By Alice Williams
When you hear about the latest smart technology, chances are it’s some new smart home device. More people protect their homes with smart security systems, check their energy use with smart thermostats, and cut utility bills with smart lights. While smart homes are a great start toward individual sustainability, a broader approach is needed to make a real impact.
Enter the smart city. These high-tech metropolises use smart technology on a large scale to streamline operations, reduce waste and address environmental concerns. They act as world leaders in efficiency and sustainability.
More municipalities, large and small, need to get on board with the smart city trend — and here are five reasons why.
1. Lower emissions
Cities that implement smart traffic management and parking systems can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by roughly 32 million metric tons annually over the next five years—equivalent to removing some 35 million vehicles from the road each year.
Smart sensors and software can reduce traffic through phased traffic lights, monitored parking spaces, traffic-tracking drones, and real-time road updates. Cities with this level of traffic outfitting are cutting residents’ time on the road, thus reducing the amount of pollution generated.
2. Smart electricity use
Cities are big energy consumers: They represent 75 percent of global primary energy consumption. But smart tech can help drastically cut that usage.
Municipal governments could, for example, make huge strides with lighting alone. Research shows that traditional lighting methods can eat up 40 percent of a municipality’s electricity bill. By upgrading to smart street lights — which use LED bulbs, sensors that adjust brightness based on weather, and monitors that turn lights on or off with traffic flow — cities can save 50 to 70 percent on electricity costs.
Beyond lighting, many interconnected technologies can sync to analysis dashboards, allowing government workers to identify areas of high use and plan for improvements accordingly.
3. Smaller overheads
Upgrades in artificial intelligence technology can save municipalities big bucks by eliminating inefficiencies in current processes. Money-saving tech advancements that are in development include smart trash bins that notify collection crews when they’re full, drones that change lightbulbs, and programs that help people sign up for automatic bill payment.
While not every process can be automated, there’s substantial room for mechanizing some of the more mundane or time-consuming tasks that eat up government workers’ time. That efficiency, in turn, could easily reduce both wasted time and wasted capital.
4. Water conservation
In urban populations, over half of water use occurs outdoors. Fortunately, smart technology can make huge inroads in outdoor water conservation. Cities can implement large-scale smart sprinkler networks, with high-tech systems that activate and deactivate based on weather and soil moisture. Smart irrigation systems can also alert maintenance crews of leakage issues to prevent wasted water from undetected leaks.
Beyond smart sprinklers, new storm water collection processes, like permeable pavement and retention ponds, can lead to further cost savings for cities. By outfitting storm water storage tanks with monitoring technology, cities can identify new processing strategies to more efficiently use water that might once have been lost.
5. Waste reduction
Smart trash cans can hold more trash by automatically compacting it, helping cities reduce trash pickup from fourteen times per week to as few as three. They can also help prevent messy trash overflow and resources needed to clean those spills.
Pay as you throw (PAYT) systems — where sensors monitor the weight of residents’ trash output and charge for pickup based on those numbers — are also gaining traction. PAYT systems encourage residents to recycle and think twice about the waste they create.
As city center populations grow and environmental impacts increase, cities need to find a way to better manage urban development. If you’re not a political leader, contact your elected officials and encourage them to use smart technology in your city. Check out your city’s website for the contact information for your local city council. For larger-scale concerns that would touch on your senator or representative, use the U.S. government website to find out how to reach them.
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Alice Williams is a communications professional with an MA in Communication Studies. In her spare time, she freelances and blogs about health and wellness over at www.honestlyfitness.com.