Making cities smarter, by Willie Chan

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong recently stated at the inaugural World Cities Summit that for the Republic to continue on its growth trajectory, the country has to evolve into a smart city. In fact, this will be a challenge not only for Singapore, but also for other cities around the world. Today, cities contain 50 per cent of the world’s population, consume 75 per cent of global energy and give off 80 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. With increasing urbanisation, cities will house 70 per cent of the world’s population by 2050. This will certainly cause a significant strain on resources and hence, sustainability.

Evolving into a smart city will give Singapore many capabilities to compete in the face of these challenges, even as the population grows to reach the target of six million residents set by the government. It will help the country manage growth in a controlled way, and give three-fold benefits. Firstly, we will see a more efficient city, and improved resiliency of the city’s systems – such as public transport, electricity and public services – to any disruption. Secondly, we will have a more sustainable city, leading to lower operational costs as a result of optimized energy consumption, and a decreased need for massive infrastructure investments. Additionally, the first two benefits will translate into a higher quality of life for residents, increased competitiveness and the ability to attract and retain a new generation of talent.

So, having explored the benefits, what are the areas which cities – Singapore included – should be looking at improving in order to become smart? Here are some of the areas which we at Schneider Electric believe will be key to a smart city:

Smart Buildings – As the population continues on its growth trajectory, so will the demand for housing and buildings. Making residential buildings smart will improve the quality of life, while for commercial office buildings it can also increase employee productivity, generate energy savings of up to 30 per cent, reduce carbon emissions and meet assessment criteria from certification schemes like the BCA Green Mark. Solutions such as building management systems as well as energy and carbon dashboards can help building owners monitor consumption by the minute for better management of energy usage, costs, and carbon footprint.

Smart Water – Demand for clean, affordable water - not only for drinking, but also for commercial and industrial purposes - is growing along with urban populations. Even Singapore, which has a very high quality water supply, has to continue maintaining this while catering to a growing populace. Hence, cities need to optimize water operations, management and planning to meet the growing demand for this critical resource. They can do so with smart water solutions to help manage and optimise the water network. Such solutions identify and reduce water wastage in real time, as well as respond to urban floods that could take out the city’s transportation network.

Smart Energy Grid – The smart grid is all about enabling electricity demand and supply to interact intelligently, and also integrating intermittent renewable generation. With the smart grid, cities like Singapore will be able to generate energy savings, reduce related emissions and enhance the quality of service to residential, commercial and industrial buildings.

Smart Mobility – As urban population increases, the entire transportation network – be it public or private – will be affected by increasing congestion, safety and breakdown issues that can delay commuters, burn up valuable fuel and harm the environment. Even in countries like Singapore with one of the region’s most effective public transport networks, population growth is affecting the capacity of the transport system. Companies such as Schneider Electric are already taking proactive steps to work with city planners. Together, they are implementing traffic and mobility management solutions which reduce congestion and improve traffic flow as well as ensure the efficient operation of the transportation network. At the same time, we are also enthusiastically supporting the push for electric vehicles with charging infrastructure solutions which will help spur adoption.

Smart Public Services – Services such as video monitoring and emergency coordination ensure citizen well-being and safety, while digital services improve the management of education, healthcare, government administration and tourism. The quality of public services in a city plays an important role in making the city a desirable place to live and work, determines how effectively it attracts talent, and subsequently affects its competitiveness in the global economy.

However, what makes a city really smart is how it can go beyond just optimising the performance of individual systems as described above. It also needs to integrate all these systems to share information amongst the various city departments as well as with city residents. This then requires a new model based on collaboration between the government, private investors, industry suppliers, utilities, planners and developers, with people and communities at the centre of discussion. Engaging all stakeholders and helping them understand the benefits will be crucial in enabling cities to become smarter.

As the world wonders how to meet the growing demand for energy and resources while at the same time reducing global carbon emissions, one thing is clear: The energy challenge will be won or lost in cities. By delivering urban efficiency through solutions to cities’ immediate challenges, smart cities can become a reality in the near future.

Willie Chan is director of strategy for Schneider Electric Singapore.

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