IBM starts to build greener, 'smarter' planet in Iowa

Perhaps you have heard or seen International Business Machines Corp.'s new advertising pitch: "Let's build a smarter planet."

The information technology giant is starting with Dubuque, Iowa, of all places.

Later today, IBM will bring its "Smarter City Initiative" to the stealthily sustainable community of 60,000 people. The company's goal is to develop a replicable model that integrates social, economic and environmental sustainability principles -- and IBM technologies -- for cities with 200,000 or fewer people. The world may be urbanizing at a fast clip, but 40 percent of the U.S. population still resides in small cities.

Being small -- and green -- is Dubuque's strength, said Dubuque Mayor Roy Buol.

"You get more citizen input and commitment in smaller cities," added Buol, whose constituents developed a list of 11 sustainability principles in 2006 to guide policymaking. "People are closer to the government."


IBM already has several "smart city" projects around the world, including a traffic-management system in London, an electricity grid-management system in Amsterdam and a water-management system in Shenyang, China. Dubuque is the first city where IBM will bring all of the technologies together to conserve natural resources and slash utility bills and greenhouse gas emissions, explained Mahmoud Naghshineh, director of IBM's services delivery research.

"Dubuque is a living laboratory, where we're bringing all of the technologies together," he added. "We'll start with water, then electricity, then transportation." IBM also plans to open a more than 1,000-employee technology services delivery center in Dubuque, which was named as the nation's most "livable" small city by the U.S. Conference of Mayors last year.

In the project's first phase, which has an $850,000 price tag, the city will will replace 22,000 water meters in homes and small businesses. It will also work with a local water systems manufacturer, A.Y. McDonald Manufacturing Co., to integrate a device called an "unmeasured flow reducer" to more accurately measure water consumption.

IBM's technology will provide city officials and consumers real-time water consumption information. Translation: If your basement faucet is leaking, you'll know about it quickly.

"I'm extremely confident this will help people save money," Buol said. "A lot of this is changing peoples' behavior, giving them the information to make smarter decisions about electricity and water use."

Buol said the city is applying for federal money for additional phases of the IBM project. Earlier this summer, the Energy Department made available $3.9 billion in stimulus grants for modernizing the nation's electricity grid. More than $600 million is earmarked for smart-grid demonstration projects, such as installing meters that allow homeowners and utilities to track and adjust electricity use.

IBM's goal is to develop a technology platform that provides Dubuque an integrated view of energy management, including energy consumed by the electric grid, water system and general city services. IBM will capture and analyze the data and use existing communications infrastructure, including the Internet, to share the information, Naghshineh said.

"We see Dubuque as the place to start and then bring these capabilities to thousands of cities in the United States and around the world," he added.

A recent study by the IBM Institute for Business Value estimates that a $30 billion investment in "smarter" broadband communication, health care and energy systems grid could create almost 1 million jobs in the United States alone.

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