Columns: Towards 100 smart cities

Written by Ashok Gulati | Ashok Gulati | Updated: Sep 18 2014, 07:16am hrs
Today, roughly 400 million Indians live in urban areas and, by 2030, this number is likely to touch 600 million. Experts tell us that to house these people properly, India needs to build one Chicago every year. How we build these new cities will decide the quality of life for us and our children. It poses a big challenge, but if handled properly, it can be a major opportunity to create millions of jobs, raise our productivity, and improve our lives for good. And herein lies the vision of the Modi government when it talks of building 100 smart cities. A notional amount of R7,060 crore was also allocated in the FY15 budget to undertake studies and do some spade work related to smart cities.

What is a smart city The concept of a smart city is not new, and several countries from Japan to Holland to Israel have developed smart cities, and each has tuned and tweaked this concept to its requirements. The global market of smart cities will reach around $42.7 trillion by 2030. But broadly, most countries have tried to build these smart cities by following key parameters: information and communication technology (ICT) based governance, transit-oriented development, waste management, energy efficiency and management, water management and safety and security. These cities would ideally have a centralised control system which would provide real-time inputs on the availability of resources and public utilities to enable faster and more efficient decision-making. Another feature of smart cities is intelligent communication, which enables the administrators to respond with a very negligible turnaround time in case of an emergency.

Japan is a good example to start with. Four experiments are being carried out in Japan to identify the optimum form of smart grids and smart cities. One interesting feature of these cities is the creation of community energy management systems (CEMS) that optimise energy use for the community as a whole without compromising on the comfort and convenience of its citizens. One of the operational experiments in this direction is the Kansai Bunka Gakujutsu Kenkyu Toshi (Kansai Science City covering Kyoto, Osaka, and Nara prefectures), the experience of which, in integrating its cultural heritage with modern day needs, would be utilised to reinvent our very own Varanasi, which is packed with rich cultural heritage and is considered by some as the spiritual capital of India. The Kansai Science City is proceeding with large-scale housing developmentas in the case of India wherein 70% of the building stock that will exist in 2030 is yet to be built! Leveraging this opportunity, the Kansai project seeks to develop a CEMS, which includes home, building and electric vehicle energy management systems (HEMS, BEMS and EVMS) along with V2X technologies (vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication) to create a next-generation energy society. Analysing the demand response of the above, a business model is proposed to be created, scaled and replicated in other areas.

Another example of the same is the Toyota City in Japan, wherein the Higashiyama and Takahashi districts are being used for trials of household energy management system and energy data management system, and city as a whole is being used for trials of a low-carbon transport system. A range of energy sources like gas and biomass are used for generating heat and electricity.

Taking a further leap forward, the Sino-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City (SSGKC) being developed in China integrates the concepts of a smart city (integrating ICT-powered urban management systems), an eco-city (integrating urban planning with efficiency solutions) and a learning city (enabling a knowledge economy).

In this era of globalisation, international best practices can easily be adapted to local environment with innovations, ranging from systems to products. For example, a start-up based in Israel is innovating on the use of renewable energy in congested urban spaces. They fit windows with encased solar photovoltaic cells in urban buildings and skyscrapers with the aim to generate solar power and create self sustaining buildings that will reduce energy consumption and increase efficiency gains. Additionally, the fact that charged electric vehicle batteries, having a bi-directional flow, can be used to supply electricity in emergencies is also increasingly being recognized. With the ongoing visit of President Xi Jinping of China and Chinas continued focus on smart cities and its efforts in renewable energywhich have made it the world leader in the production of solar cells and panelstalks around the transfer of technology and joint manufacturing of new technologies can add to the benefits that can be realised through these cities in the long run.

Can India bring these ideas and innovations to build 100 smart cities that are free from pollution, where energy efficiency is high, traffic congestion is absent, and sewerage water is treated and not allowed to pollute rivers Only time will tell how well the new government can integrate these ideas to build better India. For the time being, development of Gujarat International Financial Tec (GIFT) City, 18 kilometres off the Ahmedabad airport, seems to be a step in that direction. The GIFT City is being designed as a hub for the global financial services sector with state-of-the-art connectivity, infrastructure and transportation access being integrated into its design. Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, Chennai-Vizag Industrial Corridor, and many other such proposed industrial corridors would offer several opportunities to build these new smart cities. Efforts are also on to convert Agra into a smart city with the help of the Japanese, and the latest addition being Kyoto to Kashi! If India can do this transition successfully, it has a lot to offer to its own people and also to those in other developing countries. It is certainly an idea whose time seems to have come for India.

By Ashok Gulati and Astha Ummat

Gulati is a Chair Professor at ICRIER and Ummat is a Young Professional at the Planning Commission