smart cities hold key to Asia’s growth

Smart cities have been earmarked as essential to help Asia grow to its full potential. The region needs clean affordable energy to power its economic growth over the next decades. And with population rapidly migrating to urban centers, smart cities have a leading role in both managing the demand and securing the supply of energy.

growth = urbanization = energy needs

Asia already contributes 28% of the world’s GDP, according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), but by 2035 this proportion will have grown to 44%. This growth demands more energy: the region already uses 34% of the world’s energy; by 2035 this could have grown to 51%.

The growth is being accompanied by rapid urbanization. While urbanization started with the industrial revolution in Europe and North America, in Asia the flow of population into cities started much later. In fact since 1950 the region has outpaced all others in rural flight into cities. Between 1950 and 2011, cities in Asia grew 57.2% compared to 9% in Europe; and the agency predicts that urban population will increase by 54%.

Asia added more than a billion people to its cities between 1980 and 2010. It is already home to eight out of the 10 most densely populated large cities in the world, including the top three: Mumbai, Kolkata, and Karachi. The Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations has some fascinating figures just showing the onward march of urbanization worldwide.

securing energy supplies

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has identified smart cities as one of the three pillars that will help secure the energy required for Asian expansion. “As Asia grows, new cities will emerge, and this relatively clean slate provides the opportunity to substantially redefine urban design,” says the Asian Development Outlook 2013 report. The other two are to eliminate consumer subsidies for energy and changing behavior to reduce demand.

Smart cities can help power these mega-cities by increasing energy efficiency and environmental sustainability. One example cited in the report is integrating electrically-powered transport with a smart grid in order to help in secure energy supplies. Electric vehicles (EV) could help smooth out the fluctuations in renewable energy generation by storing and feeding back energy into a smart grid throughout a smart city.

Recent research from Frost & Sullivan agrees and predicts big growth for smart grids in Asia. It says that the market was worth US$5.40 billion in 2012 and that this will expand to reach US$15.83 billion in 2018. The report says that this investment is being driven by the rising popularity of advanced metering infrastructure, energy management systems and EV charging.

It points out that both Japan and South Korea expect that EVs will comprise 20% of total vehicles on the road by 2030, which will put an additional load on the electrical grid. Smart grids can also help identify peak-load hours and discount off-peak charging of vehicles.

green - and brown - field sites

There are already some impressive smart cities in Asia, such as Songdo in Korea. Located 40 miles from Seoul, this city was built from new on reclaimed mudflats. The city has been designed with network technology that regulates everything from water to electricity, cutting energy consumption by around 30%. Others being planned include Caofeidian, located 250km southeast of Beijing, China. This new city is being designed to be carbon-neutral and house 1 million people.

But building smart cities isn’t just for green-field sites, planners also need to be able to retro-fit smart city technology to existing buildings. Microsoft recently published a case study outlining just that about its efforts to reduce energy expenditure at its campus in Redmond, USA. Instead of rebuilding its 800-acre site with the latest smart technologies, the company developed software than integrated with existing building management systems to improve energy efficiency.

By harnessing, Big Data and the Internet of Things, Microsoft now collects 500 million data points from 125 buildings in the campus every 24 hours, from sources as diverse as lighting, heating and air-conditioning. The software analyses the data and presents the facilities team with misbehaving equipment. It could be equipment left on by mistake or a wasteful battle between air-conditioning and heating systems. The company has already made savings of 250,000 per year and expects to be able to save six times that as it continues to tune all buildings.

how big will it be?

We’re seeing efficiencies that we never even contemplated when we started this journey,” says Darrell Smith, Microsoft’s Director of Facilities and Energy. “Smart buildings will become smart cities. And smart cities will change everything.”

Do you think Asia will take a leading role in smart cities to help fulfill its potential?


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Anthony Plewes

After a Masters in Computer Science, I decided that I preferred writing about IT rather than programming. My 20-year writing career has taken me to Hong Kong and London where I've edited and written for IT, business and electronics publications. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Stewart Baines where I continue to write about a range of topics such as unified communications, cloud computing and enterprise applications.