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org Subject: Technology Ideas For Palo Alto Utility and Other Departments Over the past decade, I have submitted a goodly number of ideas about using emerging/proven technology to reduce costs, and to increase the level of service provided to the captive (and frequently all-too-passive) customers of the PAU. To the best of my memory, few of these ideas have ever been acknowledged, and probably none actually acted upon. Am I discouraged—Yes. Am I going to stop trying to alert Palo Altans about advances in technology that have been ignored by the City—NO! Since most of these ideas have been submitted to the City Council in the past, I am not going to spend a lot of time rekeying all of the information that was in attendance with those ideas when they were submitted. The City can retrieve the emails, or it can contact me for additional information, if needed. Idea # 1: Geo-location devices placed on all city vehicles The age of geo-location via GPS and cell phone communications systems has been a reality for some number of years now. Having GPS locators on all City-owned vehicles would provide a positive control mechanism that would all the City to know where all of its vehicles are, both in real-time, and in “recap” mode—meaning that all of this real-time data could be captured, uploaded to a database, making the data available for any number of analyses that could provide insights into the use of these vehicles that is currently not well known—including illegal/inappropriate use by poorly managed City employees. Idea # 2: On-line location map of city vehicles, with a filter that will allow Identification of vehicles by department With geo-location devices on all of the City’s vehicles, the location of each of these vehicles could be displayed on an on-line map. Vehicles could be filtered by department. (Police vehicles would probably not be displayed.) This kind of on-line display would probably be more useful to 1st and 2ndline managers, but would also be helpful to the public, in one way or another. Idea # 3: On-line inventory of Utility Assets. The City’s Utility has become incredibly important to the home owners and businesses of Palo Alto. Unfortunately, the City has operated the Utility
more as a “black box” than a transparent operation. By listing all of the Utility’s assets on-line, this will promote the idea of transparency in this department, as well as push the idea of identifying all of the City’s assets on-line. Idea # 4: Better interface for self-reporting raw utility use numbers The current self-reporting web-interface for people reporting their raw use numbers is not as well designed, as it could be. At the very minimum, once the user’s account number has been entered, the serial numbers for each of the meters should be displayed, thereby relieving the customer of having to re-enter this data every month. Additionally, the customer should have estimated charges for each of the commodities being reported. This could be done before the customer commits these readings, or afterwards in the email sent as a confirmation. Idea # 5: App for submitting raw use numbers to Utility Cell phones are now becoming ubiquitous. Anything that is available online, probably needs an App for cell phone users. Idea # 6: Triggers on individual commodity uses so that abnormal uses can be detected early. There are times when appliances malfunction, or water pipes spring leaks, leading to high/abnormal (and expensive) use/waste of commodities. The on-line accounting/reporting interfaces for Utility Customers should provide “triggers”, which would alert utility customers of high use of specific commodities. The alerts could be: email, voicemail, a visit by a Utilities technician. Idea # 7: On-line breakdown of most appliance electrical consumption, by vendor, model, and year of manufacture. The Customer Service Unit could be more helpful by demonstrating the cost of older appliances by compiling lists of known appliances, organized by manufacturer, year of manufacture, model identifier, and electrical consumption, and monthly costs. This information could be obtained from any number of sources, including customers. The idea would be to demonstrate that older appliances (particularly refrigerators) can use so much power that a newer, more power-economical model, could pay for its self in a relatively short timeframe. Idea # 8 City-wide Installation of Smart meters.
I believe that the Utility’s study on “smart meter” costs is flawed. This study should be reviewed in terms of labor/benefit costs, and postretirement benefit costs. I believe that the use of “smart meters” can reduce the costs of Utility data collection significantly. Idea # 9 Multi-year on-line history of commodity use available to customers. The cost of Utility-provided commodities, and services, is past the point of being prohibitive. The City needs to begin to treat the residents with more respect, such as providing a full use/cost history of the commodities/services purchased by the City on the Utility web-site. Simple analysis tools, such as graphs showing trend lines in use/cost should be available. This data should be downloadable in multiple formats, including text (.csv) and spreadsheet (.xls). Idea # 10: Utility Bills Should Be Payable On-line with Credit/Debit Cards. It’s hard to find any public-serving entities, outside of the City of Palo Alto, that does not support payment of fees/bills by Credit Card. Yet, here were are, in 2012—and Palo Alto does not! Idea # 11 Availability of hand-held electrical use meters, which can be borrowed by customers to check the use of appliances within the home. Home energy audits are not that hard to perform, with the appropriate tools. One such tool is an electricity use meter. These devices can be purchased locally for as little as $20. If the Utility were to purchase a dozen or so, offering them as “loaners” to the public, homeowners could measure the use of the appliances in their home, and get a good idea of where electricity is being consumed in their home, on a room-by-room, or appliance-byappliance, basis. The devices could be on-loan from the library, or dropped off/picked up at City Hall, or even dropped off/picked up by a Utility worker. Idea # 12 Device to measure water use, installable inside customer premises. Along the lines of (11), a device of some sort that measures water use inside the customer’s premises, which would have both an audio alert, and a connection to the Internet, would be useful in terms of measuring water use, and as a leak detector. Idea # 13 Install QR codes on all utility poles, and other city utilty/PW assets/equipment. With smart phones now beginning to dominate the mobile market place, QR codes have also become widely used to help people identify objects, so that they can use the power of their phone, augmented with information from
“the cloud”. In this case, QR codes on all City assets/equipment would facilitate people using cell phones to notify the City that attention is needed at some location, which would be indentified in the QR code. Idea # 14 On-line data displays providing public knowledge of all work on-going, and scheduled out for whatever period of time is known to the Utility. Knowledge of all construction work should be made available to the public via City’s web-site, as far out in time as is known to the departments involved. Certainly having this sort of information available to the public might have avoided some of the negative public response to some City P/W projects—like the clear cutting of trees on California Avenue. Idea # 15 On-line data displays that provide a real-time view of the City of Palo Alto’s power consumption. Information about Palo Alto electrical consumption should be online, with breakdowns as follows: Total Megawatts, instantaneous draw. By Hour By 6-hour consumption By 24-hour consumption By Day By Week By Month By Year By Power Source Renewables Wind Hydro Geothermal Fossil Fuels Coal Natural Nuclear Data should be available for at last five years , at least. Data should be downloadable in reasonable formats. Idea # 16 A spreadsheet-based template that can be used by residential customers to self-audit their utilities use.
This template, when used in conjunction with the hand-held electricity use meter, might allow people to develop a room-by-room, and even outlet-byoutlet use map of their home’s electrical consumption. A in-home device, as suggested above, to measure water use, could aid in refining the audit information to a point that its accuracy would allow people to predict their utility bills. Idea # 17 On-line display that would provide utility customers information about outages. This display would provide a cumulative history of outages, providing: Location of outage Duration of outage Reason for outage Idea # 18: Information about the cumulative uptime of the City’s electrical grid should be on-line. This information, expressed in industry standard terms, would be desirable for: Whole city Neighborhoods Business Districts Schools City Installations Traffic lights Idea # 19: Use of Tablet PCs by Utility Work Crews to Reduce Paper Work, and Increase Communication Between Crews and Management/Public See attachment. An overview of such a device has been written up to make suggestions in how to reduce paperwork/data collection of police/public contacts. Idea would be to develop interfaces for other departments that would reduce paperwork/data collection also. Idea # 20: Web-page that lists all of the Customer complaints, and responses from the Utility. This page would also list the Public Information Requests (PIRs), and the responses. Idea # 21: Programmable Switches for Eichler Panel Heaters. Owners of Eichlers who have had their in-floor radiant heaters converted to panel heaters often find that the switches for these
heaters are barely a couple of inches above the level of the floor, requiring multiple “bend overs”, many times a day, to turn these heaters on/off, as temperature requires. It would be a really wonderful thing to have up-to-date switches installed, so that all of the heaters could be controlled from a central location. Moreover, this new control unit would provide a timer capability, allowing heaters to be turned on/off at specific times, which would help to reduce heating costs. Additionally, this control unit would provide use data, which could be valuable to people tracking home electricity use. While this idea perhaps is something that belongs in the private sector, the Utility could be helpful in evaluating this need, and possibly locating a vendor for its customers. Idea # 21: Evaluate Home Controllers. A pro-consumer Utility provider might beef up its Customer Service Unit, by evaluating certain kinds of products, such as home utility controllers. The Customer Service Unity would make their evaluations available on the Utility WEB-site, and provide printed copies on demand. Idea #23: Evaluate micro-fuel cells as an alternative to grid power. For some years now, small, home-sized/small-business sized fuel cells (often called micro-generation cells) have been on the market. Their original purpose was for providing power to locations off-thegrid, which might have access to natural gas, or propane. The cells would convert this hydrocarbon fuel to electricity. These cells have not been all that exciting for urban situations, but should be reviewed for cost/benefit for large homes and small businesses. Results would be posted on the Utility’s web-site. Idea #24 Install a WiFI/LTE mesh network for public sector, and low-end, private sector use. A comprehensive mesh network that would provide all of the City’s employees access to the Internet, allowing the effective use of digital technologies, like streaming video, and on-line mapping capabilities, should be installed and maintained by the City. Residential access should be allowed, given that so may products, like cell phones, iPads and other mobile computing devices would become more functional in what would be, effectively, a micro-metropolitan wireless network. Idea #25 Use of email/voicemail/texts to alert people to pending service disruptions
The Utility seems to inform customers of pending outages with handdelivered notes. This seems very “old fashioned” in this day/time. Use of electronic means, including telephone auto-dialers, should be used. Idea #26 Full Automation of the Water Quality Facility. It is not hard to find City governments around the world that have moved to full automation in their water quality monitoring functions. Palo Alto does not seem aware of this possibility. It should be investigated. Idea #27: Use of Instant Messenger and Video Chat For Customer Contact. The Customer Support Unit (at least) should begin to use Instant Messenger, and Video Chat (Skype) to interface with customers. While the telephone is convenient for many, so is Instant Messenger—which allows people to use their mobile devices to interface with Customer Support, in addition to email and the telephone. Idea # 27: Use of Driverless Vehicles Google has been very effective in developing/demonstrating the safety of “driverless vehicles”. Thos technology offers Palo Alto the following possibilities, just to start: P/W—Outfitted with digital cameras to survey the road surfaces, periodically. Image data bases of the whole Palo Alto street system could be easily constructed, and maintained via this technology. Police—Patrol at night. Use of digital cameras, and vision-system software to identify possible problems. Full control of vehicle, and video equipment could be switched to a remote site for providing on-site “eyes/ears” for emergency situation managers. Utility—Detecting malfunctioning stop lights and out-of-service street lights. Idea #27: Installation of LED lighting elements in as many City-owned sites as possible. This suggestion should be self-evident. Idea # 28: City’s Use of File Lockers To Transfer Large Data Files to People Needing City Data. Currently, files too large to be attached to an email must be transferred to users via DVD, which is time-consuming on the part of the City employee involved, and often requires a trip to City Hall, and a $10 fee, to obtain the DVD. File lockers offer up to 5GB of on-line storage, for free. The City
should begin to use this sort of data transfer mechanism, to reduce the difficult of obtaining large data files. This has an upside for both the City and “customers”. The City should also make FTP transfers of large data files available to “customers” also.
End of submission. Wayne Martin Palo Alto, CA
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