That’ll smart: Yellowknife misses out on Smart Cities prize

Last modified: May 14, 2019 at 2:44pm

The City of Yellowknife failed to win a $5 million federal contest featuring communities battling for money to fund cutting-edge technology projects.

The Smart Cities Challenge reached its climax at a ceremony in Ottawa on Tuesday.

Yellowknife’s plan to create a grid of smart streetlights, reducing energy use while darkening the night sky to enhance the aurora, was among bids from five small communities.


The city’s idea lost out to eventual winner Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, in the smallest of three categories. Larger municipalities were competing for prizes of $10 million and $50 million.

In the $10 million category, Nunavut’s 25 municipalities won with a joint bid to create “Makerspaces” across the territory, connecting youth to technology and programming in the hope of reducing the risk of suicide.

Bridgewater said it would lift 20 percent of its residents “out of energy poverty” with energy monitoring and communications equipment in more than 1,000 low-income homes, alongside energy retrofits, better transportation systems, and more training for its “clean tech sector.”

Earlier, Mayor Rebecca Alty – making a final pitch to attendees and judges – said the smart streetlights would “bring the dark sky back to our city.”

The plan involved lights that dim when nobody is near, but light up once pedestrians or vehicles approach. Engineers said this would reduce light pollution and the city’s energy bill, while ensuring the lights still do their most important job of keeping people safe.


In future, staff had planned to expand the smart lights well beyond that initial use, creating what would more accurately be termed a “smart grid” across Yellowknife.

Apps similar to those on your phone would be installed for the grid, which could then do everything from tracking water leaks to charging electric vehicles and, one day, providing a city-wide Wi-Fi network.

“Our journey started with a goal of reducing light pollution and making it easier to connect with the aurora borealis. From these simple beginnings, it has evolved into so much more,” said Alty ahead of the result on Tuesday.

“Taking the humble lightpost … and embedding smart technology in it, the possibilities are endless.


“We will … bring residents and tourists closure to the natural environment that surrounds them, while at the same time streamlining services and offering a glimpse of our future.”

It is not clear whether the City of Yellowknife will continue to pursue the smart grid without the federal grant, either in its current form or in a scaled-down format.

Other examples of potential future uses for such a system include:

  • Downtown parking space occupancy in real-time
  • Snowfall and road ice measurement
  • Forest fire smoke detection
  • Light pollution monitoring
  • Water leak detection
  • Triggering of garbage collection when containers are full
  • Noise monitoring
  • Permafrost monitoring
  • Efficiency improvements to trucked water and sewer service

A small-scale pilot project was recently introduced on School Draw Avenue, featuring the so-called “motion-dimmable” lights.

The City drew considerably on the experience of a separate pilot program in Lloydminster, Alberta, which was said to have shown an energy saving of up to 80 percent.

The Smart Cities Challenge contest as a whole had 130 applications, organizers said.

Winners were chosen by a 13-person panel including professionals in the fields of urban planning, architecture, and policy innovation.