Designing a Smarter, More Sustainable San Francisco

Date: 
Monday, November 12, 2012

San Francisco's smart city intiatives

Having been honored as the Greenest City in the US and Canada Green City Index and the Cleantech Capital of North America, San Francisco has a challenge to continue to lead the way on sustainability and innovation. Smart city strategies are one way to take sustainability to the next level in San Francisco.

Why smart cities?

According to climate strategist Boyd Cohen, smart cities use information and communication technologies to be more intelligent and efficient in the use of resources, resulting in cost and energy savings, improved service delivery and quality of life, and reduced environmental footprint – all supporting innovation and the low-carbon economy.

2011 report by the Silicon Valley Smart Grid Task Force made the economic case for deploying a smart city technologies in the Bay Area, concluding that the regional deployment of the smart grid would improve the Bay Area’s energy productivity and grow economic opportunity. For example, smart grid employment in the Bay Area grew 129 percent from 1995 to 2009, compared to the average employment growth of only eight percent across all sectors.

SF Environment’s director, Melanie Nutter, has been on the road this month talking about how San Francisco is on its way to becoming a smart city. From a talk at the California France Forum on Energy Efficiency Technologies, to being a panelist on a smart cities forum at VERGE @ Greenbuild, she has spoken about how technology solutions and increased information sharing hold promise to help us meet our city’s ambitious sustainability goals.

“In San Francisco, we’ve been able to use technology to make our building operations more efficient, reduce our energy use, streamline our waste management system, and expand our transportation system, all which have contributed toward greening our city,” said Director Nutter. “These new technologies have promoted innovation, information sharing, and collaboration among the public and private sectors, as well as our residents. Moving forward, we are looking to expand pilot projects that will assist the city in threading together these sectors for maximum effectiveness and environmental benefit."

Using Technology to Advance Our City’s Sustainability Goals

Goal: Achieve zero waste by 2020
San Francisco has implemented a range of ground-breaking legislation to help us achieve our goal of zero waste (sending nothing to landfill) by 2020. San Francisco’s current waste diversion rate is 80 percent. SF Environment offers online tools to complement our policies that reduce waste, and increase access to recycling and composting.

  • RecycleWhere: Whether you’re working or living in San Francisco, Palo Alto, San Jose, Contra Costa, or Alameda, RecycleWhere provides the latest and most convenient recycling, reuse, and disposal options for plastics, batteries, fluorescent lights, televisions, couches, and much more! RecycleWhere is a collaboration among local governmental agencies to reduce waste. The project uses open source software and an open data model to provide localized and accurate results. This is a case where technology is used to help each and every person contribute to the City’s goal of zero waste by 2020.
  • Zero Waste Signmaker: San Francisco residents can make their own compost, recycling, and landfill signs for their home or business with the Zero Waste Signmaker. Got left-over pizza? Old CDs? Take-out containers? Pick images of food scraps, paper products and plastics. In less than 30 seconds, residents and business owners can create customized signs for their home or workplace.

Goal: Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2017
In the United States, buildings account for 70 percent of the energy we use and in San Francisco they account for over 53 percent of our carbon emissions. San Francisco is currently 41 percent renewably powered. In order to reach San Francisco’s goal of becoming carbon-free by 2030, SF Environment is implementing a comprehensive suite of incentive programs to improve the performance and new and existing buildings. Various technology applications have helped enhance these programs.

  • SF Energy Map: SF Environment partnered with CH2M-Hill to create SF Energy Map, a tool that tracks the solar and wind installations across the city. Any resident or business can go to the website to see solar potential for their own roof and access existing rebates.
  • Energy Use Challenge: SF Environment has partnered with ImproveSF to challenge San Franciscans to submit ideas to encourage residents to share their energy bill data. Energy bill data can be used to enhance programs and policies that promote energy efficiency, helping San Franciscans live more comfortably and sustainably. The winner of the challenge has the opportunity to integrate energy idea into a program or app.
  • Honest Buildings: SF Environment partnered with Honest Buildings, a software platform focused on buildings, to help buildings save energy. The online portal informs property owners, managers, and tenants about their building’s performance and provides the most effective energy-efficiency strategies to help them reduce utility costs. 

Cars and trucks in San Francisco account for about 40 percent of our carbon emissions. SF Environment is promoting smart commuting, electric transportation, and biofuels to help us meet our greenhouse gas reduction goals. The ChargePoint network has helped track and monitor electric vehicle (EV) data and improve the city’s EV infrastructure.

  • SFpark: Circling for parking accounts for up to 30 percent of San Francisco’s congestion. In response, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) established SFpark to use new technologies and policies to improve parking in San Francisco. SFpark works by collecting and distributing real-time information about where parking is available so drivers can quickly find open spaces. 
  • ChargePoint: San Francisco currently has 110 public EV charging stations - the highest per capita of any city, at 13.5 chargers per 100,000 people. The city uses the online ChargePoint network to track usage and functional status of its chargers, provides real-time status of the chargers and generates long-term reports. Technical tools like the ChargePoint network help the city establish EV charger demand and determine where chargers should go in the future.

Smart City Leadership through San Francisco Government Initiatives

Former Mayor Gavin Newsom enacted the nation’s first open data legislation in 2009, requiring City departments to make all non-confidential datasets under their authority available on DataSF, the city’s one stop website for government data. This led to the release of nearly 200 datasets from a range of city departments, including the Police Department, Public Utilities Commission, Department of Public Works, and Municipal Transportation Agency. More than 60 software applications have already been created from the City’s data.

DataSF uses transportation data for a slew of transportation needs, both improving San Franciscans’ commutes and helping achieve our greenhouse gas reduction goals. This includes an app that informs travelers of the location of their MUNI bus or BART train, an app that assists blind or vision-impaired travelers to navigate the Bay Area’s transit systems, and an app that rates and maps the pedestrian-friendliness of streets and urban areas. Find an app for your transportation needs>

Mayor Lee has continued to champion open data efforts, both by expanding the city’s open data legislation and by naming Jay Nath as the country’s first Chief Innovation Officer in a mayor’s office. Jay Nath is in charge of the city’s innovation initiatives, including open data.

Another smart city initiative is the Living Innovation Zones project introduced this month by Mayor Lee as part of his Cleantech SF announcement. As part of this project, the City helps businesses transform prototypes into products and services by designating permanent and temporary “Zones” throughout the city where businesses can use city assets to demonstrate new and emerging technologies. These demonstrations will have potential to contribute to the city’s economic development, neighborhood revitalization, and sustainable operations.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has initiated the LED Street Light Conversion Project, to replace approximately 18,500 City-owned, high pressure sodium cobra-head style streetlight fixtures throughout the City with ultra-efficient light emitting diodes (LED) fixtures. LEDs will improve lighting conditions throughout the City for drivers and pedestrians, consume 50 percent less energy than existing fixtures, and will be virtually maintenance free for 15-20 years. In addition, new smart lighting control technology will provide remote monitoring and control of lights. This project will help make San Francisco smarter by helping the City save energy and use lighting more efficiently.

Envisioning a Smarter, More Sustainable Future
Smart cities hold great promise to make cities around the world more sustainable and efficient. With Mayor Lee’s leadership, San Francisco has the vision to fuse our sustainability goals with our cleantech, transportation, energy, waste, built environment, and other sectors for maximum effectiveness and environmental benefit. Our pilot projects have demonstrated how technology solutions and increased information sharing can help make San Francisco a truly smart and sustainable city. 

More Information
What Exactly Is A Smart City?
2012 Smart Cities Exposé: 10 Cities in Transition


Source photo of San Francisco City Hall by: ktchn@flickr