Cities across the globe, from Toronto to Tokyo are gaining recognition as smart cities: places where innovations in information and communication technologies (ICT) enable efficient use of resources, energy savings, and environmental footprint reduction.
While smart initiatives may get a lot of press, single initiatives are being beat out in the race to make cities smart: the only way to get to truly smart cities is starting at the micro level and working up to the macro.
Some of the world’s coolest new innovations are aiming to make cities smart. These initiatives include:
- Barcelona’s solar thermal ordinance, that hold buildings responsible for solar heating of at least 60% of their water
- Hong Kong’s use of RFID technology in its airport and throughout its agriculture supply chain
- Copenhagen’s commitment to carbon neutrality by 2025
- Paris’s Velib, a program with 20,000 sharable bicycles, and Autolib, with 250 locations to rent EVs
- Obama’s 'SmartCities Initiative' in the US that is investing $160 million to help local communities tackle key challenges such as reducing traffic congestion, fighting crime, fostering economic growth, managing the effects of a changing climate, and improving the delivery of city services.
Smart initiatives are not smart enough
While all commendable, these initiatives, in and of themselves, will not make cities truly smart. A smart city is one in which technology is used to improve quality of life, reduce costs, and diminish environmental impact. Doing so with substantial effect necessitates doing so on a large scale. For an initiative to be truly smart, its effect must be felt by a majority of the city’s people in their daily life.
Recently, the HarvardBusiness Review suggested that smart cities start with smart buildings. Considering these stats, that observation is quite…smart:
Energy used by commercial and industrial buildings in the United States is responsible for about $200 billion in annual costs and creates nearly 50% of our national emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) that contribute to global climate change. According to the US Department of Energy (DOE), more than 4.2 million commercial buildings waste an average 30% of the energy that owners and tenants pay for.
Smart buildings are smarter
By leveraging those billions of buildings, we hone in on a way to truly effect change. People work, live, and play within a city’s buildings. Innovations that can make buildings smart are a prerequisite to making a city smart.
Therefore, making cities smart must begin with making building smart; but making buildings smart must begin with making their systems and devices smart.
Starting with the devices is the smartest
Most cities are not being built from the ground up in the 21st century like some Sim-inspired fantasy. Instead, our cities are comprised of infrastructures and buildings that have been standing for generations. Their facades are historic and their systems are outdated.
However, updating systems and retrofit projects are resource-intensive and do not always have positive ROI. Building managers hesitate to take on these expenses and older building and the devices within them remain energy hogs that are unmonitored, uncontrolled, and un-smart.
New Internet-of-Things innovations have birthed new models of efficiency and control. By quickly, easily, and inexpensively connecting existing devices to the 'smart grid,' building managers are able to monitor consumption, track waste, and act on insights to improve efficiencies and reduce environmental footprints.
Furthermore, such a smart system can optimize maintenance protocols to reduce waste and improve operation.
Smart cities. Smarter buildings. Smartest devices.
Given a goal of a smart city, where ICT helps people use resources efficiently, save energy, and reduce environmental impact, we gain the most traction by focusing on the buildings that comprise the city: the warehouses, manufacturing plants, governmental offices, retailers, restaurants, residences, schools, hospitals, educational campuses, and more. To make these buildings smart, we start by making their devices smart, digitized and connected: air condition compressors, manufacturing machinery, lighting systems, elevators, food service refrigeration.The only way to make cities truly smart is by leveraging the innovations of IoT technology that can sense the consumption patterns and opportunities for efficiency in these devices. It may not look as chic as Parisian sharable bicycles and may not sound as noble as a goal of carbon neutrality. And while it does not interfere with these fine programs, it offers the avenue of greatest impact toward smart cities.