IEEE Smart Cities Initiative Works to Help More Municipalities Modernize

Conferences, educational materials, and webinars are some of the services it offers

3 min read
Colorful illustration of a smart city in action
Illustration: iStockphoto

THE INSTITUTEThere are now hundreds of cities—large and small—that are working to improve their livability by using resilient communication networks, data analytics, sensors, and other technologies. Others want to smarten up but just don’t know how to go about it. IEEE’s Smart Cities Initiative wants to help them.

The multidisciplinary effort, which launched in 2013, provides city leaders and others with credible, unbiased technical information and educational content developed by IEEE global experts. The organization’s Communications, Control Systems, Industry Applications, Power & Energy, and Systems, Man, and Cybernetics societies as well as the IEEE Council on Electronic Design Automation provide technical expertise.

 “We bring together academics, industry professionals, and other folks who can identify the opportunities and challenges from a technical perspective and then work on developing best practices and technical standards,” says IEEE Member Patrick Graves, who chairs the IEEE Smart Cities committee.

Senior Member Shaghayegh “Shay” Bahramirad, the IEEE Power & Energy Society’s vice president of new initiatives and outreach, who oversees the effort globally, says what differentiates IEEE from other organizations involved in smart-city programs is its “unbiased perspective of technology and policy.” The society is coordinating the initiative’s efforts.

“Partnering with IEEE Smart Cities is a great way for cities and institutions to take advantage of the expertise being made available, and lessons learned from different jurisdictions to help them make better decisions,” Bahramirad says.

Bahramirad, who works for ComEd, an electric utility in Chicago, and Graves, who formerly worked for ComEd and now works for parent company Exelon, are involved with projects to make the Windy City and other municipalities they serve smarter.

Graves, in his previous role as manager of smart grid at ComEd, led the company’s Community of the Future initiative, which aims to use the smart grid, along with other technologies, to improve the lives of residents in neighborhoods such as Bronzeville. A microgrid now under construction will be connected to the Illinois Institute of Technology, located in Bronzeville, to form the first utility-operated microgrid cluster, officials say. It will include 7.7 megawatts of load, which will be locally generated by distributed energy resources including solar photovoltaics and energy storage, they say. The microgrid is expected to provide power to more than 1,300 homes, businesses, and public institutions.

In his current role as co-founder of Exelon’s sustainable-communities initiative, Graves is developing ways to leverage the company’s capabilities and resources to help communities meet their sustainability objectives.

Bahramirad, vice president of engineering and the smart grid, is working on developing a more modern grid. She is overseeing a transition from a traditional grid that measures power consumption to one that also monitors water usage. That would allow customers to track their patterns and better identify leaks and frozen pipes.


Dozens of cities have engaged with the initiative, including Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Coral Gables, Fla., and Kansas City, Mo. Each municipality is unique in terms of the challenges it faces, the assets it has, and its goals, Graves says. There is no “one size fits all” solution.

Some cities want to reduce traffic congestion and lower energy costs, while others seek to optimize waste collection and monitor air quality. That’s why the initiative has organized itself in part around what it calls application domains: energy, health, mobility, water, waste, and food and agriculture.

The technologies being applied can be as complex as advanced data and analytical tools, cloud-based services, and integrated data, voice, and wireless systems. Or they can be as simple as making use of sensors, LEDs, and solar panels. However, Bahramirad says, it’s clear the fundamental technologies that serve functions apply across application domains. For that reason, the initiative also organizes itself around what it calls functional domains: sensors, networks, systems integration, analytics, and management and control platforms.

“The issues are local, but the solutions are the same,” Bahramirad says. “IEEE is global. We have that world view.”


People who join the initiative’s community get access to newsletters, tutorials, and webinars to keep them up to speed on advances. The group now has more than 8,060 members including IEEE members, city officials, and urban planners.

The IEEE Smart Cities Resource Center includes access to publications like Proceedings of the IEEE, technical reports, tutorials, and webinars. One recent webinar featured IEEE members working to make Casablanca, Morocco, more intelligent. Another spotlighted the risks and opportunities of using blockchain technology.

Upcoming conferences include the International Istanbul Smart Grids and Cities Congress and Fair, being held on 25 and 26 April, and the Smart City Symposium: Prague, scheduled for 23 and 24 May. The initiative’s flagship event, the IEEE International Smart Cities Conference, is set for 14 to 17 October in Casablanca.

 “Becoming a smart city is a journey, not a destination,” Bahramirad says. “In this era of connectivity, with IEEE, no one has to go through the process on their own. We connect global communities.”

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