The most important components for smart cities are engaging communities and forging partnerships, according to Federal officials.

“How do we move from this vague concept of smart cities to ambitious, achievable goals?” said Tom Kalil, deputy director for policy for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and senior adviser for science, technology, and innovation for the National Economic Council. “That type of goal setting…might give people a concept of what might happen in the future.”

One initiative that seeks to bring agencies together to form goals is the Department of Energy’s Better Communities Alliance.

“Since 2008, and probably before, we’ve experienced an energy revolution in this country,” said Janine Benner, associate assistant secretary of energy efficiency and renewable energy at the DOE.

The DOE used the Better Communities Alliance to give 30 smart cities and counties integrated resources, expertise, and networking opportunities. The alliance provided a platform for the cities to access all of the resources that the DOE had to offer in one place.

“Before I came to the Department of Energy, I was unaware of the resources they provided,” Benner said.

The platform is a way that agencies and communities can collaborate to ensure that they aren’t working on duplicate projects.

“Don’t be afraid to dive into the specific program areas within the DOE,” Benner said.

One specific program area is the Better Buildings Accelerators within the Better Buildings initiative, located within the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The program focuses on design policy and data analytics to increase energy efficiency in cities.

“The idea is for the district to produce enough renewable energy to meet its own energy consumption requirements,” Benner said.

The National Science Foundation issued a call Monday for research proposals involving smart cities. Jim Kurose, assistant director for computer and information science and engineering at the NSF, said that the research should have its foundation in how communities work.

“In order to do that you really have to engage outside academia in the community,” Kurose said. “Fundamental research doesn’t always happen over there in the ivory tower.”

Kurose referenced the NSF’s Big Data Regional Innovation Hubs, which bring together governments, academia, nonprofits, and industry to collaborate research and development challenges of digital data in specific locations. Kurose said that the NSF focuses on using data and human technology frontiers to research the best practices for smart communities and invest in technological building blocks.

“A lot of the ideas that we see in these smart cities have their foundation in research and capabilities from the NSF,” Kurose said.

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Morgan Lynch
Morgan Lynch
Morgan Lynch is a Staff Reporter for MeriTalk covering Federal IT and K-12 Education.