Geraldton is a small city with big ambitions for technologically advanced, sustainable living.
Located on Australia’s west coast, the city of Greater Geraldton is the largest community in the 4,000-kilometer stretch between Perth and Darwin, with a regional population of about 40,000. It’s also growing fast and facing some real 21st-century challenges, including the looming possibility of water and energy shortages.
Residents in the city and elsewhere across Western Australia pay some of the highest electricity prices in the world, with the nation’s new carbon tax adding to the cost.
Already semi-arid, Geraldton is also seeing changes in rainfall patterns, and increasing salinity in water wells.
To deal with these and other challenges, Geraldton has launched a lot of creative programs: from a plan to encourage the planting of one million trees to a goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2029.
“With Geraldton fast becoming a strategic service for industries across Western Australia, we have a responsibility to ensure that our city develops and expands in a sustainable way — and without compromising the quality-of-life for our citizens as the economic growth of the city continues to accelerate,” Mayor Ian Carpenter said recently. “Geraldton needs to be able to best leverage scalable and resilient technology to support our vision of becoming a technologically advanced and carbon-neutral hub.”
Carpenter was speaking about Greater Geraldton’s latest smart-city development: a multi-million-dollar, cloud-enabled data center to be built in the community. The data center will be built with the assistance of IBM, which last year chose Geraldton as one of 33 cities worldwide to receive a Smarter Cities Challenge grant.
As part of that grant, a team of IBM experts worked with Geraldton leaders to come up with a list of ambitious goals for the city. They include plans to:
- Extend the city’s free public wi-fi network to all of the central business district and other key areas;
- Build a regional internet exchange to provide faster internet connections to citizens and spur a growing digital economy;
- Create “MyGeraldton,” a one-stop online shop for providing city information and digital services;
- Bring together data about the city’s energy, water and waste-management uses through a “smart energy hub.” This is aimed at helping residents find ways to reduce their energy and water usage;
- Create a physical space with access to digital technology that serve as an incubator for local business startups;
- Set up “digital youth hubs” — multi-purpose spaces with wireless internet access where young people can gather for socializing, gaming and learning;
- Develop a “workforce of the future” by enabling the sharing of technology and digital services among local schools and training providers;
- Digitally promote the region on a global scale through mobile apps, YouTube videos, Facebook and other channels;
- Build a “virtual power plant” — that is, a distributed network of small-scale energy generators and storage devices that can reduce energy efficiency and improve reliability during times of peak demand;
- Launch a renewable energy initiative with the goal of replacing carbon-intensive energy sources with cleaner options like solar thermal, wind and geothermal;
- Create a leadership alliance to track the city’s progress toward its technology and sustainability goals.