100 smart cities: The best way forward for India

Updated: Aug 4 2014, 07:30am hrs
The NDA governments vision for India includes, amongst other things, the creation of 100 smart cities. As India struggles with infrastructure deficits, a focus on smart cities is turning out to be one of the best ways forward. It is important, however, to define a smart city. The three prerequisites are a community that is efficient, liveable and sustainable. In conventional cities the water, gas, electricity, transportation, emergency services, buildings and public service systems operate independently in silos. But a truly efficient city requires that the performance of each system is optimised and managed in an integrated manner to better prioritise spends and maximise value.

Such an efficient city would also propel a community on the path to being competitive for talent, investments and jobs by becoming more liveable. The city administrators would need to do a slew of things to make it a pleasant place to live, work and play. Accordingly, it should appeal to residents, commuters and visitors.

The sustainable community will reduce the environmental consequences of urban life to make the city more efficient and liveable. This is critical because cities are the largest contributors of carbon. The roads, public spaces and buildings emit the bulk of a citys emissions. Efficient, cleaner and sustainable operations in all these areas can curb a citys environmental footprint.

Smart cities are imperative in emerging as well as established economies. Emerging economies such as India, China and Brazil require smart cities because growing populations hold pressing short-term needs. These include flood preparedness, preventing blackouts, traffic de-congestion, crowd control and curbing logistical difficulties that accompany fast-paced urbanisation.

In some regions, new cities are being built from scratch, allowing smart city infrastructure to be developed in the first instance. For cash-strapped economies, budgets to improve city facilities may be hard to generate. But smart city solutions actually curb costs by eliminating or reducing the need to invest in new infrastructure capacity. Worldwide, most cities may evolve towards becoming smart cities via incremental improvements in individual systems. A city struggling with traffic congestion may feel the need for a series of flyovers. But financial constraints drive it to settle for an interim step of deploying traffic management technologies to its existing infrastructure.

Traffic-choked Mumbai is a classic case. To optimise traffic at 253 crossings, Mumbai deployed real-time, adaptive traffic control systems. A central traffic management control centre supervises and reacts to traffic disruptions. Consequently, there has been a 12% reduction in average traffic time and an 85% reduction in energy usage from the citys traffic lights. Cost savings and quality of life improvements made this smart city programme a success for citizens.

City administrators need to decide their sustainability vision and prepare a roadmap to achieve this. They should then begin by improving existing operating systems, such as electricity, water, gas and transportation. This could be done via a combination of connected hardware, software, metering facilities integration and collaboration between systems and networks. Brazils Rio de Janeiro is an excellent example in the impact of data and system integration to drive a smart city vision. Eleven different control centres manage the citys critical infrastructure: electricity, water, oil, gas, public transportation, and urban traffic, air quality, and airports.

A smart city cannot be built by a single entity. Installation, planning and maintenance of technologies need local level and global-class players. Through this approach, multiple benefits can be realised: 30% energy savings; 20% reduction in water losses; up to 30% reduction in street crime from CCTV security cameras; and 20% drop in travel time and traffic delays.

A highly ambitious vision is that of Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Masdars goal is to create a commercially viable, sustainable community providing the highest quality of life, with the lowest environmental footprint. Its development relies heavily on public and private companies working together, ultimately aiming to rely entirely on solar and renewable energy, with a zero-carbon, zero-waste ecology. Upon its completion between 2025 and 2030, Masdar City will be home to an international community of 70,000 people.

If water availability or disruption issues exist, implementing SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) systems to manage water flow ensure 30% savings on the energy used to manage the water systems, 20% reduction in water loss, and 20% reduction in water outage. A recent project to ensure energy efficiency to four water treatment plants in Beijing, China led to a remarkable 52% fall in energy usage.

As Indian cities face increasing challenges of overcrowding, traffic chaos, power and water scarcity, amongst others, smart cities will become the best option to resolve these problems. Though cities comprise only 2% of the worlds surface, they hold half the global population, consume 75% of energy resources and emit 80% of the carbon harming our environment. Given these statistics, the time to build smart cities is now.

Anil Chaudhry

The writer is country president and managing director,

Schneider Electric India