The future of smart cities


While cities occupy around 2% of the world’s surface, they accommodate 50% of its people and consume more than 75% of its energy, while producing almost 80% of its greenhouse effect.

As the imperative to manage resources grows, there is increased hope that the development of smart cities will reduce poverty, inequality and unemployment, while driving better, smarter resource management and efficiency.

This is according to a recent paper, The Smart City Concept in the 21st Century (Mircea Eremia, 2017), in which the authors believe that smart cities share common traits, namely that they use ICT to enhance the liveability of their cities, ensuring its workability and sustainability.

Furthermore, a smart city monitors and integrates the condition of all its critical infrastructure, so it is able to better optimise its resources, plan preventative maintenance activities and monitor security, while maximising services to its citizens.

While there are many definitions put forward by a multitude of authorities, the main themes – resource management, efficiency, use of data and a strong focus on sustainability – are consistently mentioned.

In trying to determine parameters for the definition and evaluation of a smart city, ISO standard 37129/2014 defines 17 key indicators, namely: economy, education, energy, environment, finance, fire and energy response, governance, health, recreation, safety, shelter, solid waste, telecommunications and innovation, transportation, urban planning, wastewater, water and sanitation.

Information and communication technology (ICT) is an essential component in promoting a smart city as it is an enabler to smarter resource use and monitoring.

As ICT evolves, it will allow for further integration of all elements of the smart city through interconnected telecommunications networks, integrated sensors, physical components and software tools.

This is particularly seen in the development of smart buildings which incorporate communication and control systems in order to optimise resource use, particularly heating and cooling.

Smart energy resources interconnect utilities and users through smart grid applications, optimising network operation.

As the smart grid develops, it will further enhance continuous, real time monitoring of energy, water and natural gas by utilising smart meters and online monitoring information.

Coupled with smart water management and distribution, efficient water usage and wastewater management can be firmly brought in to the digital era.

Because of the integration of systems across both vertical and horizontal infrastructure, smart cities can be referred to as ‘systems of systems’. Mircea Eremia et al say that “while the IT&C infrastructure is the support level for management and control applications, the smart grid is the system that makes all the other systems function.”

As electricity is one of the most important elements of any city, its unavailability will directly impact on multiple other utility functions and city services. As a result, efficient development of energy networks and optimal usage of energy is critical to achieve both energy savings and energy efficiency.

Smart grids in smart cities encompass five key elements – promotion of clean energy sources, smart metering, efficient public lighting, integration of electric vehicles and active consumer involvement.

In the pages following, we examine the role of the utility as an enabler for the smart city, as well as how progressive technologies such as smart grid, smart metering and electric vehicles will shape the smart city of the future. MI


Featured image: Stock