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By Justin Schmidt, Head: New Sector Development at Absa Retail and Business Banking

It may have started with smart phones, smart cars and smart homes, but as technology advances, the ‘smart’ trend is taking over entire cities. What is a smart city, what does it mean and how does solar fit into the dynamic?

A smart city is a place where traditional networks and services are made more flexible, efficient, and sustainable. With the use of information, digital and telecommunication technologies these have improved data collection and analytics, enabling better decision making in responding to daily challenges to the benefit of its citizens.

Through these advances, the city can plan around creating efficiencies in areas like traffic flow or proactively managing potential emergencies like those caused by severe storms. In other words, in a smart city, the digital technologies translate into better public services for inhabitants.

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These smart cities are not just forward-thinking in terms of serving the public. Many of them will play pioneering roles in incorporating sustainability and energy efficiency into developing smart city solutions. Integration of solar power and other renewable energy sources is essential in the planning of smart cities.

Sustainability has not historically been a top priority in city planning but issues like environmental damage, rising energy costs and more generally eco-minded citizens have all been factors has changed this. 

Smart solution providers are delivering high-tech infrastructure options that can help local government save on energy costs with the added benefit of reducing their carbon output.

Adding solar to smart cities

When solar energy is paired with smart cities there is a considerable positive social and environment impact. Compared to traditional coal-fired generation, solar energy uses less water, produces less noise and waste.

It has become one of the most cost-competitive energy resources, is quick and easy to install. Furthermore, Africa has an abundance of solar resources.

Solar therefore provides us with the ability to harness and distribute clean energy more cheaply and efficiently than ever before.

Where there is not roof space available it can even be installed remotely, at the outskirts of smart cities, which have the added benefit of not affecting the aesthetic of these smart cities.

The challenge with solar, is that resource availability (e.g. the sun shining) does not always coincide with demand.

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Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS) means you can produce excess power then store this excess solar energy for later use, increasing the inhabitants’ self-consumption of their solar energy.

Therefore, given that a smart city needs reliable energy to keep all the smart machinery and equipment online as well as to ensure planning, BESS create greater resilience of the grid. 

These BESS can work together across the city to shift demand as well as create arbitrage for each power producer. The value of energy, as with any commodity, is inherently linked to demand.

The higher the demand, the higher the price for energy. Capitalising on this pattern can be achieved by charging a BESS during low demand periods at a low cost, with the energy stored and then later sold at a competitive price.

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In creating smart cities there is an opportunity to build them with cleaner and smarter sources of energy, which are closer to demand and meet customers’ expectations of carbon reduction.

Thus, allowing residents to live and work in a greener, smarter living environment. For financial institutions, this can only be a positive move.

With households and businesses living smarter and using more technology, this can be done in a more connected and energy efficient way. Integrating smart energy solutions can create lower costs of generation, more resilience and therefore enabling a more financially sustainable city.