Smart cities use energy data to influence human behavior

Smart cities use energy data to influence human behavior
Sep 30, 2021

What is a smart city?

Cities typically function through complex relationships between stakeholders and infrastructure that provide services the city needs to operate effectively. These services are often built in vertical silos around functions rather than user needs, and are unconnected, inefficient, and closed to externally-led and cross-system innovations. Data and information are locked within these system silos—such as water, telecoms, transport, health, finance, economy, and energy—limiting the potential to extract value across vectors and drive change and innovation at speed.

A smart city is a place where these traditional networks and services are made more efficient using digital solutions for its inhabitants, businesses, and other users. Opening data and linking these functions together could enhance the value proposition offered to these stakeholders. A smart city uses modern digital communications technology to monitor, manage, and enhance key infrastructure and public services such as transport and traffic management, energy, water, and waste management, healthcare, and other community services. Aiming to make existing cities smart(er) will not only improve the experience for residents, workers, and visitors, but it will reduce costs and resource consumption, including electricity, which will in turn have a positive impact on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Technology can play an important part in tackling many of these challenges.

Where are smart cities found?

Cities make up just 9% of the U.K.'s landmass, but account for 54% of the population, 59% of jobs (72% of high-skilled jobs) and 61% of gross value added (GVA). According to the United Nations, 90% of the population in the U.K. will be residing in urban areas by 2050, Figure 1. Cities are facing enormous challenges as incremental improvements are no longer adequate to address issues such as increasing population, resilience, migration, global competition, industrial decline, aging infrastructure, and so on. Cities, therefore, need transformational solutions, fresh management approaches, and developments in technology.

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smart cities population urban areas

Source: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Word Urbanization Prospects

Case study: Smart traffic management in Sweden

Researchers in Stockholm, Sweden use streaming analytics technology to gather real-time information from the global positioning system (GPS) devices on nearly 1500 taxis in the city (expanding soon to gather data from delivery trucks, traffic sensors, transit systems, pollution monitors, and weather information). The processed data gives the city and residents real-time information on traffic flow, travel times, and the best commuting options. For example, a resident could send a text message listing their location and desired destination. The technology instantly processes real-time traffic, rail, and weather information and provides anticipated travel times via car and public transportation, giving people an accurate and instant view of the fastest way to get to their destination. In Stockholm, this congestion management system reduces traffic by 20%, average travel times by almost 50%, and emissions by 10%—while raising the proportion of green, tax-exempt vehicles to 9%.

Benefits and use of data

A defining feature of smart cities is the ability of the component systems to interoperate and be better integrated. The "smartness" is not just about technology but also about how technology is used. There are a range of benefits such as personalized services and better access to information; more efficient management using accurate and detailed data; greater synergies and closer integration with other services leading to greater efficiency and control; better citizen engagement; better collaborative processes; and more informed decision making.

Data volume is increasing exponentially. CCTV cameras, digital meters, and other similar devices located strategically around the city, along with cell-phone data, provide useful information about city life and infrastructure state. Real-time data systems and sensors enable users to discover what is happening in a city and identify opportunities and challenges that may improve the delivery and efficiency of services. Opening-up, aggregating, and integrating such datasets offer greater insights to target and address needs.

Smart energy data fuel modern life

Smart energy and smart grids are important components of smart cities. Together they create an upgraded system that uses information and communication technology (ICT) to collect and synthesize streams of data to improve the operation and efficiency of sustainable energy systems and minimize the need for excessive infrastructure upgrades. It is made up of enhanced monitoring, analytics, and systems that actively control and manage network and customer assets to increase efficiency and reliability. This involves installing meters, sensors, and actuators across consumers (domestic, industrial, and commercial), distribution, transmission, and production systems to get a granular view of consumer consumption, network condition, and available capacity to control them accordingly. In addition, it requires the processing of collected data using analytics engines in real-time (or close to real-time) to improve the overall performance of the energy system and drive certain behavior. It can also provide consumers with information about their energy use and allow them to manage or adjust it based on their needs.

Behavior and energy usage patterns can be analyzed to provide forward and near-real-time forecasting of consumption to facilitate decision making related to supply levels of electricity, infrastructure development, resource optimization, and consumer behavior through explicit and implicit signals, consistent with demand and production levels. Smart sensors, thermostats, and lighting can help increase energy efficiency and drive lifestyle changes in energy use, and buildings equipped with new technologies can provide flexibility to support decarbonization. Smart devices, such as washing machines and water heaters, can be controlled automatically to operate during lower pricing periods, certain time periods and/or when renewable generation is available and therefore more cost-effective. Similarly, smart and bi-directional electric vehicle (EV) chargers can operate flexibly to reduce infrastructure development costs. Smart technologies can, therefore:

  • Automatically respond to price signals such as time of use tariffs and/or direct (dispatch) signals from controlling entities to shift or modulate electricity consumption or production in line with pre-set and/or real-time customer preference, behavior, and agreements.
  • Optimize energy consumption according to user needs and instructions (local and/or remote) and/or local conditions (e.g., building occupancy levels).
  • Provide operational information related to devices and/or products to encourage certain behavior (e.g., issue alerts for faults and excessive consumption, provide timely analysis of technology performance, issue warnings, measure or estimate power/energy usage).

Smart energy options offer significant savings

Albeit complex to derive, smart energy may have significant benefits and savings, which depend on factors such as penetration of relevant technologies, user engagement, and participation levels. The benefits vary and include any combination of the following:

  • Energy savings—due to reduced energy consumption;
  • Cost savings—due to reduced energy consumption, financial incentive to change behavior, and/or reduced infrastructure development;
  • Carbon savings—due to reduced energy consumption and/or shift and alignment of energy use with renewable energy production.

To realize these benefits, industry stakeholders, local and national governments, and consumer and public interest groups must come together to coordinate, inform, and develop city- and national-level policy and roadmaps that address needs and improve the quality and experience of city living.

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Meet the author
  1. Paris Hadjiodysseos