Nature and technology drive smart city development

Metering & Smart Energy International spoke with Anil Ahuja, author of Integration of Nature and Technology for Smart Cities, about the book and his view on smart cities.

This book is an expansion of the original title Integrated M/E Design: Building Systems Engineering. Why the expansion on the topic?

The original book was about building technologies and sustainable system operations. Nowadays, we integrate information and communication technologies into buildings and call them ‘smart buildings.’ However, in discussions with an international group of authors from the engineering, urban planning, and architecture fields around new trends and paradigms for smart buildings and smart cities, we rethought the concept and reached a common understanding that a smart, sustainable building is not just about the building itself.

There are things happening in the inside of the building and on the outside. A smart building connects the inside with the outside, provides efficiencies on both sides, synchronises the outside infrastructure with its inside systems and integrates outside nature and its inside occupants in its design.

What makes a city smart?

Due to the breadth of technologies that have been implemented under the smart city label, it is difficult to distil a precise definition of a smart city. A smart city not only possesses ICT technology in areas but implements modern ICT technology in a manner that impacts the local community, environment, and health. A city can be defined as “smart” when investments in human and social capital and traditional (transport) and modern (ICT) communication infrastructure fuel sustainable economic development.

This leads to a high quality of life, with a wise management of natural resources, through participatory action and engagement.

i Why are smart cities so important? What are the benefits, challenges and reality of scale of expansion globally?

Smart cities are a response to the need for cities and people to lower their carbon footprint; infrastructure is designed to meet these goals by enabling us to minimise our use of resources and recycle as much as possible.
As urbanisation increases, we are putting more and more pressure on finite resources. It is important to remember that our resources are not infinite – we have no additional or new resources, other than sun, coming to earth. We are (technically) drinking the same water the dinosaurs drank.

The challenges with the types of societies we have created is that we are not mindful of our limited resources. Developers build at the cheapest prices; the cost of consumption is passed on to the tenants or a number of people living in the building – but buildings are not constructed with the mindset of longevity and recycling or efficient use of resources.

Recycling or reusing water, for instance, is an excellent opportunity for smart cities. To move away from using potable water for functions/services that can use grey water – such as watering gardens, makeup water for cooling towers, washing motor vehicles/driveways – is important. This philosophy should be coupled with efficiently using general water resources in a city.

Some of these objectives can be achieved through the fusion of nature and technology. Net zero living is what we need to be aiming for.

How do utilities fit into this? What is the role of the utility in the smart city and what could it be? How could utilities be leaders in the development of smart cities?

Measurement and verification are vital in the infrastructure of any smart city. Smart grids and smart meters help balance the flow of energy and power distribution.

But how do we control demand properly?

Demand side management entails conservation, energy efficiency, cooling, lighting, management of heating. Effective client profiling could lead to potential sharing of energy between commercial and residential properties if properly managed: taking advantage of residential surplus during business hours, and energy stored from local businesses in the evenings.

How can energy consumption be reduced? How do we move away from the need to build more power plants?
I believe we have enough resources, but need to manage and distribute them correctly. Technology is available to manage all of this and utilities are key to integrating it all into a cohesive whole. Water, electricity, gas, telecoms – these utilities are all part of the infrastructure that makes up a smart city.

Traditionally power utilities have been built around a centralised system but more modern thinking is encompassing micro grids or small islands of power which support each other instead of a large central plant. Utilisation of natural resources such as solar, wind or geothermal will mean we need limited power from the old traditional grid. This reduces grid stress, and means we don’t have to increase generation capacity.

It’s important to remember though that a smart city is not just about technology – technology is part of it, but it’s not the whole part.

What else can technology deliver?

Data analytics is a new power tool for cities to utilise – we have data on everything. The biggest challenge for any smart city is how to drive sustained behavioural change. Importantly, before commencing on any behavioural change, it is vital to have the infrastructure in place to support this change in behaviour. For instance: in-home displays, similar to those used by smart meters, make power consumption visible to consumers. Similar to wearables which track heart rate and steps, visibility keeps the customer’s awareness up.

However, don’t forget that the balance between too much and too little data can be very fine and must be closely monitored.

Data can drive other efficiencies besides changing consumer behaviour. It can positively impact on utility behaviour and efficiency too. In Chicago, for instance, lights are being converted to smart LEDs; and by adding DC power and routers it is now possible to make city-wide internet available.

Lights and sensors – in fact, the array of sensors available – enable city officials to monitor any number of issues: air quality, activity on the streets, storm and flooding, pollution, pollen counts and traffic.

Smart LEDs allow remote control of street lights and remote brightening or dimming. This also impacts on maintenance costs for utility companies, as instead of having to drive around looking for light bulbs that have burned out, the light bulb now lets the utility know it needs to be replaced. This results in more efficiency and the revenue saved by these efficiencies is able to be used to further add to the smart city infrastructure, creating something of a ‘virtuous cycle’.

Consumers want more control over managing their energy consumption. How is this enabled within the context of a smart city?

The key trends we will see in this area will be the smart grid, the future ‘energy Internet.’ We will see more micro grids and energy storage technologies leveraging ‘second life’ electric car batteries; and possibly also, for the first time, space-based solar power satellites that beam electricity to the earth. We will continue transitioning to a carbon-neutral energy supply system (replacing fossil fuels with more environmentally sustainable wind, solar, and geothermal energy solutions), greater efficiency in both our built environment (automated climate control systems, life-cycle materials) and work environment (virtual meetings, telecommuting, etc.), supported by the rise of the sharing energy economy.

What is the one message you want Metering & Smart Energy International readers to take away with them?

Message is simple – always balance nature and technology in a smart city, encompass a healthy life and good quality of life. MI


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