Sustainable cities: SDG 11
Climate change will affect the whole world, but especially urban areas will feel the consequences. Increased temperatures, rising sea levels, extreme weather events, spread of tropical diseases, ... The impact on human health, the quality of life, and infrastructure is already visible. Today, 57% of the world population lives in cities, a number that is expected to increase to 68% by 2050. With all its different elements combined, the urban environment is responsible for 70 to 75% of all GHG emissions worldwide. UN addresses the issue with SDG 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.
Technology has the potential to make cities more sustainable and livable for current and future generations. Connected and autonomous vehicles, renewable energy sources, and smart buildings are just a few examples of how technology can help make cities more sustainable.
What are smart cities?
When we think of a sustainable city, we rightly think of things like safe walk and bike lanes, accessible public transport, lots of green public spaces, and urban community farming. However, technological developments offer a lot of green solutions as well, which is why more and more cities adopt them. A smart city uses data and technology to improve the service, quality of life, and equity for its businesses and residents. The data is collected from citizens, devices, and assets, and then analyzed to monitor and manage traffic and transportation systems, power plants, water supply networks, waste management, law enforcement, information systems, schools, libraries, hospitals, and other community services.
On the question "What are the critical enablers for the green transition?", Christian Joelck from 2150 recently answered the following: "It's about finding these unsexy hardware solutions that actually reduce emissions". The building and construction sector is one of the dirtiest sectors. If the cement industry was a country, it would rank as 3rd biggest GHG emitter.
Not only construction is responsible for the high carbon footprint of buildings, operations like air conditioning, heating and refrigeration play a significant role as well. As a result, climate VCs start looking at the built sector as a valuable investment asset. Some start-ups experiment with new compositions of cement to make it more sustainable, or even use AI prediction models to determine the right amount of clinker needed.
Smart buildings provide a safe and secure environment and are IoT-connected. They are well insulated and make use of renewable energy (preferably from their own rooftop solar panels), have efficient water systems, deploy indoor air filtration, are connected with high-fiber optic systems, have smart heating and cooling that adapts to the circumstances, and consist of natural building materials.
Smart waste management
Currently, 82% of urban solid waste is collected, but only 55% is managed in controlled facilities. This leaves a lot of room for improvement, as cities produce huge amounts of waste. Smart waste management systems can help cities optimize their solid waste collection routes and reduce waste disposal costs. IoT-enabled sensors can also help identify illegal dumping and help city officials track and manage their solid waste more effectively.
A few examples:
- Smart waste bins: Object recognition, trash compression, fill levels monitoring, ... By compressing their contents, bins can increase their capacity and reduce the amount of trips from the garbage truck. Smart bins could also track and predict when they need to be emptied, and allow a real-time route optimization of the trucks.
- Pneumatic waste pipes: Some cities have switched to a truck-free waste management system. Bins are connected to underground pneumatic pipes that transport the trash with air compression to the waste collection facilities, where it's then sorted and processed.
- AI recycling robots: Thanks to AI-powered object recognition, recycling robots can help to sort the waste at the waste processing plants. This would not only decrease the demand for human workers, but also increase the cost efficiency.
- Turning trash into fuel: With waste-to-energy processes, cities can save decomposable biomass (yard, agricultural, wood, and plant-based waste) from landfills and turn it into fuel. One of these processes is plasma gasification: by heating it at extreme temperatures with a plasma torch, the solid waste is turned into syngas, a mixture of H2 and CO. If properly separated and processed, it could mean a greener production of hydrogen.
- Recycling apps: Sometimes it's just a matter of providing more knowledge to the citizens. Sorting trash can be confusing, and recycling apps can make it easier with instructions and dynamic tips.
Smart water management
Clean water is a critical sustainability issue for cities – especially those located in water-stressed regions. Technology can help cities become more water-efficient in a number of ways. Based on both static data (blueprint of the network and supply points, information about the installation processes and materials) and dynamic data (network data, pressure and flow in real-time), a digital twin can be created to run simulations and anticipate on any event. Smart cities perform real-time audits of the water quality, the water supply systems, and the treatment systems to ensure clean water access and avoid water waste.
Some possible solutions:
- Smart usage management systems adapt the flow to the current demand
- Monitoring and analysis systems increase the quality by controlling the pollutants
- Metering and alarm systems detect malfunctions and interrupt the flow if necessary to avoid water waste
- Smart meters in buildings automatically collect info and generate error reports to increase maintenance efficiency
- Sensors in gardens regulate irrigation systems based on the moisture degree of the soil
Clean air is a big pain point as well: 9 out of 10 people breathe in polluted air, leading to decreased brain development, respiratory diseases, heart conditions, strokes, and cancers. As a result, 7 million people die every year.
Cities have to cut back on the industrial and transportation emissions, by creating low emission zones and accessible public transport. Coordination systems for public transport and intelligent traffic management can enable this smart mobility. Besides that, they also need to inform and prepare their citizens with the use of air monitoring sensors, air pollution forecasting models (based on emissions and weather data), and mobile particle maps. Such predictions and real-time information models make citizens aware about their current situation and allow them to optimize their routes or plans.
High chances you live in a city or urban area yourself, and have been confronted with similar issues in your town that you want to solve. Maybe you even have a concrete idea (congratulations!). At Noldev we develop the software for entrepreneurs like you. If you would like to know more, head over to our website or reach out to us.