When technology offers eco-solutions to urban environmental challenges
The exponential progress of digital technology is an incredible asset for urban developers. The collection, analysis and dissemination of essential strategic data an incredible asset for the optimization of urbans spaces, in accordance with social and environmental issues.
Smart cities have already started to appear around the world and they include two cornerstone applications. The first one is optimal energy management, with smart electrical networks that promote the use of renewable energies (wind, solar, biomass, etc.). The second is mobility management, therefore limiting car use and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The main goal is to establish an urban environment that is more energy efficient and agreeable to its inhabitants – quite a challenge considering the continuous expansion and densification of cities. The interesting point here is that the implementation of smart cities will not be possible without the full participation of all its stakeholders: local authorities, companies and citizens.
Collecting, Analyzing and Distributing Data
By 2050, 75% of the worldwide population will live in densely populated cities. The challenge of tomorrow is consequently to establish cleaner, more sustainable and healthier urban territories. Although the recent advances in the digital field have opened a wide range of possibilities, four axes need to be developed in order to make smart cities a reality.
The first one consists in equipping urban elements (sidewalks, water meters, transport systems…) with miniaturized sensors that can collect information regarding all objects and interconnect them to one another. The second axe concerns big data, in other words the ability to process phenomenal amounts of data. It is completed by the smartphone revolution, which enables both the collection and dissemination of information in real time by millions of users and finally, the cloud, a wonderful reservoir of data accessible from any terminal, especially smartphones.
With these digital advances, everything becomes possible. The city has the potential to become a huge data pool from which information can be extracted instantly to adapt urban operations and resources to the needs of its inhabitants.
Optimizing Energy Management
Effective energy management is a critical issue for numerous cities, mainly due to its impact on climate change and energy costs. Smart meters with sensors allow for a precise assessment of the consumption of all buildings. This includes identifying peak times of power consumption in neighborhoods and, eventually, entire cities. The information regarding energy consumption, added to the decentralized electricity production from renewable energy sources and electricity storage (mainly in batteries) then enables optimized electric management and use.
For instance, surplus energy accumulated by photo-voltaic panels placed on office buildings can be stored during the day and then delivered to dwellings in the evening, when offices are empty. Electric cars can produce electricity during peak hours or serve as storage systems during off-peak hours…Many different scenarios are possible.
With a grid powered with 41% renewable energy, the city of San Francisco is doing very well in this field. They have also considerably expanded their recycling systems and plan to achieve zero waste by the year 2020. Amsterdam, with its solar powered billboards, lights and bus stops that have appeared all throughout the city, is another great example.
Adopting New Lifestyle Habits
If cities are to be designed differently, this objective must essentially be followed by a participatory approach that promotes new behaviors. This includes electricity, water and gas consumption patterns and another major field of application concerns mobility. Useful applications include the possibility to outline traffic conditions and public transport availability, locate free parking spaces and access to car-sharing services. This kind of data offers essential information to travelling citizens, enabling them to adapt their itinerary and transport mode according to the situation at hand, and hence improve traffic flows.
Another key application to reduce congestion in big cities is the development of telecommuting, such as seen in the city of Tokyo. Strongly encouraged by the Japanese government, the goal is to increase to at least 10% the ratio of employees working from home at least one full day per week by 2020. Beyond these key applications, all processes are likely to benefit from a digital application, from flood risk management to earthquake detection, implemented respectively in Rio de Janeiro and Singapore.
The rapid development of social networks represents another interesting factor in the evolution of lifestyle patterns. By offering everyone a voice and encouraging dialogue, empowered city dwellers are bound to play an increasingly active role in the functioning of their city.