yes, that's right, recharge their electric bikes. Well, I can't wait to see how this proposal develops. Búzios has no bike lanes. We hardly have any real sidewalks. Where, exactly, will the owners of these rechargeable electric bikes be peddling? Frankly, I'm completely skeptical (though ever-hopeful) about this whole Smart City scheme. I say, Go ahead, light up my life.

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