Smart cities: increasing the sustainability of urban spaces

October 07, 2019 by Graeme Ross, UK & EMEA sales director, Resource Data Management
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Smart cities: increasing the sustainability of urban spaces

The effects of climate change are seen on an ever-larger scale and governments are increasingly putting policies in place and setting emission targets in an effort to stop temperatures rising. As highlighted by edie, 70% of the global energy demand is currently used by cities and it is predicted that an additional 2.5 billion people will be living in cities by 2050. Looking at these statistics, solutions to decrease the environmental impact of cities while improving the quality of life for residents are increasingly in demand. Implementing smart technology aims to achieve this and as a result ‘smart cities’ are developing worldwide.

Buildings represent an important part of a city’s infrastructure and are a major contributor to its environmental footprint. According to a UN report they accounted for 40% of energy-related CO2 emissions in 2017. Smart technology again offers solutions to curb the pollution. One of its main features is streamlining HVAC and BMS assets to optimise a building’s performance, thereby reducing the energy consumption and environmental impact.

Smart cities – reducing the environmental footprint

Even though there is no common definition, a smart city can be described as a city in which the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart technology are used to connect a network of devices, enabling those devices to share information and to make decisions based on the data they receive. This automated decision-making process allows to streamline operational functions as well as offer services to citizens.

Considering the operational functions that are currently controlled by smart technology, the options seem endless. Streetlights can be switched on based on light levels, water and waste management can be monitored and thereby improved, and the heating of public buildings can be optimised to save energy, to name just a few examples.

New smart services for residents are also introduced frequently. Mobile apps offer information on parking availability to save valuable time or enable car sharing and as a result reduce traffic and CO2 emissions. Traffic lights respond to the walking speed of pedestrians to time light cycles, increasing road safety and eliminating unnecessarily long waiting times for cars.

All of these features contribute to making cities more sustainable and enjoyable to live in. While at the early stages the implementation of smart technology was mostly carried out by European cities, the trend has been picked up worldwide with Singapore and New York being listed in the top three of many polls. This is reflected in the global spend on smart city technology which is forecasted to grow from $80 billion in 2016 to $135 billion in 2021, as stated in a report from the International Data Corporation.

Smart buildings – increasing energy efficiency and saving operational costs

Buildings are a major source of CO2 emissions and they represent large overhead costs for businesses. Turning buildings into smart versions of themselves will help make these structures more environmentally-friendly. As an additional bonus, they can be transformed into strategic assets for businesses.

Being arguably one of the most important part of a city’s infrastructure, buildings also accounted for 36% of the global energy use and for nearly 40% of energy-related CO2 emissions in 2017, according to a UN report. With smart IoT technology, buildings can be more energy efficient reducing their environmental footprint and saving operational costs.

The IoT connects mechanical and electrical systems within a building and enables communication between the devices. The resulting smart systems monitor themselves and each other and act upon the data they receive. HVAC equipment and lighting can be controlled and monitored automatically, optimising the building’s infrastructure according to pre-set parameters such as business hours, occupancy, outside temperature and daylight levels. The smart building thereby achieves energy savings and a reduction in CO2 emissions while at the same time increasing the comfort for the occupants.

According to a study conducted by British Gas, 46% of business energy was consumed outside of regular business hours: between 6pm and 8am. If smart technology were to be utilised to its full potential in buildings, the energy consumption could be significantly reduced. Automatically shutting down non-essential equipment after close of business or running assets at a minimum are valuable solutions smart technology can provide.  
Installing smart technology in buildings is not just a chance for businesses to decrease operational costs. It can also turn buildings into strategic assets helping businesses to achieve their objectives, rather than solely being overheads. Smart technology can help streamline conference room use, showing availabilities and reporting faulty equipment which can help eliminate time wasted over booking conflicts or trying to fix equipment during meetings. It can also regulate office temperatures and lighting so that both are at the optimum levels to foster productivity.

A standout example in the smart building development for offices is Powerhouse Brattørkaia, an energy-positive building that was unveiled in Norway in August 2019. The largest building of its kind, it will generate more energy in its operational phase than it will consume through construction, operation and disposal of the building. Using a combination of renewable energy sources such as solar panels and architectural design such as using special concrete to regulate temperatures. The energy production and usage are controlled and monitored via IoT devices and any surplus energy is used to charge electric cars, those transactions being monitored by both the building’s and the car’s technology.

Bluetooth technology

With the numerous benefits of smart technology comes the challenge of installing it. Establishing wire connections between the hundreds of devices operating in a building is labour, resource and time intensive. While wireless technologies are available, concerns about their reliability has made facility managers reluctant to implement them in the past.

Bluetooth technology released earlier this year offers a solution to overcome these concerns. The Bluetooth 5.1 mesh system is a robust, reliable wireless system, ideal for picking up multiple data points or controlling simple outputs. With the Bluetooth mesh system, devices can hop from one to the next to find reliable and secure paths for the data.

The system can be implemented in any building to avoid installing a large number of cables. It is ideal for large buildings, space restricted areas and retrofitting purposes.

Smart IoT solutions from RDM

Years before IoT became a recognised buzz word our technology was built on an open-protocol, web-based network of smart devices. In 2004, we installed the first refrigeration controller, with IP connectivity and the ability capture data remotely. The fundamental flexibility of our designs allows our systems and controls to work with almost any type of equipment. The RDM product range features over 500 control hardware products that are used to control multiple facets of buildings from lighting, heating, air-conditioning to refrigeration. Complementing these products, a range of software applications range can be used to automate and capture actionable data from buildings.

The future of smart cities

Currently, there are four energy-positive buildings in Norway. While they show a glimpse of the possible future for smart cities, it remains exactly that for many communities: a futuristic ideal. At the moment, cities across the globe face numerous challenges when it comes to implementing smart technology. Ranging from concerns over privacy and cyber security to simple funding problems, various factors can slow down a city’s smart transformation. However, the trend doesn’t show any signs of stopping, with governments supporting the construction of smart cities. Part of the EU’s 20-20-20 targets is the constructions of smart cities to reach sustainability goals, outlining plans of brining together small cities, businesses and organisations to develop and implement innovative solutions. Despite the challenges they are facing, with new technologies emerging and governments supporting the concept, smart cities currently present a viable solution to increase the sustainability of urban spaces.

 

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