How can IoT help us solve our ecological issues? Episode 3 - Green cities
How can IoT help us solve our ecological issues? Episode 3 - Green cities
This is the third episode of our series of articles “How can IoT help us solve our ecological issues?” in which we are exploring ways how IoT can help us better manage our resources and be more sustainable… If you’d like to suggest some innovations, feel free to email us at energizeIoT@saft.com, and we will add them. Feel free to use the infographic below as you see fit (just don’t forget to name the source!). Enjoy the read!
Efficient, resilient, sustainable: the challenges faced by Green cities
The rate of urban growth is unprecedented. Of the 7.7 billion humans on the planet in 2020, more than half are living in cities and it is predicted that 2/3 of the world’s population will be urban dwellers by 2050. This rapid urbanization brings with it numerous difficulties. Cities are the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions —up to 70% of the world’s greenhouse gases, and basic services and infrastructures are increasingly inadequate for their needs. Slums are becoming more prevalent, and air pollution is on the rise. These environmental and health challenges have led architects to reassess the way cities are built and maintained in order to foster a more symbiotic relationship between the city, humans and nature. With the help of new technologies, many cities around the world have been developing innovative and integrated approaches to sustainable living and the IoT has been instrumental in reducing their ecological footprint.
Tackling the energy consumption issue
Smart meters are used to record gas, electricity and water usage and manage their performance in both public infrastructures and private dwellings. They automatically provide detailed and accurate analytics on energy usage in real-time, without the need for a technician to intervene. Smart meters are a favorite subject at Saft: many of our clients have developed Smart metering devices for public or private sectors and we provide millions of batteries for these applications.
Techem for example, a leading global energy service provider for the real estate sector, has created an innovative Smart Reading system for utility meters. They monitor gas and water consumption in buildings thanks to wirelessly connected devices, and automatically create billing for the properties. Residents are informed of their exact consumption, thus promoting efficient and economical use of energy and water.
IoTsens, has developed integrated Smart Watering solutions for Smart cities in Saudi Arabia. By sensing high-frequency vibration in the water distribution network, the Watchmeter units monitor consumption patterns without the need to break into water mains to install an inline-meter. The benefit of this is that customers can monitor and control their own consumption and the data generated can then be used to maximize efficiency and reduce water wastage in the community.
In Russia, Vega has deployed in nearly all the main Russian towns, smart utility meters. Their - Vega SI-11 pulse counter can be connected externally to any measuring system (water, gas, electricity, heat) with a pulse output. The device is designed to count pulses incoming to up to 4 independent inputs, further accumulating and transmitting of this information via the LoRaWAN® protocol to the gateway through wireless communication. Utilities can then use the data —which is based on actual consumption rather than estimation— for billing customers. Users can access the information online and track their energy consumption over the year to help them adopt energy-saving measures.
Smart leak detectors such as Streamlabs, Fluid and Flume, monitor the flow of water in people’s homes, looking for leaks and sending alerts to the homeowner via their mobile app, email, or Google assistant when abnormal water activity is detected. Pressure sensors in conjunction with flow sensors are able to detect the smallest of leaks. Some will learn over time how a family uses water and leverage this knowledge to detect abnormal water activity and leaks. Others even include temperature sensors to track any risk of pipes freezing, which could lead to burst pipes or leaks. These types of devices can help towards saving a trillion gallons of water every year.
Streetlamps, millions of which are deployed globally and constitute a large portion of an average city’s budget and energy consumption are an often overlooked when discussing energy saving. A necessary fixture of cities they are however a source of great energy wastage when implemented on streets and less busy thoroughfares. Smart versions equipped with sensors that react to their environment, movement and luminosity for example offer lower electricity consumption together with reduced maintenance and asset management costs.
There is a growing trend of utility companies around the world using IoT technologies in their operations. These few examples however only skim the surface of the subject. We would need pages and pages to go into the details of all the Smart Buildings and home applications that use IoT sensors and real data feedback to improve sustainability and the wellbeing of the inhabitants. But what about the other challenges?
Better waste management
Waste disposal is the second most important issue when it comes to Green cities. 3.5 million tons are generated daily globally, and increasing consumption is only fueling the problem and resulting in an upward trend. Cities are duty bound to reduce their production of waste and accordingly they are required to explore practical ways of curbing waste production, principally by recycling and raising awareness of the varied methods of recycling among their citizens.
Waste management IoT technologies can help attain these goals in various ways, from collection, to sorting, to reporting. Smart waste management solutions use sensors placed in bins to measure when they are full and notify city collection services when they need to be emptied. Some also feature compacting solutions to reduce wasted space in bins. The data collected can then be used to optimize the drivers’ routes and schedules, and avoid unnecessary fuel being spent on half empty bins.
The city of La Hague is seen as exemplary in terms of innovative waste solutions. The installation of large underground trash bins equipped with such sensors, recycling training, and the creation of composts and citizen initiatives to help finding recycling solutions has allowed the city of Hague to reduce drastically their carbon emissions.
In Nambucca Shire in Australia, in Philadelphia, in New York, and numerous other cities, BigBelly smart bins’ solution was chosen to declutter the streetscapes, and enhance the community experience with improved services. This smart waste and recycling solution for smart cities has led waste collection efficiency by 50% or more.
In Amsterdam, Edinburgh and the Isle of Man, Enevo’s waste technology solutions were chosen. A client of Saft, Enevo’s revolutionary sensor and analytics platform measures detailed hourly waste and recycling generation trends and collections. The solution allows Isle of Man’s city council to reduce the number of bins by 22% without any adverse environmental impact and reduce by 50% the collection crew, freeing the teams to be deployed elsewhere.
But optimizing bins usage and collection is not enough and, as the Netherlands understands, the training of citizens in adopting recycling as a lifestyle choice is crucial for the solution to bear fruit. Unfortunately, not all citizens are respectful of the rules. IoT can help in these instances too by monitoring inhabitants’ behaviors, IoT-enabled cameras to prevent fly dumping for example. Sharing of this data can also be a force for encouragement in order to adopt eco-friendly measures.
Reducing air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions thanks to Smart Mobility & traffic management solutions
Many cities around the world have started solving their transportation issues by embracing mobility-related innovations and as a result we have seen the volume of motorized traffic decline in both the United States and Europe for several years. However, mobility is still a primary concern for cities as their populations continue to grow while their transportation systems remain inefficient. Traffic congestion and pollution, especially during warm spells continues, to raise serious concerns especially as accessibility to various urban services is key to the development of employment, economy and education.
The introduction of IoT sensors to measure traffic peaks, available parking spaces, or to manage transport-sharing solutions, enables real-time decision-making for numerous transportation systems. This brings with it the benefit of rationalizing traffic flows, reducing congestion and promoting safety.
For example, sensors mounted on traffic lights such as Blyncsy, Telensa or Miovision can help prioritize traffic according to real-time changes in traffic conditions, limit traffic jams, prioritize buses or public transport and detect foot passengers to improve safety. A complimentary platform transmitting vehicle-related data to city traffic management centers can then suggest alternative routes that reduce traffic bottlenecks.
Valerann, a company that we discovered at the CES this year, goes even further. It proposes a wireless sensory IoT system integrated in the tarmac of the road that provides real-time high-resolution information on everything that happens on the road, including events that require an immediate response. This allows road operators to react in a timely manner, resulting in fewer accidents and better traffic flow. The system also supports connected and autonomous vehicles, by providing a live data feed to allow these vehicles to seamlessly integrate in traffic.
Drivers searching for parking places also contribute significantly to traffic upticks. And although some people will say that parking management systems incentivize people to drive cars, they do help reducing CO2 emissions, as 30% of emissions are produced while searching for parking spaces. Urbiotica’s system uses a network, routers, and dynamic signage to guide drivers to unoccupied parking spots. Such sensors have seen excellent results in the reduction of parking related problems, and even in improving the drivers and visitors experience.
The challenges of the Green city
These are but a few examples of how cities can improve their ecological footprint but there are many challenges that are yet to be addressed.
The majority can only be deployed in cities whose Internet connection allows for high-speed data transfer. It is likely that 5G may help deployment of these IoT solutions more widely.
Finally, all the data collected in silos by various actors often remains confined to the realm of technology, innovation and rationalization. Humans need to be placed at the heart of Smart city technologies to effectively improve citizens’ experience and attract people. Some initiatives have been taken to address the issue, but we are only at the beginning of the journey. For example, Smart Citizenship, aims at integrating the various data collected by IoT sensors in Smart Cities to help examine and better understand how citizens operate in the Smart City to develop innovative services, maximize the value of existing ones, or improve public spaces.
The future of IoT is bright, and green!