Centurion, South Africa. 19 November 2021. Applications to reduce energy consumption and improved traffic management have been the focus of cities around the world as the adoption of smart city solutions accelerate. In South Africa a district municipality has introduced a smart metering system to improve overall water management and the private Waterfall estate in Gauteng has adopted a smart city approach since its establishment in 2015.
“The reason for the focus on energy is because cities use 60% to 80% of the world’s energy needs and it contributes significantly to cities’ overall expenditure. Realising savings through the introduction of smart technology makes it possible for city managers to increase on other projects to benefit citizens, says Tobie Alberts, Digital Evangelist and Commercial lead for Europe at IoT.nxt.
The global smart city market is expected to reach a revised size of US$2.5 Trillion by 2026, from US$741.6 Billion in 2020, as cities explore technology to drive efficiencies and deliver more to citizens.
It is expected that 65% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2040 as currently, about 1.3 million people worldwide move to cities every week. This puts great pressure on city managers to effectively manage facilities for a growing population, which has given rise to the adoption of smart city solutions.
Wikipedia defines a smart city as a technologically modern urban area that uses different types of electronic integration, voice activation methods and sensors to collect specific data. The information gained from that data is used to manage assets, resources, and services efficiently; in return, that data is used to improve the operations across the city. This includes data collected from citizens, devices, buildings, and assets that are then processed and analysed to monitor and manage traffic and transportation systems, power plants, utilities, water supply networks, waste, crime detection, information systems, schools, libraries, hospitals, and other community services.
The smart city concept integrates information and communication technology (ICT), and various physical devices connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) network to optimize the efficiency of city operations and services and connect to citizens. Smart city technology allows city officials to interact directly with both community and city infrastructure and to monitor what is happening in the city and how it is evolving. ICT is used to enhance the quality, performance, and interactivity of urban services, to reduce costs and resource consumption and to increase contact between citizens and the government. Smart city applications are developed to manage urban flows and allow for real-time responses. A smart city may therefore be more prepared to respond to challenges than one with a simple “transactional” relationship with its citizens.
The 2020 Smart City Index ranks Singapore, Helsinki, Zurich, Auckland, and Oslo as the top five smart cities in the world with many European cities slipping in this global ranking. The biggest mover in the 2020 Index is New York, now ranked at number 10 from 38 in 2019.
Few cities have released actual numbers but a report by Smart Cities Press shows what is possible. In its analysis of what city managers should look at it notes that the Empire State Building in New York reduced its energy consumption by 38% after installing a smart monitor. Additionally, the building saved $4.4 million in a year, supporting other technological advancements.
Although the concept of smart cities has become almost a buzzword around the world, South Africa included, global research giant Gartner stressed in a recent report that improving the lives of citizens is what it should be about. “Smart cities can only be successful if local government engages with citizens, opening up a dialogue to meet their needs,” according to the report. “Developing IoT programmes without consulting the community is the wrong strategy. Smart cities are no longer just about optimised traffic patterns, parking management, efficient lighting, or improvements to public works, but should instead be about a community-driven approach to deciding local priorities.”
“IoT.nxt is currently rolling out smart city applications in several territories that monitor air quality, track energy management, manage streetlights, reviews traffic flow, detect abrupt noises and provides real-time information on a single platform to city managers, who can now take immediate action when alerts are received. Proactive city management goes hand in hand with smart city initiatives, leading to enriched community satisfaction,” Alberts says.
Many of the IoT.nxt projects currently live focus on energy management. One solution implemented in the US has connected all the streetlights of the city. Stakeholders can now see remotely on a single dashboard which streetlights are on or off, which are dimmed, and which are faulty. As each individual light is monitored, intelligent alarms are raised in real-time allowing service teams to address whatever needs to be changed. Dimming lights during times of no activity on a road switching lights off when natural light is sufficient (as opposed to using a timer system) drives significant cost savings. “There was a time that efficiency was driven on these lights with replacement of more efficient light sourcing, but even that has reached its limit. Thus, the new age of asset management is crucial for things like lighting to drive even more efficiency The data also provides the city with seasonal trends allowing for adjusted strategy planning for optimum results,” Alberts says.
Another demanding issue for city managers is traffic management and the related issue of traffic rules infringements. This too has been improved using IoT.nxt technology without requiring the installation of new equipment. By connecting the existing infrastructure, specifically, the traffic camera network, the city’s traffic manager can monitor traffic volumes as well as traffic flow in real-time and receive alerts about infringement of traffic rules. Improving traffic issues is of real benefit to citizens of cities as it remains a time-draining daily activity. “This proves that making a city smart does not mean replacing key infrastructure and costing the community and city more in managing costs, as the IoT.nxt platform is purpose build to retrofit to gain more from existing infrastructure,” Alberts notes.
Beyond operational issues like traffic and street light monitoring, smart city solutions can also track the efficiencies of utilities. Smart metering as introduced in SA, has reduced water wastage as water leaks are detected and addressed in real-time, and it improved readings to deliver accurate billing.