September 12, 2016 Djuan Coleon

Smart Cities: Solar Power and Lead Poisoning

How do we reconcile the virtues of Smart Cities and renewable energy sources such as solar power juxtaposed with lead poisoning in our cities? Solar power is set to grow by 94% in 2016. In the first quarter solar accounted for 64% of new electric capacity additions enough to power 5.7 million homes. Yet at the other end of the spectrum we are seeing lead poisoning proliferate in low income communities of Cleveland, Chicago, and of course Flint.



How does Solar power and lead poisoning fit within the framework of the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development goals?  United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #11 “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”.  As we build Smart Cities and modernize our urban infrastructure we cannot allow certain segments of the population to fall through the proverbial cracks. As LEED certified green building designs continues to grow, we still have lingering issues of lead poisoning in existing buildings in American urban cities. In Cleveland, Ohio almost 3 times as many children are affected by lead poisoning as compared to Flint, Michigan. The culprit is lead paint in the homes of several communities in Cleveland.  In East Chicago the EPA is requiring 1000 children and adults to relocate from their homes because of  toxic levels of lead in the soil. The level found is 227 times the allowable amount of lead in the soil. Cities like Cleveland, Chicago and Pittsburgh where once smelting centers where factories were located to process various metals. Decades later these contaminants can be found still in the soil. As we changed from an economy of manufacturing in the twentieth century to now smart cities based on technology. We still have to collectively address out old economy problems.




For the first time in history the majority of the world’s population lives in a city. By 2050 70% of the world’s population will live in an urban city. One of the challenges is managing the water system in these cities where the populations are ever increasing.  Smart water systems are critical to helping to insure the sustainable management of water. I used to be a project manger on several watershed management projects in the city of Atlanta and the surrounded areas for several years. Water system management is as important as energy management, the two are actually connected. Water systems can have high energy costs to a city.  Focusing on just reducing our carbon footprint without equal effort on water security and management is not “smart”. The human body is made up of almost 65% water so it is important for citizens to have access to reliable clean water. Some of the ways cities are cresting Smart Water systems is through sensor technology, data analytics, automation and control devices.

“From a survey conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, The Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment, projected needed upgrades to pipes, treatment plants and water distribution systems. The report, which by law must be submitted to Congress every four years, examined 73,400 water systems. In many cases, drinking water infrastructure was reported to be 50 to 100 years old.” – Bobbi Harris Principal consultant, Smart Water Smart City 

The United States according to the EPA  needs $384 Billion in water infrastructure upgrades.

“A safe and adequate supply of drinking water in our homes, schools and businesses is essential to the health and prosperity of every American,” said EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe.

Yet to this date the residents of Flint, Michigan STILL do not have lead free drinking water, nor have any infrastructure improvements been done. There seems to more awareness and resources put towards “clean air” while some people have to drink polluted water in cities like Flint with very little available resources. How does clean air and solar panels on the roof help you when you don’t have clean water coming out your faucets? One of the problems in the green movement is that there is not a lot of holistic thinking. We don’t seem to connect the dots across the board. Do we need the same kind of state and local incentives that solar has in order to get a movement for clean water?  This week in Milwaukee, Wisconsin the Mayor is ordering residents whose homes were built before 1951 to add certified filters to their faucets to remove the lead from their water.  Senators in the state of Michigan are still haggling over $100 million dollars in funding to do infrastructure upgrades and replacements to the water system in places like Flint. We have to insure as we build Smart Cities and Smart Grids that we just don’t focus solely on solar power at the expense of water systems.  Reducing lead is poisoning is just as important as reducing our carbon footprint. We have to work and think holistically for the betterment of all stakeholders.



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