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Digitalization opportunties supporting our Cities

Paul Hobcraft's picture
Innovation & Energy Knowledge Provider Agility Innovation

I work as a transition advocate for innovation, ecosystems, within IIoT, and the energy system as my points of focus. I relate content to context to give greater knowledge and build the...

  • Member since 2020
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  • Jul 26, 2021
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Where digitalization can significantly contribute in energy savings and supporting the Smart Cities.

We do seem to be on the cusp of a very positive future in our Cities when you take the opportunity to read the latest report (July 2021) by the International Energy Agency (IEA), “Empowering Cities for a Net Zero Future”, that really does a great job of covering all aspects of the issues and challenges that Cities are facing on climate action.

I provided an opening review on this in my post, equally entitled “Empowering Cities for a Net Zero Future explaining briefly what this report covers. Reading this report is a must.

Here. I want to focus more on the digitalizatîon opportunities that will build out the smart digital energy systems that will drive these changes.

The next-generation energy systems will leverage big data and apply digital technologies and solutions to collect and analyse data in real-time.

Through this data management understanding, the management of city services enables and transforms the existing city into smart, responsive, and inclusive by delivering more efficient and effective services and value potentials.

Doing Justice to a great report.

I can’t really do justice to the exploration of the digitalization opportunities within a city. Still, I will attempt to pick up on a good few, extracting or representing the multiple ideas within this report of digital opportunity.

  • Cities have multiple overlapping areas where policymaking often needs wider consideration. For instance, in complex infrastructure networks, such as water, transport, electricity, heat, waste and communication, all would benefit from a higher level of integration and systematic solutions across these networks to connect, visualise and identify greater utilization and efficiency opportunities.
  • What would the opportunities at these intersections between systems reveal, how would they support the circularity needs and sustainability objectives required? More sensors and real-time demand management can provide richer insights into planning, managing, and reliability from the energy network and urban system management.
  • When we connect assets and infrastructure, we can determine more urban planning practices and project out urban energy sectors in managing buildings, transport and lighting. Seeking out the synergies and optimization comes from a connected digitalized system.

  • The other huge difference is the power of digital simulation to project, investigate and investigate alternative designs, test different technologies and equipment in virtual and safer physical environments. To simulate streets, a cluster of buildings and gather the data and apply “what ifs” in a virtual world can build advanced scenarios to determine future deployments and alternative solutions, based more on clean energy solutions.
  • Applying digitalization can create greater interlinkages between end-users. Imagine different industrial zones, data centres, district energy networks, coupled with waste treatment designed for more active demand response, tailôred and managed to that specific cluster of economic zones, meeting their more specific needs.
  • Within any big or fast-growing city, there is a premium on resource constraints. Understanding utilization, knowing available space and knowing existing assets for the supply of charging infrastructure, for instance, and the planning out of theses and their deployment in the future, eases the pressure points for managing dense areas with constrained investment budgets. Looking to maximise space, resources and assets help due to the digitally connected understanding far more effectively.

Harnessing the Collective Intelligence of Citizens

  • Engagement within cities is often frustrating, slow and bureaucratic, yet it can move to a very different engagement level through digitalization. Collective intelligence (CI) is the enhanced capacity created when people work together with technology to mobilise a broader range of information, ideas and deliberations. CI emerges when a critical sum of people and technology is created for purposes ranging from learning and innovation to decision-making. It covers a range of participatory methods, including crowdsourcing, open innovation, prediction markets, citizen science and deliberative democracy. (page 41 of the report)
  • CI as a digitalisation process offers tools to help policymakers better understand problems, seek solutions, collaborate in decision-making and conduct monitoring. CI can be broadly divided into three categories: i) connecting people with people; ii) connecting people with data; and iii) connecting data with data. As a governance tool, CI can help government better understand what is going on and what issues people care about.
  • Citizens, policymakers, private businesses, academia and public entities can utilise the capabilities enabled by data analytics to optimise their everyday decisions and collaborate in the development of smart cities. Opening up data can encourage collective innovation for future development and opportunity exploitation within the city.

The need to build a circular economy.

  • Digital technologies make it possible to track products, components and materials effectively. This data can be used to analyse both the opportunities and benefits of circular approaches.
  • Being aware digitally can stimulate the development of innovations and tools and eventually empowering cities toward Net Zero Emissions Cross-sector opportunities for smarter sustainable cities to promote sustainable production and consumption patterns that focus on reduction, reuse, refurbishment and recycling.
  • Cities can contribute to upstream, midstream and downstream GHG mitigation by fostering more circular economies.

Digital can be highly Supporting  of nature-based solutions

  • To quote IEA, “Digital technologies can facilitate the creation of effective urban green spaces and nature-based solutions to:
    • Provide carbon sequestration.
    • Reduce heat islands and the need for cooling.
    • Improve air quality by regulating particulate matter, NOx, SO2, CO and O3.
    • Mitigate floods and runoff.
    • Contribute to liveability in cities.
  • The promotion and creation of nature-based solutions can be greatly enhanced by identifying existing assets to be preserved and prime locations for new assets and quantifying the benefits. Moreover, the data and advanced analytics can help incorporate ecosystem benefits into policy and investment decision-making processes. Remote sensing data can also monitor changes in urban green spaces over time, quantifying biomass and carbon mapping and assessing vegetation health.
  • Carbon capture and storage in the built environment through engineered timbers is an emerging nature-based solution. Digital tools like construction robots, computational design and digital twin models support the large-scale build of tall-timber structures that are renewable, energy-efficient and act as carbon sinks.

Strengthening resilience

  • As the IEA rightly points out, extreme weather events and natural hazards increase in frequency and scale. Digital solutions enhance the accuracy and granularity of land use plans, incorporating natural hazards such as landslides and earthquakes and climate-related risks, including flooding and heatwaves.
  • Similarly, they can improve maps and data on the geographic location of critical infrastructure systems or facilities and nodes of community utility needs (e.g. energy, water and fuel use and generation).
  • While digitalisation can enable improvements within specific sectors, even more, significant improvements can be achieved by interconnecting systems, including electricity, water, sanitation and waste management, transport, security, environmental monitoring and weather intelligence.
  • This also enables information sharing and coordination to enhance resilience, for example, by managing incidents in one sector that impact other sectors.

Taking the example of flood risk, predictive maintenance and monitoring can be used in watershed management to provide insights into the probable timing and geographical extent of flooding. This knowledge can then be shared with sectors that may be affected and need to take pre-emptive measures, such as transport.

  • Predictive intelligence can save time and resources, enable faster interventions and avoid damage to assets and infrastructure across cities. Digital tools can provide earlier warnings of extreme weather events and enable more coordinated responses.

Supporting inclusivity

  • Urban energy poverty affects millions of households worldwide, primarily in emerging countries, although many citizens in developed countries are also affected.
  • Approximately 1 billion people currently live in informal settlements, primarily in urban areas in low- and middle-income countries. Energy-efficient smart energy systems provide multiple benefits across society when deployed appropriately, especially for the most vulnerable residents and communities.
  • Mobile communications technology can play a crucial role in expanding
    decentralised clean energy solutions to vulnerable urban communities, as mobile banking and payments unlock new business models for residents in remote or low-income areas.
  • Mobile-enabled digital solutions are uniquely positioned to address these challenges. They have made basic services, such as energy, water, sanitation, waste management and transport, more accessible and affordable to low-income urban dwellers.

Building the opportunity for new Business Models

Digital technologies can help de-risk and encourage private investment. A greater data-rich understanding can make opportunity assessments clearer to create new business opportunities and revenue streams and enable innovative and evolutionary change.

Enabling new business models through the use of Digital platforms often make projects more attractive by distributing infrastructure costs and risks across multiple applications. Benefits include:
Reduced transaction costs. The link between the end consumer and the
urban service provider becomes automated, precluding
the need for intermediaries that settle transactions or maintain ledgers of activity in the city and increasing convenience.
Exponential scale. Digital platforms use economies of scale and do not necessarily own the physical energy infrastructure behind them. Many smart city companies have grown from start-ups to digital unicorns in a concise time span.
Expanding opportunities. When they are open and well-managed, digital
platforms can reduce barriers to entry for new service providers.

The report offers countless examples across a City for digitalization

  • We constantly worry overpower interruptions and build more resilient power technology solutions, including battery storage, microgrids, and distributed energy systems.
  • Mobile communication technology continues to expand and manage much of our lives. Mobile-enabled local digital solutions can make a real difference on basic services of energy, water, waste and transportation as more affordable in managing for all citizens to “manage their own” lives.
  • Then we have the value of digital technologies that can help de-risk and invite private investments in smart projects within your city that align with your needs and returns. Having the opportunity to participate in financial investments actually impacts your life; recognizing where it can help bring down emissions to a net-zero can give a pride, more active engagement, and feeling you are contributing.
  • Digitalisation in the built environment can provide benefits for the environment, users and businesses. Digitalisation can reduce the energy demand of buildings, reduce their embedded carbon, improve their operational efficiency and enable them to contribute to power system flexibility and resilience. It can significantly help the performance of buildings.
  • Digitalising buildings can also help increase participation in demand response and behaviour change programmes, especially among residential consumers. Interactive communications platforms and digital apps normally assist these programmes.
  • Digitalisation in district heating and cooling networks
    supports decarbonisation. Digitalisation unlocks three main opportunities for district heating and cooling networks: integrating demand-side flexibility measures, supporting the incorporation of clean heat sources, including heat pumps, appliances, renewables, and storage and waste heat from the industry; and enabling new business models.

A final one I want to touch here- Energy Inclusive Systems

  • Energy communities could be paving the way to more inclusive energy systems Digitalisation can enable connectivity among all energy market players. It can monitor, control, and optimise dynamic flows of energy and data through designated technologies, enabling communities to be self-sufficient.
  • Digital tools can greatly reduce transaction costs, support local energy trading platforms and create trusted asset ownership structures that bypass centralised utilities and enable community-based energy approaches.

A really rich, stimulating report from the IEA

This report, “Empowering Cities for a Net Zero Future”, really does an excellent job of opening the thinking to the power of digitalization within and across a City.

I have partly lifted extracts from this report or attempted to abbreviate part of a report that is 100 plus pages.

Seriously, if you are interested in understanding the potential that can come towards us all who live in cities, this report is a must-read.

Just recognizing the digital thread that runs through a city is so full of potential and opportunity. We do need to empower, encourage and endorse the move towards building the connected smart cities of the future.

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Paul Hobcraft's picture
Thank Paul for the Post!
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