From Dumbo to Smart Cities: Energy is Changing

Published on Wednesday, 10 June 2015

The age of Dumbo is over. We're not talking about the flying baby elephant, who Walt Disney made famous with his film, but rather the energy model created in the late 19th century with the commissioning of the first power plant for public use in the world, whose generator was in fact nicknamed Dumbo.

Our energy model has evolved technologically and has also been made highly sophisticated, but it has basically maintained the scheme conceived with Dumbo and London's Edison Electric Light Station: large centralised generation plants with increasingly long and ramified transmission and distribution lines which convey the electricity generated to end users. Today this model has been transformed by renewables, distributed generation and the increasingly close connection between electricity and electronics: a combination of elements in response to which the continuing development of the existent, path that was followed over the last century, can no longer be deemed sufficient.

It's the end of evolution and the beginning of a revolution because the one-way centralised scheme will be progressively replaced by a new way of generating, conveying and using energy and in particular electricity. Smart is the term used to summarize this model, which is causing energy to change its path: no longer large plants, but small generation centers scattered across the country; no longer one-way exchanges between generation centers and user points, but a continuous exchange between actors, who may also play a double role as consumers and producers.

Transformation in the electricity sector is an all-around transformation that is not limited to infrastructure but also innovates company business models, producer/consumer relations, tariff and regulatory systems, investment policies and relations between industries – like the increasingly close ties between the ICT and electricity sectors – which were hitherto able to keep levels of operative integration to a minimum.

Digitalization and smart tech enable distributed generation, energy efficiency and renewable integration, enabling an epoch-making evolution of the entire system and broadening the scope of the same. For example, what up to a short time ago was a mere streetlight is being turned into a smart and multifunctional instrument: it interacts with the transport sector via traffic detection systems; it participates in environmental protection measures with the installation of pollution measuring technologies; it contributes to safety through integration with video surveillance; it even becomes a hub of daily living in itself thanks to the technological implementation that now makes it part of the information network of the Internet of Things.