Smart cities: innovation in energy will drive sustainable cities

Cities represent three quarters of energy consumption and 80% of CO2 emissions worldwide, and represent the largest of any environmental policy challenge. Urbanisation is only set to increase, cities house half the world’s population today but are set to host three quarters in 2050.

To cope with this continued urban growth we will need to invent new ways to manage cities and make them more effective. The convergence between digital technology and the world of energy, or Energy 3.0, will pave the way for a new ecosystem of services which will enable both a better quality of life and reduced energy consumption.

The pathway to more sustainable cities

Marc Andreessen, co-founder of the first widely used web browser, famously said that “Software is eating the world”. Andreessen’s statement seems truer every day, digital technologies, after revolutionising the information technology sector, are now transforming all economic sectors, including energy. This sector will see increasing numbers of consumers producing their own energy, not only sharing it with one another but also customising it for their own personal use.

Innovations that marry the digital and energy disciplines are widespread, including technology that controls the energy consumption of buildings and interoperable communicating devices – such as temperature and air quality sensors, variable speed drives and robots, as well as smart meters and intensity and colour controlled LED lighting. These are examples of the technology that is changing the way we use energy.

Network Rail is one of the businesses driving forward innovation. Its newly built national centre was awarded a BREEAM excellent rating. The building blends engineering, architecture and technology to incorporate sustainable design features and energy performance metrics. Carbon dashboards have been installed throughout showing energy consumption, raising awareness and putting staff in a position to improve a building’s energy performance.

Empowering people in smart cities

In the same way that the IT revolution has been driven by consumer needs, so too will the energy revolution. As blogs, social networks and video platforms have enabled people to produce information and customise their content, new technologies will make possible energy self-production and customisation of energy usages and consumption.

Smart cities will also enable the use of open data which will create new urban services such as better transport connections, accident risk warnings and home monitoring for part-time and full-time carers. Local councils will have greater responsibility for ensuring the collection and the public availability of this data.

Furthermore, by leveraging this data, businesses will be able to offer personalised services for users, for example smart meter data could permit utilities to offer new tariffs, such as time-of use pricing which will encourage end-users to use energy in off-peak times when it is cheaper.