IBM Powers Smarter Sustainable Development in Dubuque

As Iowa’s oldest city, Dubuque, IA has a lot of nerve trying to reboot as Dubuque 2.0 by developing a model of sustainable development based on real-time data fed directly from IBM’s servers to individuals in the community. Surprising thing, though, is that the pilot project seems to be doing quite well.

“Smarter Sustainable Dubuque” is a public/private partnership between the City of Dubuque and IBM Research. The project began in Sept 2009 with an aim to reduce water and energy consumption without cutting back on services, followed by a plan to make travel easier in and around the city. Each of these is being implemented in phases, as pilot projects.

First of all, they set up a new water metering system utilizing locally manufactured components. Secondly, IBM set up a portal where citizens could log-in to check on personalized water and energy use, along with suggestions on how to become more energy efficient. On another level, IBM was sending all the aggregate data (without personal information) to the city planners for overall analysis.

The results speak for themselves – a 6.6 percent reduction in water usage for the 151 households who participated in the 9-week pilot study. IBM says the aggregate annual water savings across 23,000 households in Dubuque, IA would be 64,944,218 gallons, or $190,936.

“Today, municipalities and citizens more than ever need to understand their patterns of behavior and how to change them,” says Milind Naphade, program director, smarter city services, IBM Research. “Our sustainability initiatives in Dubuque prove that, by using advanced analytics, community engagement, and cloud computing, government officials and citizens will have access to real-time data to alter their patterns of behavior, which will save them money.‚Äù

For the smarter travel pilot study, users in the city are being asked to download and use a free “Transit Planner” smartphone application. It will track how, when and where they travel within the community.

The data collected, along with real-time analytics, will then be used to help travelers with options to save money, conserve resources, and improve the environment through their travel choices. The aggregate data will be used by the City and its transit partners for making policy decisions about improving the transportation infrastructure.

The best part about all this geek speak is that it is engaging the community on an individual level without any human or bureaucratic interaction. If they had instead collected the aggregate data by other means and issued policy diktats, it probably wouldn’t work. Informing each household and giving them the tools to reduce their consumption is what is making Smarter Sustainable Dubuque a success.

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