Home to around half of the Earth’s population, cities are currently responsible for three quarters of total energy consumption and 80% of CO₂ emissions worldwide. With the rate of urbanisation set to increase over the coming decades, it’s been predicted that our cities will be home to over 6 billion people by 2050 – almost double what it is now.
So, what can be done? One solution which is already being adopted around the globe is making our cities smarter. And by smarter, we mean more efficient, more sustainable and more digitally advanced. To highlight the importance of upgrading our urban areas, we’ve outlined everything you need to know about smart cities.
What is a smart city?
A smart city is an urban development which incorporates sustainability and technology into its physical, social and economic infrastructure. Smart cities are more efficient, using technology to make processes more cost effective or environmentally friendly, and ultimately improving the quality of life of its residents.
Cities leading the way in adopting the smart mantra are Barcelona, who has introduced motion sensor LED streetlamps, making energy savings of 30%; Copenhagen, a city which has heavily invested in bike lanes, super cycle highways and intelligent traffic management systems; and Singapore, who aims to be the world’s first Smart Nation, introducing a Smart Nation Platform which brings together data from a nationwide sensor network.
London also frequently tops smart city rankings, pioneering the use of open data to resolve problems, such as introducing the Congestion Charge and intelligent traffic lights to ease London’s chronic congestion.
Why are they good for the environment?
With numerous countries committed to significantly reducing their carbon emissions in light of the 2015 United Nations climate change conference in Paris, adopting smarter energy solutions is at the forefront of many urban regeneration plans. On top of this, once sustainable energy solutions are constructed, they are often cheaper to run, making them both a cost efficient and eco-friendly alternative.
A number of cities are already integrating renewable energy sources into their physical infrastructure. Dubai, for instance, currently has plans to fit solar panels onto every rooftop by 2030, to both power buildings and fuel a network of electric car charging stations. And it’s not just the introduction of renewables which is good for the environment. By smart cities using the Internet of Things (IoT) to bring their physical structures online, such as buildings, transport infrastructure and street lighting, they can use smart meters to monitor how much energy they’re using and start implementing procedures to cut back.
What is a smart grid?
In the UK, electricity is distributed from power stations to homes and cities via the National Grid. However, as the demand for electricity continues to rise, a more effective system is needed to distribute electricity more efficiently, reduce operating costs, reduce peak demand and quickly restore electricity after power disturbances.
A smart grid makes use of digital technology which allows for two-way communication between the utility provider and its recipients. The introduction of a smart grid is already happening here in the UK, with the government aiming to have smart meters in every home by 2020. Allowing both the customer and the energy provider to monitor their energy usage, efficiency savings can be made at both ends of the supply chain. Energy providers will no longer have to send out employees to read meters, customers will only pay for the electricity they use and they’ll also be able to monitor how much energy they’re using, making it easier for them to implement energy saving practices.
Who's investing in these ideas to make them a reality?
With climate change an ever-pressing global issue, world governing bodies are encouraging all nations to make their energy systems more efficient. The European Union requested that all its member states look at smart meters as a way to upgrade outdated energy systems, leading to Great Britain’s national smart meter rollout.
However, it’s not just governments driving the smart city trend. As millennials and agile start-ups seek out tech friendly cities to become their base, city planners and investors are starting to search for new ways to make cities more sustainable and digitally advanced.
With governments pressed to reduce their carbon emissions, it’s not surprising that renewables have become an integral part of the smart city phenomenon. However, as the world becomes ever more connected, bringing a city online could also be a rather profitable venture.
Have you noticed any smart changes to your city? Join in the conversation via Twitter!