Alabama’s Smart Neighborhood featured in first U.S. Smart City Expo

Alabama’s Smart Neighborhood featured in first U.S. Smart City Expo
A panel on Smart Neighborhoods at the Smart City Expo Atlanta includes representatives from Alabama Power and Southern Company. (Justin Averette/Alabama NewsCenter)

The Smart City Expo Atlanta might have been in Georgia but included a piece of Alabama.

The Sept. 11-13 expo drew people from across the world to learn about what makes a city “smart.” Topics included infrastructure and transportation, economic development, technology and cybersecurity, energy and sustainability, diversity and inclusion.

The event was the first U.S. edition of Smart City Expo World Congress, with its goal of encouraging and empowering cities across the globe to create a better future for their residents through urban and social innovation.

One Alabama connection to the international gathering was a panel on Connectivity Through Smart Neighborhoods.

Alabama Power and its sister company Georgia Power have partnered with home builders and technology vendors on state-of-the art “smart” neighborhoods in both states. The first completed Smart Neighborhood® is at Reynolds Landing in Hoover, while other neighborhoods are in development in Auburn and Atlanta.

Moderating the Smart Neighborhood discussion was Todd Rath, director of marketing strategy, programs and intelligence for Alabama Power. Panelists included James Leverette, research engineer for Southern Company; Erika Gupta, technology manager, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, U.S. Department of Energy; and Chuck Chipper, director of production innovation at Atlanta-based home construction company PulteGroup.

Chipper said when homebuilders first offered smart technology options in homes 10 to 15 years ago, many times the pitch fell flat. Today, however, buyers have the expectation that new homes are smart-ready.

“They want to have that backbone established. They want the ability to take a building-block approach to make a house as smart as they need,” Chipper said. “The younger buyers, the millennials, they grew up with a smartphone in their hand, so connectivity is super important to them. We are seeing much greater interest in sustainability and energy efficiency. If the price point is right and the location is right, it will give you a competitive advantage.”

All homes in Alabama Power and Georgia Power Smart Neighborhoods are designed to make customers’ lives more comfortable, convenient and connected through features that can be managed by smartphones and voice activation. Energy efficiency is a key part of each neighborhood, and each home has advanced energy-saving technology and appliances.

“The feedback we’ve gotten is extremely positive. I really think people are utilizing the smart home technology to whatever their level of comfort is with it,” Leverette said.

The Reynolds Landing neighborhood is powered by the traditional electric grid as well as a local “microgrid” composed of solar panels, battery storage and back-up generation. Similarly, on Atlanta’s Upper West Side, Georgia Power is creating a townhome community, Altus at the Quarter, where power from the grid is supplemented by rooftop solar installations and in-home battery storage.

Gupta said the technology is a glimpse into the future and provides value to everyone by being able to help support the power grid.

“That can help us lower the cost of energy for everyone, including those in traditional homes,” Gupta said, adding that future technology may allow for even more of what’s called “peak shaving.”

The cost of energy is typically highest at peak times, such as during hot summer afternoons and cold winter mornings.

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