Saint John Energy, the municipal utility that sells electricity to residents of greater Saint John, is partnering with several innovation-driven companies in the region with the goal of improving service and profitability.
In November, the company announced it is working with the Liveable Cities division of Halifax-based LED Roadway Lighting on a project that would install sensors in LED streetlights in 10 locations in the city to monitor traffic. The goal is to understand the speed at which cars pass the locations to improve the safety regulations.
Vice-President Ryan Mitchell said in an interview that Job 1 for Saint John Energy is to provide power for its roughly 36,000 customers at the best rates possible. The company wants to work with innovators with the goal of providing better service to its customers, improving profits and battling climate change.
“We have to do it cautiously because our core business is Priority No. 1,” said Mitchell. “Saint John Energy has been in business for 98 years. We do have a vision that we will be regarded as one of the most innovative utilities in the country by the time we turn 100.”
The LED Roadway project came about earlier this year when the federal government provided funding to use streetlights as bases for collecting data in a smart city project.
“It is still a relatively modest pilot where we’re deploying in 10 locations,” said Mitchell. “In each location, there’s a radar sensor to collect data 24/7 to determine traffic patterns, speed of the vehicles, etc.”
He added that the utility has received no complaints about privacy because the sensors do not record licence numbers or identify the vehicles. They only keep aggregated data on traffic speeds for a safety analysis.
“Liveable Cities' speed sensor technology provides a tool that can be quickly and efficiently deployed to address traffic safety and speeding concerns in our communities,” Jeff Libis, Vice President of Sales at Liveable Cities, said in a statement. “The actionable data obtained from our sensor solutions will better inform municipal decisions and reassure citizens that concrete actions are being taken to promote safer communities.”
Mitchell said there are 9,000 streetlights in Saint John and he sees them as valuable assets for collecting data and developing a smart city – that is, an urban area that uses data analytics and digital tools to improve living standards.
Saint John Energy is working with partners on a number of innovation projects, from its participation in smart grid initiatives to its work with startups. For example, the utility and Fredericton-based Stash Energy have partnered to bring smart, thermal storage heat pumps to as many as 50 Saint John homes over two years.
Saint John Energy is also collaborating with MNP, the national accounting and consulting firm that bought T4G this year, to mine data and gain greater insights into customers’ energy use. And it received $495,000 from the federal government this year to help build 99 electric vehicle fast chargers across the Maritimes.
In most of the these projects, the goal is to improve services for clients and also to battle climate change.
Said Mitchell: “What we see and what’ve heard from our customers is that they want Saint John Energy to keep energy costs low, but they’re concerned about the environment and they want Saint John Energy to look into ways to help them participate in solutions to environmental problems.”