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21 February 2020 · 7 min. read

Chattanooga tops $110 million in smart city research

Chattanooga, TN (February 21, 2020) – The Chattanooga Smart Community Collaborative announced today that its members are playing a significant role in more than $110 million in federally-funded research as a result of Chattanooga’s unique infrastructure, expertise and facilities.

According to Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, the Smart Community Collaborative is serving as a focal point for bringing Chattanooga’s world-class infrastructure assets like EPB’s community-wide fiber optic network and smart grid power distribution system together with first-class expertise and research facilities at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC), Erlanger, the Tennessee Aquarium, Co.Lab and other local institutions.

“Chattanooga is rapidly becoming America’s living laboratory for smart city research,” Mayor Berke said. “By combining some of our nation’s most advanced smart city infrastructure with expertise ranging from autonomous vehicles development and healthcare delivery to freshwater conservation and entrepreneurship, Chattanooga is emerging as a singular location for integrated research and testing new technologies.”

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger highlighted projects like the 4K Microscope located at Hamilton County’s STEM School Chattanooga which is being used via the community-wide fiber optic network by students across the county as they study biology. “Thanks to our community’s advanced infrastructure we’re pioneering new ways to make singular educational resources available to all of our students,” said Mayor Coppinger. “In doing so, we’re working together to provide our students with access to cutting-edge technology and the kinds of educational experiences that give them a real advantage.”

Members of the Chattanooga Smart Community Collaborative include the City of Chattanooga, Hamilton County, EPB, UTC, Erlanger Health System, The Enterprise Center, CO.LAB and the Tennessee Aquarium.

As part of the effort to continue building Chattanooga’s profile as a technology and research hub, the Enterprise Center invited MIT economist Dr. Jonathan Gruber to speak Thursday night at The Edney about why he included Chattanooga in his book, “Jump-Starting America: How Breakthrough Science Can Revive Economic Growth”.

Chattanooga was one of 102 cities included in his book using the following criteria: at least 100,000 people in the working ages of 25 to 64, at least 25% college graduates and average house prices less than $265,000. Dr. Gruber also looked at education institutions, quality of life and commute times.

Dr. Gruber cited Chattanooga as a powerful example of how local governments, business, and universities can come together to create a vibrant cutting-edge tech community. “If I was here two years ago, Chattanooga would’ve been the centerpiece of the book,” said Dr. Gruber. “The EPB smart grid is an illustration for the rest of the world of how to leverage government funding to create a public service that works for all.”

According to Deb Socia, president of The Enterprise Center, coordinating Dr. Gruber’s visit is part of her organization’s effort to convene collaborative members, connect them to the community, and provide support. "There's a real feeling among the members of the Chattanooga Smart Community Collaborative as we ramp up our research efforts that we're working toward the same goal: improving people's lives here in Chattanooga and beyond," Socia said.

Since 2015, EPB has been designated to play a significant role in more than 60 research projects by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and other national research partners.

“For the benefit of our customers, EPB has partnered with local and national researchers to utilize our community’s fiber optic network and advanced smart grid electric distribution infrastructure to field-test new technologies and develop even better ways to use our systems to deliver value,” said David Wade, president & CEO of EPB. “Our partners in the Smart Community Collaborative are taking those efforts to a whole new level as they work on a wide range of projects to develop new applications for advanced infrastructure that can enhance our customer’s quality of life and eventually shape the way other cities use technology.”

Dr. Mina Sartipi, director of the UTC Center for Urban Informatics and Progress, noted the community’s exceptional climate for innovation. “Chattanooga has a proven record of diverse entities coalescing together quickly to build support and resources for innovation, with the establishment of the smart technology urban testbed in only a matter of months as just one example,” Sartipi said. “The city is home to both the expertise and vision necessary to achieve innovation on a large scale, supported by a growing culture of collaboration.”


A smarter approach to traffic: The Smart City Corridor is a 1.2-mile section of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard that has been equipped with a wide array of sensors, computing resources, and experimental wireless networks which allow cutting edge research across the Smart City ecosystem. The inaugural research challenge posed by Chattanooga Department of Transportation focused on automatically processing information from a variety of sensors, including cameras, LIDAR, RADAR and audio to better understand how pedestrians are using our city’s transportation networks and identify potential improvements to ensure greater safety and convenience. The Smart City Corridor’s connectivity and sensors are also appropriate to support research for the development of autonomous vehicles, which require massive bandwidth and data support. The project is led by the Center for Urban Informatics and Progress at UTC in partnership with the city of Chattanooga, The Enterprise Center and EPB.

Virtual modeling to enhance the energy efficiency of buildings: AutoBEM, which stands for Automatic Building Energy Model, is a partnership between EPB and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).  By integrating a number of data sources, ORNL is creating virtual models of all the buildings in EPB’s 600-square mile service area. The virtual modeling includes projections of energy use. EPB is working with ORNL to field-test AutoBEM’s accuracy as compared to verified energy use data. This is a first step toward creating virtual models of all of the 130 million buildings in America, which can then be used to make recommendations about how to make them more energy efficient.  The AutoBEM program is designed to help achieve the goal, set by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Building Technologies Office, to reduce energy consumption per square foot in all buildings in the country by 30% by the year 2030.

Pioneering microgrid technologies that dynamically adapt to renewable power generation: Renewable energy sources like solar and wind generation provide tremendous benefits, but they also present challenges because they vary unpredictably. EPB and its research partners are field testing a variety of technologies at Solar Share, EPB’s community solar installation, and at the Chattanooga Airport’s solar array. By combining distributed power generation and on-site storage with EPB’s highly automated smart switches, EPB is researching how different kinds of equipment and software can be integrated to dynamically re-size microgrids to include more or fewer power users depending on conditions. This would allow a microgrid to provide energy for a small, critical set of energy users over a longer period while also having the ability to expand to meet short-term power needs over a much larger area.

Developing better ways to secure the nation’s power grid: Working with ORNL and other research partners, EPB has completed a number of successful tests of smart grid security technologies including a recent effort to prove the effectiveness of using a Quantum Cryptographic Network to secure smart infrastructure by using subatomic particles as an un-guessable code-key. EPB’s successful field tests are a step forward in rolling out this kind of technology to utilities across the nation to help secure our national power grid.

Bringing “Smart Home” automation together with “Smart Infrastructure”: Building on EPB’s previous field test of the effectiveness of a communications standard which allowed for data sharing among home-based devices like water heaters, EV chargers, and smart thermostats, EPB is now working with ORNL, and other national research groups, to field test a “home energy management system” that could use the new communications standard to facilitate dynamic data exchange and management between home-based devices and distribution level smart grid infrastructure. In practical terms, this would allow home-based energy management systems to work automatically with smart grid infrastructure to optimize home energy use to help customers save money and get the most value from residential rooftop solar (or other kinds of distributed generation and storage) while improving resilience both for the individual customer and at the distribution level for the community as a whole.

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