By Jürgen Hase
Cities today are in danger of choking in smog. They may only make up 2 percent of the world’s surface area, but they account for up to 70 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, and rising urban populations make matters worse. Are smart cities the solution?
In China and India, driving bans are imposed due to smog on a regular basis. Paris followed suit in March, and other European cities are also considering drastic moves to deal with downtown atmospheric pollution. They have good reason for doing so. Urban growth around the world is unabated. According to U.N. estimates, 3.6 billion people lived in cities in 2011. By 2050, experts estimate that number will rise to around 6.25 billion.
This poses enormous challenges for municipal administrations, especially in terms of public infrastructure. Is sustainable coexistence even possible in conurbations of this size? Is a total driving ban the only way to come to grips with smog? City planners do not want these matters to come to pass, and that is why they are looking for alternative solutions such as the smart city.
Parking guidance systems reduce fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions
The smart city is controlled by integrated information and communication technology (ICT) solutions that guide traffic flows automatically — directing cars faster to the nearest free parking space, which thereby reduces both fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. Today, motorists looking for somewhere to park account for roughly 30 percent of city-center traffic. In the years ahead, this figure will be reduced significantly by means of large-scale use of connected parking guidance systems. By 2020, according to Navigant Research estimates, about 950,000 parking spaces all over the world will be equipped with this technology.
Some cities, such as Pisa, Italy, use parking guidance systems already. Looking for a parking space in the historic city center can be extremely difficult. Driving around the narrow streets is nerve-wracking for inexperienced motorists, and they can count themselves lucky if they find somewhere to park.
That is about to change. In the future, motorists will be guided around the city by a sensor-assisted parking guidance system that takes them straight to the nearest parking space. On the Piazza Carrara on the bank of the Arno River, not far from the Leaning Tower, Pisa and Deutsche Telekom are fitting out an initial 75 parking spaces with sensors in a pilot project. The sensors recognize whether a parking space is vacant or occupied, and relay this information to one of three data collectors. The data collector relays the information through the mobile network to the municipal IT infrastructure, where it is evaluated and the number of available parking spaces is sent to electronic notice boards. Motorists are spared the tiresome and time-consuming search for somewhere to park and the city gains a constantly updated overview of parking space utilization.
Need-oriented remote configuration of street lighting
Cities’ ecological balance sheets can also be improved by remote management of street lighting. Street lighting can account for more than 40 percent of cities’ and local authorities’ energy bills. Lawmakers have already taken action. In 2009, the European Union issued a directive to reduce the cost of street lighting — requiring local authorities to replace approximately 100 million street lights by 2015. Some cities and local authorities are not relying solely on more efficient lamps, but they are also installing systems that enable them to control each and every lamp.
A Deutsche Telekom street lighting management solution links individual street lights with a data collector that communicates with the city’s server infrastructure via the mobile network. City employees use a Web portal to manage the city’s street lighting remotely.
To save energy, they set up cycles for lights to be switched on and off. The controls can also be automated. For example, if the system uses information received from brightness sensors in addition to time switches, it can adjust the brightness of lighting to the light conditions automatically. Along with adopting LED lightbulbs, the solution will reduce their electricity bills by up to 70 percent and the cost of street lighting maintenance by up to 10 percent.
Solutions like these are already making cities smart. In the future, the ideal smart city will use information from a large number of different devices and technologies. To ensure that traffic lights, cars and parking spaces can understand one another, a common language is needed – a kind of Esperanto for machines. At the same time, data silos in the public sector must be abolished to enable a cross-departmental sharing of information. Only when the individual pieces of the puzzle are connected will the city really become smart. In this early phase, citizens, public authorities and private enterprises still have an opportunity to take part in the development process and make their mark on the city of the future. It is an opportunity they should put to good use.
Image credit: Flickr/simon_syon
Jürgen Hase is the vice president of the M2M Competence Center at Deutsche Telekom AG. He joined Deutsche Telekom AG in 2011 as head of the M2M Competence Center and has been in the telecommunications industry for more than 20 years. He is also Chairman of the M2M Alliance.