Realising Information Marketplaces via Shared Community Digital Infrastructure

KnowNow Cities are advocates of creating a shared community owned digital infrastructure because they can provide the solid foundations required for information marketplaces.    These new markets are not undercover nor on the street, they are in the clouds.   If where you live has an information marketplace then that means it is a smart place.

The adoption of this concept can be applied to new developments as well as existing well established communities.    However, a couple of starting assumptions are that smart places start small then grow big and information marketplaces are essential.

The first is the embracing of the idea that smart places will be born out of small clusters that will expand.   Rather than a big bang one size fits all approach. Evidence suggests greatest success is found in smaller plots that are proving grounds for a new smarter service.

From this proof comes confidence and evidence which leads to growth of that new service to other areas in that city and beyond.   Proven services are then replicated in new places fuelling further growth.  Now their is a need to have an interchange between different systems and datasets.    Which then leads to the dilemma of how do you insure that the services interoperate and are secure, resilient and sustainable?

The second principle is the shift to information marketplaces, which will resolve the dilemma outlined above.   These new marketplaces are where information can be exchanged, spliced, added to, analysed and acted upon.  Information Marketplaces are enshrined in PAS181 Smart City Interoperability Framework which is a British Standard for Smart Cities.   This new marketplace provides a framework for data governance, as well as providing a safe place for data exchange.  This new data exchange leads to new economic value being created from the information it hosts, which can then be charged for.   This economic activity can then subsidise community programs, new digital infrastructure and new digital services.

Smart Grid Pays

However, how do you still fund this community owned digital infrastructure? The answer is to piggyback on the connectivity required for smart grids.    This is because the smart grid network requires a highly resilient digital infrastructure, which can also be used in some circumstances for community digital projects that are not related to energy.

Energy generation also creates economic value which a local community can tap.   This is via taking a share of the revenue earned.  Citizens have a choice.  which can be then directed at other types of digital service creation, or given as a dividend.    Not forgetting that if the community also consume the energy they generate they do not need to pay a third party for their power consumption.  Additional in the pocket savings for the consumer.

Community Owned Energy Infrastructure

What is community owned energy infrastructure?  In terms of energy generation it could anything from a solar PV array; to perhaps tidal power or and anaerobic digester through to a wind farm.   But, it also means effective energy storage and a smart grid that balances power consumption and energy generation.   Smart grids are the important element here from a digital infrastructure perspective.

A benefit of a smart gird energy generation system is that it demands a really good set of foundation digital infrastructure requirements that if shirked or diluted will impinge on the success of that energy generation asset.  For example, if security is poor then that opens this energy generation to hacking, energy theft and service degradation.   If governance is lacking then the local smart grid can become a version of the wild west, with no rules and winner takes all outcome, which does nothing for community harmony.  If insufficient care is paid to the ongoing maintenance and support for the smart grid then the benefits will degrade over time.   All assets require care and attention otherwise they start to fail and the service degrades, which will mean user/customers start to seek alternatives.

Smart grids are the foundations for community owned digital infrastructure.  Smart Grids by their very nature because of how they operate create the necessary connections, governance rules and economic value that will enable a good quality, well managed digital infrastructure.  However it is important that the smart grid infrastructure is not directly linked to the internet.

A premise of the smart grid is that the rules of energy use are as follows:

  1. Use the locally generated energy first.   A solar farm that can support a local industrial user or a local community will have a number of advantages.   Firstly, it keeps the energy local, and reduces leakage of economic wealth outside that community because you are no longer paying a 3rd party for your energy.   Secondly, the local use is more efficient as less energy is lost in transfer across the National Grid.
  2. Store what is not used for later use.   As battery costs are reduced the ability to store the excess energy (i.e. what is not used immediately) becomes more economically attractive.  Or borrow from someone else on the grid.  Perhaps a freezer can spare 30mins of power.
  3. Ship to the National Grid what is not used or stored –  as this creates income.  Or be a store of last resort for the grid, which also generates income.

Energy is not free even when community owned.   A solar array is not cheap, but it will last over 25 years.   Therefore, an organisation that owns a solar array will have an incentive to maintain that asset so it continues to create the energy it is designed to deliver throughout its lifetime.    However, a community owning its own energy generation could be said to be richer than one that does not.   This is because the energy generated and the economic wealth that generation provides (directly as income or indirectly as cash is not spent on 3rd party energy suppliers), it stays with the community.

Piggy Backing energy infrastructure for digital uses

I am not advocating a single digital infrastructure which handles data collection, analysis and display is  exactly the same infrastructure as the smart grid.   This would be an engineering disaster and would contravene best practice.    By creating multiple bridges between the network that is dependent on delivering your energy and the internet is not secure, nor safe.   What I am advocating is that certain components could be safely shared (physical infrastructure), maybe a router (with fixed partitioning), but mostly never the twain shall meet.   See the smart grid as more of an economic and ownership conduit to realising a cheap to use, fast, resilient digital infrastructure.

The economic value in delivering both a digital and smart grid infrastructure simultaneously is in the initial installation as economies of scale can be captured.  Plus, in day-to-day operation the responsibilities of managing the infrastructure and information can be shared.   As the assets are being utilised by more users this investment capital can be said to have been “sweated”.

An added bonus is the ability for a community to decide what to do with the incoming revenue earned from its extra energy generation.   This income can be used to invest in new smart services, even better digital infrastructure components or perhaps as a cash dividend.

Once established the marketplace will require ongoing investment and governance.   This is because you are mixing and matching data, handling multiple interfaces, dealing with churning business rules as well as many different user profiles.   All this activity requires management which requires funding both at the start and ongoing to be effective.

The right type of governance structure is important as it enforces standards, interoperability and creates a level playing field for all participants.  This stable culture  fosters innovation and allows old and new entrants to enjoy a resilient sustainable service.   Governance is achieved through a mix of funded roles (outsource to professionals) and by having a good understanding of the services, data and organisations involved.

As these elements come together they create the conditions for an information marketplace.   This is where information from your place, community sensors and other external sources can be combined, analysed and packaged for other services and innovations to be realised and delivered.   The governance framework that is shared with the smart grid provides a safe place for new services to be assessed before they are launched.  The investment to deliver them comes from the income derived from the surplus energy, subscriptions and a levy on the data exchanged.

What is is additionally important is that only that information which is required to be shared from a community smart grid can be allowed onto the information marketplace.   Their is separation between the infrastructure that generates the data versus the infrastructure that shares the data as well as the infrastructure that then analyses and acts on the data.   This is good practice and allows for a more secure, user centric and outcomes based smart city service to be realised.

The link to Smart Homes

Smart homes can exist quite happily using todays telco provided connectivity.   Where smart homes fail is that if they are to be secure and sustainable they are only interested in delivering to the single user (or the occupants of that home) these new smart services.

A community of smart homes however can allow the sharing of data across that community, with those creating the data agreeing what can and cannot be shared (privacy & citizen centric).   With the data under collective management and an income from the shared energy smart grid funding activities.

This model will create the incentives for communities to come together to enjoy the benefits of being smarter, whilst at the same time creating the solid foundations that will protect and exploit the digital infrastructure assets too.

Where to Start

However, where do you start to make this happen?   An obvious starting point is new developments.  These are new communities after all and it is legally easier to apply a covenant of responsibility on these new communities from day one so that the digital infrastructure can be implemented, governed and adapted by that community.

In terms of a retrofit all it takes is an existing community (perhaps a street or a cul-de-sac) to club together to create their own smart grid community.   Although the greater the amount of locally generated energy that is then stored and managed on demand locally too, will ultimately drive the investment capability for any digital infrastructure.   What is the ambition?

If you would like your community to adopt a smart grid and digital infrastructure that is great value, secure, sustainable and interoperable then get in touch via the form below.