Entrepreneurs are making cities smarter and more sustainable, and there's still time for more founders to get in on this very important work.
That was the message delivered by panelists during a session about smart cities--those that pursue sustainability and safety through modern technology--at CES last week. The founders and experts spoke about the ways cities are being positioned for a greener, more secure future--and the opportunities for enterprising businesses that can help drive this change.
Here are three of the biggest opportunities for business owners mentioned during the conversation.
1. Residential energy storage
Companies that develop and retrofit homes to store energy will have big opportunities in the coming years. There is a growing need for various forms of residential green technology, including solar installers, battery manufacturers, and A.I. platforms that optimize energy usage, according to Alex Bazhinov, founder and CEO of home energy company Lumin. Bazhinov sees potential particularly in platforms that can make these various technologies work hand in hand, thereby enabling homes to collect energy, harvest it, and use it most efficiently.
Adding to the allure of this space is the fact that it has support at the local and federal levels. A recently signed bill in California, for example, requires that nearly all new homes be built with solar panels. And the in-limbo Build Back Better plan calls for tax rebates of up to $8,000 for renovations that electrify homes and make them more energy efficient.
2. The mini power grid
Power plants and other centralized power sources--even sustainable ones--are prone to wide-scale disruption. Smart, localized power grids, says Bazhinov, will allow homes to be more sustainable and resilient in the future.
Bazhinov says that in his home state of Virginia, a snowstorm earlier this month knocked out power for the 40 homes in his community. Some were able to stay up and running--including their Christmas lights--thanks to stored energy from solar power and home batteries. Others remained in the dark for more than five days.
"Combined, our neighborhood has enough generation capacity to run all 40 houses," says Bazhinov. "So if our neighborhood could come together in the grid and we could just all transact with each other, that's our smart city."
In the near future, more communities might rely on local power sources, like solar farms that power small communities instead of wide geographic regions. And while only about half the states in the U.S. currently allow homes to sell energy to one another, that number should grow as home energy storage becomes more commonplace. This could mean opportunities for companies in the space, whether that's building local energy sources or platforms that enable energy transactions.
3. Water efficiency
Drought conditions across the West Coast in recent years have made fresh water a hot commodity. This has presented the need for companies that can find innovative ways to reuse water, says Fernando Ramirez, managing director of the Netherlands-based water recycling company Hydraloop Systems. He points out that by 2030, an estimated 60 percent of the global population will live in major metropolitan areas. "The infrastructure will be challenged," says Ramirez. "It's being challenged today, but the increase of population will require that the focus on technology become more prominent."
Hydraloop creates a tech-based system for collecting graywater--which comes from showers, dishwashers, and washing machines--and sanitizing it to reuse in toilets or irrigation systems. The company entered the U.S. market in 2021 as locales in drought-prone areas began easing their regulations around reusing water. Phoenix recently started permitting residential homes to reuse graywater and Florida began allowing it to be used for irrigation. San Francisco now requires that all new buildings of 250,000 square feet or more have water regeneration systems.
As laws become more relaxed, technology like Hydraloop's can help ease the stress on local infrastructure and allow businesses like hotels, gyms, and hospitals to save on their water bills--all while doing good for the environment.