As part of our quest to find out what makes cities smart, we throw a spotlight on infrastructure: How can information technology and urban planning help to make us more flexible and mobile? At the same time, mobility is just one aspect of a wide spectrum of complex networks that govern life in an urban context. In view of limited resources and changing climate, another factor seems even more pressing: energy consumption and conservation.
Street-smart or smart streets?
In their effort to save money and energy, a lot of smart city projects are designed around power and fuel consumption. Infrastructure-related services take up a lion’s share of a city’s budget and this is where novel IT approaches and smart energy design comes in: Right now, there are promising pilots in many cities to examine and evaluate the efficiency of new sustainable ideas.
Take Cologne’s residential Neusser Strasse, recently declared a “climate street.” While private residencies are upgraded to current energy conservation standards to preserve precious energy, buildings are also fitted with individual regenerative energy collectors. At the same time, local businesses received energy-saving related subsidies and the city also replaced its local maintenance fleet (e. g. for garbage collection) with electric vehicles.
Meanwhile, Amsterdam takes the concept a decisive step further: Along similar “climate street” lines, the city’s Utrechtstraat – a bustling old-town shopping avenue – has been revamped to address issues of energy conservation. Once again, residents and shop owners alike received encouragements for energy saving measures and all public lighting was replaced with more efficient designs. Behind the scenes, infrastructure logistics were also treated to a “smart” update: During quiet hours, street lights dim automatically, while localized water supplies help to reduce refilling routes, garbage cans come equipped with sensors and compressors to cut the number of collections, and tram stops generate their own power via solar panels.
The “smartest city” accolade, however, belongs to Santander, a mid-sized town on Spain’s northern coast. The city has deployed more than 12,000 sensors throughout its center to measure and control the old town’s ambient lighting, the locations of city maintenance vehicles, public resources in need of repair, and garbage collection schedules. Through blanket coverage and smart allocation, the sensor grid effectively regulates just how much public service is needed and how to best serve Santander’s citizens.
Knowing when and where power is required – and when it can be shut off – is certainly an attractive solution to energy consumption issues. This approach, however, relies on smart grids like the one currently being field tested by Spanish energy corporation Endesa and the city of Malaga. Here, the system communicates with your devices and might, for example, delay charging your electric car batteries until demand for power is low – or it could manage consumption peaks by briefly limiting power to high-demand customers like industry until the extra generators kick in.
Such smart grids also facilitate two-way communication and power transfer, enabling energy generation and collection within the smart cities themselves. Here, small or individual energy sources can be connected to the grid and help to smooth out power spikes – or allow for more flexible demand scenarios. Along these lines, Amsterdam’s smart city has installed micro generators (solar or wind power) to shift power generation to a more local, neighborhood approach. In Malaga, Endesa has introduced wind generators to public space that resemble art sculptures.
Nevertheless, saving energy is more than a mere administrative problem – it invariably starts at home. In this spirit, citizens of smart cities have embraced the scope of smart grids. Not only do sensors and information technologies allow people to save cash, but their own solar panels or wind generators could feed back into the grid and supply neighbors as well. Those who are renting should look to Vienna where the city constructed a solar park at the edge of town, but outsourced the financing to its citizens. Locals were invited to purchase their own personal panel at the “citizen solar power plant” to get involved and save money on their power bill.
As with transportation, the use of informational technology helps city planners as well as citizens to make their cities “smarter” – and saving money while helping the environment certainly sounds like a smart choice.
Text: Lars Schmeink
Header Image: ITK / photocase.com