Globally, countries have set aggressive targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Energy use will need to be reduced significantly in cities if such goals are to be achieved. Currently, 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas, and the share is expected to grow to 68% by 2050, according to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Cities are the main source of economic activity, energy consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. For urban centers to reduce emissions significantly, both energy use must be reduced and intermittent renewable energy must be taken advantage of. These objectives will be achieved largely through the development of “smart cities”. This article focuses on IoT-related smart city initiatives, which encompass a wide range of initiatives. Through the use of new technologies and the automation of processes, these initiatives can help cities become more efficient.
It may seem impossible to achieve full smart city functionality, but some urban centers are already implementing smart technology. Improvements in mobility can already be seen in Singapore, which is often regarded as the world’s best smart city. Beeline is an application for crowdsourced bus services that was introduced in 2015. Private bus operators are given anonymised data by the government to suggest new routes based on community demand. Consequently, public transportation becomes more efficient and the use of private cars decreases.
According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), cities are responsible for 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, they are highly vulnerable to many of the impacts of climate change they contribute to, such as heat stress, flooding, and health emergencies. In order to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 11 (SDG 11), cities must be made more resilient, sustainable, inclusive and safe.
Role of Telecom in Development of Smart Cities
In smart cities, many methods for reducing greenhouse gas emissions rely on sensors either for recording and relaying real-time consumption data or for detecting resident activities. The central processing system must be connected to most of these sensors in order to analyze data and automate processes. Many of these tasks can be accomplished through fixed and mobile telecommunications networks. There are a number of possible use cases where telecom networks can provide connectivity at a lower cost than custom-built networks. Let’s examine the role mobile networks play in supporting smart city development.
Many IoT applications can already be supported by existing mobile networks with only minimal enhancements. An IoT application based on narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) can be supported by a modified version of 4G. At some point, however, 4G networks will no longer be able to support smart cities. This is where 5G technology comes in, which will provide the following improvements over 4G networks (among others):
- Capacity and speed improvements
- The ability to support a greater number of connected devices (including Internet of Things devices) will help drive down the cost of sensors through economies of scale
- As a result of lower power requirements, sensors will have a longer battery life
- A higher level of reliability
- A reduction in latency (also called “quicker response times”)
- Offering different levels of quality of service to different users via virtual “Network Slicing”
- A reduction in the mobile network’s energy consumption
As a result, policymakers must facilitate the timely rollout of 5G to maximize the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that smart cities can achieve.
A Few Examples of Successful Smart City Projects Across the World
Climate-smart cities can reduce the mounting pressure of climate change, which they both cause and suffer from. The improvement of urban infrastructure will ultimately enhance cities’ resilience and reduce climate risk as well as increase their liveability and competitiveness. From flood defenses and drainage canals to electrified transport, and green spaces for urban cooling, building climate-smart cities can involve a wide range of measures. As examples, here are three projects highlighted by UNDP that highlight climate-risk-abating measures’ impact.
Santiago De Chile’s Electric Buses
Chile’s capital, Santiago de Chile, has bought 455 electric buses over the past few years, and plans to buy nearly 800 by 2020. As e-buses are emission-free, they reduce air pollution and its effects on human health and productivity. In Santiago’s public transportation system, air conditioning and a quieter ride are also popular features. A major transport axis in Santiago is now home to Latin America’s first “electric corridor,” according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). It is only served by e-buses and consists of bus stops featuring solar panels that power free Wi-Fi, USB charging and LED lighting – making it an even more attractive network for e-bus users.
Additionally, the e-buses reduce the local government’s operational expenditures. Compared with diesel-powered buses, they are 70% cheaper to operate and maintain, which offsets their higher purchase cost, which is nearly double. Additionally, these huge reductions could also lead to lower fares – encouraging more people to use public transportation. Chile has set electrification targets for both private and public transport, and has made significant efforts to increase demand for electric vehicles and charging infrastructure. A tender has been issued for the procurement of 2,000 more e-buses by Chile’s transport ministry, and the project is set to be extended to other cities.
According to the IEA, South America is a major growth market for e-buses, despite China accounting for more than nine out of every ten electric buses registered in 2019. Chile has the largest electric bus fleet, but Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador also have electric buses.
Abu Dhabi’s Innovative Farming Methods
Urbanization will increase the number of urban dwellers, which will exacerbate the challenge of feeding them. It is estimated that 80% of all food will be consumed in cities by 2050. It may be possible to grow enough food hydroponically in areas where space is limited or the climate is unfavorable for traditional farming. Water-based hydroponics involves feeding plants with nutrient-rich water instead of planting them in soil. Hydroponically farmed plants have a smaller footprint and can be stacked vertically since their roots don’t have to burrow into the ground.
Compared with traditional farming methods, hydroponic farming can increase yield by 10 percent per hectare by carefully controlling the plant’s environment and nutrient intake. Furthermore, it makes better use of resources, reducing waste, water consumption, pesticides and fertilizers. Since they are indoors, they are less susceptible to pests and weather events, and crops can be grown nearby. Reports from the UN suggest that this can reduce food miles and emissions associated with them.
The Abu Dhabi government is now providing $100 million for the construction of a vertical farm of over 8,200 square meters for both research and development and commercialization. Funding from the Abu Dhabi Investment Office is intended to turn “sand into farmland”, boost local food production, and accelerate the growth of agricultural technology. There will be four vertical farming companies at the facility, including one that will cultivate tomatoes indoors, one that will develop irrigation systems, and one that will conduct research and development. Globally, vertical farming projects are underway, including in Dubai, which recently opened its first in-store hydroponic farm.
Mexico’s Insured Coral Reefs
Adding natural solutions to a city’s sustainable infrastructure can help mitigate climate risk. For example, coral reefs serve as natural barriers against ocean surges and flooding. It is possible for them to absorb the same amount of wave energy as seawalls and breakwaters, which are not as durable. According to the UNDP report, reefs and other natural defenses are less expensive to maintain than man-made solutions. According to the report, 20 percent of reefs have been lost globally and 15 percent are in danger, and funding for their restoration and maintenance is limited. In addition, such initiatives are rarely undertaken.
As a natural defense and a source of income for coastal communities, the UNDP is now piloting an insurance scheme in Mexico to protect and boost the Meso-American reef – the second largest in the world. The Reef2Resilience fund is similar to a trust fund for local businesses. The fund serves two purposes. In order to provide better natural protection, it restores and maintains the reef. It also pays for catastrophe insurance to ensure that the coral reef and its surrounding ecosystem recover quickly after a natural disaster, ensuring future protection and protecting coastal communities’ livelihoods. There is a possibility of extending the project to the Caribbean and Asia, as discussions are underway.
Smart Cities of Asia: Vietnam’s Challenge
A central feature of the ‘smart city’ concept has been a strong belief that technology can improve people’s lives. Technological advancements, internet penetration, and the urbanization of the world’s population have all grown over the last couple of decades. With the dawn of the twenty-first century, it’s becoming clear that the real value of those investments in technology is not just about boosting wealth and opportunity, but also about combating climate change. Cities and communities around the world face existential threats in this time, so the word ‘smart’ has become increasingly important as data and digital services allow them to model and respond to threats such as flooding and extreme heat, and how these affect infrastructure and vital services.
At the COP26 climate summit in November 2021, countries had an opportunity to measure their progress towards climate change goals, make larger commitments, and discuss future strategies. Transitioning from fossil fuel-based energy to renewables at scale is perhaps one of the biggest challenges facing every country. A number of countries, including Vietnam, have committed to phase out coal use, which is currently responsible for 35% of the country’s energy use. By making this decision, the country will expand into renewable energy at a rapid pace, which will have major implications for its existing energy grid. For renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, to be effectively implemented, grid operators must be able to predict and manage both supply and demand. Urbanization and an 8% increase in energy demand between 2021-30 compound the problem.
As a result of its dependence on coal, and some concerns regarding energy security, Vietnam has a deep understanding of coal. Renewable energy must be developed, but existing grids must not be overburdened. The concept of digital in the context of smart cities extends beyond the application of technical solutions and upgrades. The energy supply chain will also need to be digitised, which will require time and incentives, in a very traditional industry. To motivate international investment in the sector, Vietnam will have to align its own practices with those of other countries in order to support the power purchasing aspects of renewable energy systems like off-shore wind. There is a huge potential for Vietnam’s off-shore wind sector to benefit from this capital movement. Investing in smart cities that prioritize clean energy and improve national resilience is both beneficial on its own and helps build foreign direct investment as well.
Looking Ahead: Do Smart Cities Really Have Potential?
Technology-driven or natural, climate-smart urban infrastructure presents a $30 trillion investment opportunity. This includes renewable energy, public transport, electric cars, and green buildings. Those are just the numbers for developing economies. It will be necessary to develop new funding models, policies, and risk assessments in order to overcome investment barriers for climate-smart infrastructure as the urban population grows.
Using smart cities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can help reduce emissions in the transportation sector as well as the production of electricity and heat. Transportation contributes 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions, while electricity and heat production contribute 25% (although these percentages are not exclusive to cities). In addition to promoting a range of new apps and use cases that will improve consumer experiences and business productivity, policymakers can also contribute to the fight against global warming if they support the development of smart cities.
5G Expansion Requires Policy Changes
Policy intervention is likely to be required to help fill potential gaps in 5G provision needed for smart cities to fully develop. City areas, where operators will densify their networks, will have a higher demand for sites that can host 5G infrastructure – probably small cells. As a result, access issues arise. Deploying multiple networks can also be expensive. It is possible to deploy a so-called ‘neutral host’ model in order to fill gaps in 5G coverage without undermining the dynamics of competing national network operators. There may be a need for some policy intervention in this situation. The public sector can also play a role in ensuring that 5G is adopted early. Economies of scope will be generated in the use of 5G as a result of the proliferation of use cases.
New government models, known as smart government models, have, however, been created. Sensors, smart traffic lights, and public internet access points have been installed in smart cities as the first steps in their development. The ecosystem, however, has become more complex over time. The cornerstone of a smart city would be smart government. In order to achieve long-term, comprehensive urban development, we need to move from the old smart city debate, understood by using technology to develop urban centers, to one based on smart governance.
It is anticipated that smart city models will also serve as a catalyst for enabling technologies related to various strategies and resources in the future, including smart and efficient public service management, such as lighting, waste collection, and traffic management, which will have a direct impact on reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The citizens of a city are also crucial to the development and creation of smart or smarter cities. As a solution to climate change, it is necessary to foster awareness of the need for greener and more efficient cities.
In addition, public administrations should conduct a joint analysis with the economic sectors regarding how climate change will affect, in order to develop a common approach to combat the consequences arising from different scenarios. In order to achieve a low carbon economy, energy companies must continue reducing their carbon footprint in electricity generation, fostering cleaner fuels, and employing new technologies. Consumption habits and ways of living must be changed by citizens. For example, it is important for citizens to change the way they commute, moving towards clean and shared transport that contributes to saving and efficient travel. It is also important to separate living standards from energy consumption, and to adopt new technologies and developments to make living more efficient and environmentally friendly.