How the Internet of Things is transforming energy, lighting and traffic in San Leandro

The future of the city's infrastructure and operations hinge on development of an evolving sensor network and internet backbone, the California city CIO says.

To help realize the promise of the Internet of Things, San Leandro, California, is accelerating an initiative to use its 10 gigabit fiber loop as a backbone to improve operations in everything from street lights and parking to smart energy management.

Debbie Acosta, the Bay Area city’s chief information officer, shared details of the initiativeat a panel at the Internet of Things World conference on Thursday. Acosta told StateScoop the work was part of San Leandro’s evolution from an industrial center to a modern city designed on IoT technologies. The city’s gigabit loop, dubbed “Lit San Leandro,” is at the initiative’s core. In 2011, the city approved construction of the fiber network that has grown to 18 miles after a $2.1 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration. Originally, Acosta said that the loop was intended to be a catalyst to attract businesses and drive economic development, but since, it’s developed into a platform for something much larger.

“I think at that time we just thought about it as an infrastructure project, not thinking so much of what we were going to actually do with it,” Acosta said. “Then they hired me as a CIO in 2013 and we started to realize that there was much more happening out there around fiber optics, and particularly, around government that we had not anticipated.”

The city’s first IoT project was announced in 2016. It used the fiber loop to connect the city to two automated and remote controlled irrigation and LED lighting systems. While the irrigation system helps to conserve water, the LED lighting will save the city an estimated $8 million in energy costs during the next 15 years and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from dirty power plants. 


These gains have led the city to pursue two additional major IoT projects — the first is a pilot to develop a distributed energy network monitored by IoT sensors, and the second is the creation of a fiber optics “master plan” that embeds devices and tools into the city’s services. The push for IoT, Acosta said, is all about getting a clearer picture of what’s working and what’s not. 

“Smart city and IoT technologies are important because they’re going to enable us to gather data about things we couldn’t know about in the past and it’s going to allow us to make better decisions because of this data,” she said.

The smart energy pilot takes its funding from a $1.5 million grant from the California Energy Commission, and depending on its success, could generate another $8 million in follow-on investment from the state in 2018. The idea is to turn San Leandro into a test bed for an energy system with capacity to receive and deliver power to dozens — possibly hundreds — of energy sources. The city hopes to have an energy system that knows how it can to take power generated from buildings with solar rooftops, contained within local battery storage, or found in other places and redistribute it more efficiently. 

“When you have sensors on everything — all the moving parts — it starts to tell you a story, and that enables you to make better decisions,” Acosta said.

Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, PG&E and the energy data startup ZipPower are a few of the groups participating in the venture that may be a model for cities across California.


“The goal is to figure out how to scale renewable energy and develop advanced energy communities, because we’re tired of waiting for the world figure it out.” Acosta said. “The CEC and the California Public Utilities Commission is on board and California wants to do it now.”

As for its fiber master plan, San Leandro is reviewing two consultants that applied to its $60,000 RFP in April. The document asks for guidance in the design of a fiber strategy that identifies the best opportunities for fiber expansion, monetization of its network, and how emerging technologies in IoT and wireless can factor in. In the next two years, she estimated that transportation and energy will see major gains from fiber and IoT advances, and that eventually, they will represent a significant share of city services.  

With respect to potential revenue fiber might generate, Acosta said the city wants its infrastructure to be the first choice when it comes to new wireless technologies. 

“We don’t need new utility boxes installed for AT&T fiber. We ask that our businesses and consumers consider our fiber, and if you don’t want to do that, then we have to figure out what our policies are around that,” Acosta said. “But we truly believe that’s a role in our monetization path and we think it’s a place we could be very strong.”

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