Potential Of “Smart” Technology Not Yet Exploited In Cleaning Up Cities

The Environmental Industries Commission (EIC) has published a new report into whether “smart” approaches can offer cities more efficient ways to tackle entrenched environmental challenges, and likewise whether a determination to tackle these challenges can stimulate new smart thinking. 

A smart city (also smarter city) uses digital technologies to enhance performance and wellbeing, to reduce costs and resource consumption, and also to engage more effectively and actively with its citizens. Key “smart” sectors include transport, energy, health care, water and waste.

“The phrase ‘smart cities’ has become commonplace over the last year or two – from technology companies, politicians, policy makers and cities themselves,” EIC’s Executive Director Matthew Farrow says in the forword.

Matthew Farrow, EIC – “With 54 percent of the world’s population living in urban areas, and this figure expected to grow to 66 percent by 2050, we must solve the environmental problems of cities if we are to have any hope of tackling our environmental problems as a whole”

“I’ve always been struck by how in all the video presentations and glossy diagrams that predict what these future metropolises will be like, the sun always shines, the air is pure, the water is crystal clear and there is nothing resembling residual waste.

“How we get from here to there is usually less clear. Through no lack of effort many of our cities are currently wrestling with poor air quality, low recycling rates, and high carbon emissions. Could smart technology help tackle some of these problems in new ways?”

The report – “Getting the green light: will smart technology clean up city environments?” – found that despite the “smart city” concept itself being relatively new, and the environmental aspect of smart city thinking even more so, there is real potential for innovations in this area to help cities meet their contribution toward legislated environmental targets across a range of environmental challenges, including carbon emissions, air quality, recycling rates, and water management.

The report finds that:

  • despite many of the environmentally-focussed smart solutions still being in the research and development phase, there are encouraging signs that they have an important role to play in helping cities make progress in tackling their urgent environmental challenges
  • it is important not to ‘oversell’ the impact of smart solutions – in many cases the most effective approaches will be the blending of smart elements with traditional engineering solutions.
  • the immaturity of the market for smart technologies – especially those aimed at meeting an environmental challenge – means that hard evidence of real world impacts is limited and dissipated. There needs to be more effort put into to creating a central case study depository to enable a better understanding of where knowledge and tested best practice can be deployed elsewhere, and the better dissemination of hard evidence on what works and what doesn’t
  • the smart city market will develop better and costs come down if there is a greater standardisation of approach to initiatives such as data portals. The BSI Smart Cities Framework could have a role here in encouraging the spread of good practice
  • while the aim is to develop city-wide approaches, this can be technically and commercially challenging in the short term. Often there will be value in piloting smart environmental solutions at sub-city scale where there is a desire to act matched with an appropriate governance or institutional framework. An example might be a university campus, or an area of a city with a small number of major landlords/developers who could be encouraged to sign up to common implementation of a smart initiative.

Farrow commented: “With 54 percent of the world’s population living in urban areas, and this figure expected to grow to 66 percent by 2050, we must solve the environmental problems of cities if we are to have any hope of tackling our environmental problems as a whole.

“We found real potential in environmentally-focussed smart technologies, but we also found an immature market and a limited amount of hard evidence of real world impacts due to the newness of much of the innovation in this area.

“We hope our report will stimulate discussion over how cities could exploit this potential in the future, delivering solutions to the challenges they face faster, more cheaply, and more effectively. This will remain a priority area of work for EIC in 2015“

For the full report CLICK HERE


 

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