Smart City initiative gets the go-ahead

City and National Grid officials discussed the news during a press conference Thursday
Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy speaks Thursday, during a press event to announce developments in the Smart City Initiative.
Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy speaks Thursday, during a press event to announce developments in the Smart City Initiative.

SCHENECTADY — The city and National Grid announced Thursday they have reached “a significant milestone” in the journey toward realizing the Smart City Initiative.

Mayor Gary McCarthy said during a press conference in the rotunda of City Hall that the state Department of Public Service approved the demonstration project, which includes retrofitting 4,200 streetlights in the city with LED fixtures.

There are also plans to equip the light poles with sensor-based technology and other upgrades, including WiFi capabilities, environmental sensors and technology related to public safety, health care, education and the delivery of public services.

“Little over two years ago, I had appointed a Smart City Commission, and this has been an ongoing process of looking at options and looking at scenarios using technology to make the city of Schenectady more efficient to deliver services in a better, more accountable way,” McCarthy said during the press conference. “It’s an exciting time. It’s a time of rapid change. There’s a lot of things going on.”

Some of the technology is already in use in areas like State Street, on Jay Street in front of City Hall and on lower Union Street.

McCarthy said the project is expected to save the city between $370,000 and $380,000 annually on electrical costs. 

An analysis of the savings the city has already realized from the deployment of LED lights on lower Union Street indicates the savings for the broader project could be larger than originally projected.

“That’s just on electricity,” McCarthy said. “We expect that number to be greater as we go forward.”

Laurie Poltynski, National Grid’s eastern New York executive, said the utility was happy to partner with the city on the project. She also said the project will help National Grid learn how to implement Smart City projects in other cities.

“This demonstration will also develop and test possibly multiple innovative business models that are scalable across National Grid’s upstate territory,” Poltynski said.

There were some explanations at the press conference about what type of benefits the new light fixtures will provide.

In terms of traffic, McCarthy said the sensors will be able to collect analytics that could lead to improving traffic patterns while also reducing the carbon footprint left by drivers in the city.

“These are small, incremental improvement in the flow of traffic, but it makes moving through Schenectady more efficient and creates less congestion and idling time,” McCarthy said.

The new light poles will also be able to accommodate 5G cellular communication technology for use by residents, McCarthy said. While 4G networks need larger cell towers located far from each other, 5G technology requires many smaller towers in closer proximity to each other.

McCarthy said a decision on whether to add 5G cellular technology to some of the light fixtures will be made at a later date.

Residents could also have access to an array of news and information on the city’s web portal, after signing into the WiFi network enabled by the new fixtures.

Daily Gazette President and Publisher John DeAugustine, a member of the Smart City Advisory Commission, said the plan is to make information related to health care, safety and education available on the portal. There could also be a news component, some of which could be provided by The Daily Gazette, and entertainment information about what events are going on in the city.

“It would be more than just news and information,” DeAugustine said. “It would be a portal that would be very useful to the people of Schenectady.”

DeAugustine welcomed the news about the state’s approval of the initiative, saying it will help unlock a number of opportunities for the city.

“It’s fantastic,” he said. “The fact the city is going to be able to get the LED lights and smart nodes on the poles, it’s a huge win for the city. And having it funded through this program, it won’t put a burden on the taxpayers.”

The city has committed $3 million from its capital budget for the project. State Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara has secured a $1 million grant toward the effort, and National Grid has proposed to invest $7 million over a three-year period, according to Poltynski.

Santabarbara said the grant his office secured is meant to help fund the installation of the technology in the Mont Pleasant neighborhood, where he grew up.

“This is something very significant,” Santabarbara said. “I’m very excited to be apart of all of this.”

The plan is to roll out the program in three phases over a three-year-period. The first phase will include the installation of the LED bulbs into the light fixtures. This will also include the installation of the intelligent network lighting controls. The second phase will be the wider deployment of the project in the city, as well as installing the smart city sensor nodes and attachments, according to Poltynski.

Alex Sutherland, director of operations for the city, said officials are still hammering out the details of where the city will begin with the project, but he said work will begin this year.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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