Tackling climate change and creating sustainable cities in the face of rapid population growth, ageing infrastructure and the pace of technological change has never been more important. Cities make up 2% of the world’s surface but house more than half of the world’s population and consume 75% of energy resources. By 2030, urban areas are projected to host 60% of people globally. Very soon, one in every three people will live in cities with at least half a million inhabitants, as the world’s population is expected to grow by over 1bn people over the next thirteen years, reaching 8.6bn in 2030.
Meanwhile, the increasingly digital, connected and electric nature of our lives means that we each as individuals have greater energy needs than ever before. Is this pace of growth sustainable for urban centres and cities like London or Paris, let alone megacities? The answer is yes, but only if we make our cities ‘smarter’.
Incorporating renewables into our energy mix is a vital part of reducing our environmental impact, but their potential is being wasted by our inefficient use of that energy. Modern technologies, smart sensors and services that can help us identify and tackle energy waste can and must help to improve cities’ efficiency, sustainability, and resilience.
For any city, going ‘smart’ can be difficult. The sheer size and complexity involved in building a truly integrated and sustainable smart city is difficult to comprehend. In India, Schneider Electric is helping to build Naya Raipur, a project which aims to build an entirely new capital city for the newly created state of Chhattisgarh. The funding, expertise, organization, planning and collaboration to create this smart city from the ground up is incredible. Smart cities at this scale require multi-level governance, expert consultants, technology firms and vendors working together to make the concept a reality. But the vast majority of the world’s population live in existing towns and cities, not brand-new developments.
Ageing city infrastructures pose connectivity and network management challenges. At the same time, a 24/7 society and a wide array of IoT-enabled devices and electric vehicles (EV) are fuelling greater energy demand. While cities are tasked with improving services and building new transport networks, hospitals, schools, and homes to accommodate population growth, they do so with tightening budgets. Critical infrastructure (old or new) – such as hospitals, airports, live entertainment venues, schools and office buildings – must be reliable, functional but also efficient if we are to build a sustainable future. And it is in efficiency where there is potential to unlock huge financial savings that could, in turn, reduce running costs, helping to fund future investment.
Developed cities considering going ‘smart’ simply don’t have the option to rebuild everything from the ground up. They are busy, functioning ecosystems that need to continue to work whilst improvements are made. As a result, a piecemeal approach to making cities smarter is the only option. It is essential, therefore, that incentives and regulation are introduced to drive organizations and individuals to incorporate efficiency as a core pillar of projects to improve their water systems, local or regional energy grids, transport infrastructure or buildings. These precincts or district-scale developments are not city-scale, but they are large enough to form multiple smart city domains and become a visible and useful reference point to encourage future investment. Indeed, by working collaboratively with both public and private sectors, Schneider Electric has successfully delivered smart city project applications to more than 250 cities worldwide.
One such example is our recent partnership with Tottenham Hotspur to help build and manage the energy distribution and consumption at the club’s new state-of-the-art stadium – a landmark in sports venue efficiency and connectivity. As the stadium’s official Energy Management Supplier, Schneider Electric performs 60,000 automated checks every five minutes to ensure that every aspect of energy usage is monitored and optimized, ensuring such aspects and optimal temperature and lighting conditions. Designed for visitor enjoyment and comfort, the stadium is also helping to regenerate the surrounding area of Tottenham, bringing the smart city reality one step closer.
The ripples of projects such as these, ambitious in scale and innovative in nature, not only improve energy efficiency, but also set a new standard of living and urban regeneration, whilst also starting to change perceptions of energy use. Take for example the Edge building, Deloitte’s headquarters, in the Netherlands. This building not only delivers a cutting-edge digital workspace and meets the highest environmental standards, but it was created with the goal of being a ‘net neutral’ building and the potential to be ‘net positive’. The Edge is a building that is self-sufficient in terms of the energy it requires to function, and at times (such as at night or weekends) returns excess energy produced to the grid.
Forward-thinking projects such as these start to enable us to imagine a future where perhaps the majority of homes, businesses, schools and hospitals could be at worst net neutral and ideally net positive. Imagine receiving an income from your home or place of work, instead of paying bills. It would completely change the way we think about energy generation, distribution, and consumption. Digitization paves the way for more and more net neutral or net positive buildings, generating their own energy on-site with smart systems that give excess energy back to the grid.
Whilst net neutral and net positive buildings are currently just a dream for all but a few, the road to achieving this starts with tackling waste. Something that every government, business or individual can do. With demand for energy rising, unlocking untapped energy efficiency potential has never been more urgent, or easily achieved. Investing in smart systems that monitor energy use and efficiency across every aspect of your energy infrastructure is something that can be realized today.
By understanding how, where and when energy is used, opportunities for efficiencies can be identified and actioned. Our Global Digital Transformation Benefits Report 2019 identified 12 ways that the digital transformation of energy management and automation drives benefits in CapEx, OpEx, based on interviews with 230 businesses. These companies have realized savings in energy consumption of up to 85% and up to 80% on energy costs. Energy efficiency projects are becoming a C-suite priority, as board members recognize the competitive edge that projects can deliver, at the same time as delivering on sustainability commitments which employees, customers and governments are driving for.
Projects like these demonstrate that rethinking energy is not only a major enabler of innovation. It powers progress and life.
As the global population grows and our world and lives become increasingly electrified, creating sustainable cities means creating smart cities, powered by clean energy that is responsibly consumed and saved. The fact is it is far easier to save a unit of energy than it is to create one. The only way we will tackle climate change and create cities fit for the future is by rethinking our relationship with energy as individuals, businesses and nations.