The Internet of Things will be a key element in mastering the global spread of urbanisation. Only by interlinking state-of-the-art technologies in infrastructures, intelligent applications and buildings will cities be able to meet the challenges of the future.
The world’s major cities are growing at breath-taking speed. Already today, 3.6 billion people – more than half the global population of seven billion – live in them. And by the year 2050 that figure will be more than six billion. According to market research organisation Navigant, by 2025 there will be 37 megacities with populations of more than ten million people – with 22 in Asia alone. Cities consume three quarter of all global resources, emit gigantic clouds of greenhouse gases and produce billions of tons of waste.
Interconnected processes in the city of tomorrow
In order to improve or indeed maintain quality of life despite the ever-increasing urban population, as well as to promote sustainability and economic growth, the cities of the future will need to be “smart”. In smart cities, key systems and infrastructure elements such as buildings, energy, water, waste and transportation are interconnected, and the people who live in them are also linked up. Information and communications technologies will penetrate deep into the structures of both new and existing cities. Professor Radu Popescu-Zeletin, Director of the Berlin-based Fraunhofer Institute FOKUS, explains: “In future we will think of cities differently, and experience them differently. Without IT and communications infrastructures to interpret data and integrate different processes, there can be no ‘smart city’.” The Institute is investigating what role information and communications technology will need to play in order to master the challenges posed by social trends and the smart cities of tomorrow.
A key role for the Internet of Things
Smart cities incorporate a wide variety of elements, ranging from vehicle control, through real-time monitoring of buildings, to energy management. Engagement by the city’s people and by business is just as important, because many changes will require consumer education and participation. The Internet of Things will play a key role in creating smart cities, because it enables comprehensive interaction between all the elements in a city environment. The intelligent elements in the city will exchange information among themselves as well as influencing real-world objects and people in the Smart City.
Buildings as the core of the smart city
Anthony Nartey, CEO of Cape Town-based IT-consultancy Innov8 Africa, comments: “Many areas of city life offer opportunities to make savings and reduce environmental impact. But it starts with the buildings, because – quite simply – they consume the most energy.” In fact, buildings currently account for some 40 percent of all primary energy consumption, and emit more CO2 than cars. And what is worse, as much as 50 percent of the energy and water used in buildings is wasted. Intelligent building systems offer many possibilities to enhance the efficiency of buildings throughout their life-cycle – without losing out on design quality and comfort. “The ultimate smart city or building is one where all the systems share information with each other,” asserts David Bartlett, Director of IBM’s Smarter Buildings Initiative. He believes smart buildings can save no less than 40 percent on energy costs, 50 percent on water and as much as 30 percent on maintenance costs.
Linking such smart buildings to a Smart Grid to provide efficient energy management is the starting point for further interaction encompassing transport systems, waste management, emergency services and other essential elements of urban life. The “Cloud” services supporting those structures permit all the components of a smart city to be analysed and controlled, enabling the city to meet the needs of its people better than ever before while at the same time conserving resources and cutting costs.