Saturday, December 12, 2009

Computer assisted markets: infrastructure

Some time ago the NY Times ran a story on "smart infrastructure:" Bringing Efficiency to the Infrastructure

The story was mostly how better metering and communication can lead to increased efficiencies. Some of these efficiencies come from making new markets possible; e.g. if your electric meter were smarter, it could allow more complicated contracts, in which you could have interruptible service when demand was high (e.g. you could have an electricity contract that would turn off your washing machine when demand was high, but allow you to turn it on again and be billed at a higher rate if you needed it even so.)

The story touches on this when it discusses congestion pricing in Stockholm:
"In 2006, Stockholm experimented with congestion pricing, charging cars up to $4 to enter the downtown area, depending on the time of day. The cars were monitored with RFID cards and webcams that photographed license plate numbers. Drivers had to pay within two weeks or faced penalties, but I.B.M. linked the driver data to 400 convenience stores in the city to make payment easier.
Within a few weeks, the impact in Stockholm was evident, and it has proved permanent. Car traffic in downtown Stockholm has been reduced by 20 percent, carbon dioxide emissions have dropped 12 percent, and the city’s public transport system has added 40,000 daily riders, I.B.M. said. The webcams accurately read license plates, even on snowy days, more than 95 percent of the time. So the RFID tags are no longer in use. After expenses, the smart traffic system generates $80 million a year for the city.
Stockholm is a city in a Scandinavian country with a long environmental tradition, in a socially democratic nation. Yet even in Stockholm, there were complaints initially. The city also took the risk of installing the entire system, calling it a trial, and then having residents vote on it seven months later, after the benefits were apparent. "

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