The city you live in is unique – from its architecture to public spaces to how utility services are delivered. As much as each has a distinct vibe, all have one thing that binds them.
It is a common objective. Cities must provide resources and utility services to everyone within their boundaries. If you have heard of or played the video game SimCity, you will know that this includes affordable living spaces, food, transportation, security, electricity, water, sanitation and job opportunities.
People naturally migrated to where the opportunities present themselves.
Therefore, cities that have excelled at delivering on the objective above now find themselves with populations outstripping available resources. As in the SimCity game, over-population, if not managed correctly, leads to the city’s downfall.
Since I have not played the game, I don’t know what magic wand is used to keep the virtual city in good shape. In the real world, while there is no failsafe, the trending catchphrase leading the battle against failure is advancing smart cities.
Smart cities are where innovation is at the core of each element of the town, from the operation to finance and governance. These cities embrace technologies that support convenience, increase safety, manage resilience, and attain inclusivity and prosperity for the citizenry.
However, cities that invest in innovative technologies with the expectation that citizens will naturally embrace these are setting their smart aspirations up for failure.
The idea that innovation is such an integral part of smart cities makes me question what happens when citizens do not find modernisation relevant to their needs. Or that the innovation does not lend itself to advancing the desired inclusivity and prosperity.
It can happen where, for instance, the utility pushes for smart metering installations. The aim is to take advantage of smart metering’s high-level data, operational efficiency, monitoring and control functionality while giving consumers access to their consumption and billing information.
However, the cost of implementation can outstrip the value gained, primarily where an analogue meter would better serve the needs of a particular customer segment.
How would you, as an energy professional, deal with this issue?
Let me highlight that smart cities are much more than digitally enabled cities teeming with technology. Smart cities are cities that centre innovation in all its forms in fulfilling their purpose.
What constitutes all forms of innovation? Think of non-digital resources that can invoke as much resilience and opportunity as digital technology. A campaign around energy efficiency within businesses and homes is one. Another is motivating citizens through real-life engagements (with social distancing in mind during the pandemic) to be more mindful of their impact on waste, mobility, air pollution, and water issues.
While active citizens are a crucial element of smart cities, so is the city’s ability to lead the charge. In Cape Town, the city has introduced an electric bus along some public routes. Taking the lead to transform public transportation will eventually see e-mobility in business fleets and personal electric vehicle sales in the future. From there, a smart-city move will be vehicle-to-grid applications.
However, to reach these aspirations, at its most basic, creating a smart city and introducing digital innovation requires affordable internet access for all. Internet access should therefore be on the list of basic utility services.
This topic is trending and ESI Africa will focus on the products and services that deliver on Smart Cities will also, in collaboration with Enlit Africa, will unpack this topic in October where the experts will cover ideas on smart cities, e-government and how to make access to services via digital measures, a fair and just process.
Until next week.
Editor, ESI Africa