Smart cities to boost energy efficiency

A wide range of technologies will help cities optimize energy use

By Peter Feuilherade

In hundreds of smart city projects around the world, governments, municipalities and private stakeholders are investing in smart grids, open data platforms and networked transport systems to meet the challenges of environmental sustainability, population growth and urbanization. 

DuPont photovoltaic modules Photovoltaic (PV) modules (Photo: Courtesy of DuPont)

Smart cities drivers

The continuing influx of people to cities, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America, is predicted to add 2,5 billion people to the world’s urban population by 2050.

The primary drivers of smart cities are operational efficiency, cost reduction and environmental sustainability. Smart technologies have been most evident in sectors like energy, lighting, transport and water management.

Separate market studies in 2016 by consultancy firms Technavio and Frost & Sullivan estimate that the overall value of the global smart cities market will grow to between USD 1 400‑1 500 billion in 2020. Asia-Pacific and Europe are expected to dominate the market because of government initiatives to accelerate smart city development.

IEC standards promote integration

Electricity and electronics are indispensable for the operation of the myriad interconnected services in smart cities and buildings.

Many IEC Technical Committees (TCs) and Subcommittees (SCs) coordinate on the development of International Standards for the broad range of electrotechnical systems, equipment and applications used to build and maintain smart cities and smart buildings, with an emphasis on safety and interoperability.

The IEC White Paper Orchestrating infrastructure for sustainable Smart Cities stresses that cities can only achieve economic, social and environmental sustainability by integrating their infrastructures and services to improve urban efficiencies.

There are hundreds of IEC International Standards that enable the integration of smart solutions for energy, buildings and homes, lighting and mobility.

Optimizing energy consumption 

One of the key drivers for integrating systems and making buildings more intelligent is the energy savings that can be achieved.

A report published in October 2016 by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) noted that cities account for 65% of global energy use and 70% of man‑made carbon emissions. This makes optimizing energy consumption a fundamental objective of a smart city.

IRENA’s director‑general Adnan Z. Amin believes that renewable sources can meet most of the energy needs of commercial and residential buildings in cities “either in a centralized way (i.e. delivering renewables sourced elsewhere to buildings via energy distribution networks) or in a decentralized way (i.e. through solar thermal collectors and solar PV panels located at the site where energy is needed)”.

Energy research analysts at Technavio have identified the top three trends driving the global energy‑efficient building market as increased government support and investments, rising energy prices and reductions in emission levels of greenhouse gases.

The IEC Systems Committee on Smart Energy (SyC Smart Energy), aims to create one international platform for a comprehensive portfolio of efficient and easy-to-use standards that can be used by any project working on smart energy. The work of SyC Smart Energy includes wide consultation within the IEC community and a broader group of external stakeholders, in the areas of smart energy and smart grid, also including heat and gas.

IEC TC 8: Systems aspects for electrical energy supply, prepares and coordinates, in cooperation with other IEC TCs, the development of International Standards in these areas. IEC SC 8A prepares International Standards for the grid integration of large-capacity renewable energy sources.

IEC TC 57: Power systems management and associated information exchange, deals with communications between the equipment and systems in the electrical power industry, a central element of smart buildings, cities and grid projects.

International Standards developed by IEC TC 82: Solar photovoltaic (PV) energy systems and IEC TC 88: Wind turbines, (IEC 61400 series) are also central to smart energy.

In smart cities, both residential and commercial buildings are more efficient and use less energy. The consumption of energy is analyzed, data are collected and power production is optimized through different sources and distributed energy production.

Proper energy management requires accurate metering. Multi-function, communicating smart meters that measure energy exported and imported, demand and power quality, and management of load, local generation, customer information and other value‑added functions, are essential when creating smart grids to coordinate supply and demand. IEC TC 13: Electrical energy measurement and control, develops International Standards for such meters, in liaison with other IEC TCs such as TC 8 and TC 57.

Another key component is the use of smart energy sensors with multiple functions to collect and share data for predictive analytics. These data can be used to detect and predict energy needs and provide valuable insights during times of peak demand.

IEC SC 47E: Discrete semiconductor devices, prepares International Standards for components used in a variety of sensors.

Microgrids

A new generation of low‑carbon microgrids is changing the ways in which densely populated cities design and operate utility systems using the concept of locally generated and consumed energy. Microgrids allow predictive maintenance and are particularly promising for ensuring resilience in the energy demands of cities.

“Coupled with rapid declines in the cost of emissions-free renewable energy technology such as wind and solar photovoltaic, recent drops in the cost of advanced stationary battery storage technology have altered the technological make-up of microgrids dramatically,” in the view of the Microgrid Media website.

Another significant factor behind the growth in renewable energy microgrids is the global drive to reduce carbon and greenhouse gas emissions. Transparency Market Research forecasts that by 2020 the microgrid market worldwide will be worth more than USD 35 billion.

Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of interconnected objects or devices embedded with sensors and mobile devices which are able to generate data and communicate and share that data with one another. The spread of IoT‑related technologies including low‑cost sensors and high‑speed networking will accelerate the adoption rate of smart city solutions over the next few years. IT research and analysis firm Gartner estimates that almost 10 billion connected devices will be in use in smart cities around the globe by 2020.

A major feature of a smart city is the analysis and use of data collected by IoT devices and sensors to improve infrastructure, public utilities and services, as well as for predictive analytics. In Malaga and Madrid, for example, environmental sensors fitted to bicycles and post carts monitor air pollution, uploading data to a publicly-accessible web portal. And London is just one of many cities trying to alleviate urban traffic congestion by enabling drivers to quickly locate parking spaces and pay for them via smartphone apps, without having to carry cash.

Intelligent lighting, too, can serve as enabling technology for a range of IoT uses beyond illumination, as manufacturers embed video cameras, acoustic sensors and data communications capabilities into LED fixtures and bulbs.

The IEC White Paper entitled Internet of Things: Wireless Sensor Networks surveys the role of wireless sensor networks in the evolution of the IoT. It also highlights the need for standards to achieve interoperability among wireless sensor networks from different vendors and across varied applications, in order to unleash the full potential of the IoT.

As the IoT expands, so does the need for robust cybersecurity protection against malicious attacks on IoT-connected devices, applications and networks. This was demonstrated in October 2016 when hackers used software connected to tens of millions of commonly-used devices like webcams to launch a Distributed Denial of Service attack (DDoS) in the US which blocked some of the world’s most popular websites for several hours. The IEC is developing Standards and working on conformity assessment related to cybersecurity.

Self-learning buildings

A European consortium is developing ways to enable self‑learning buildings to use wireless sensor technology and data mining methods to increase their energy efficiency over time by anticipating and meeting their occupants’ needs.

“In practice this will involve collecting various data, such as temperature, humidity, luminance, and occupancy via wireless sensors. The software then learns to optimize heating and ventilation so that user comfort is satisfied but energy consumption is minimized,” according to the University of Salford in the UK, which is taking part in the three‑year Europe‑wide project.

As self‑learning buildings become more widespread, technologically advanced buildings will be able to communicate electronically with each other to ensure that energy consumption is balanced.

The next generation

The next generation of smart cities will benefit from innovative ways to integrate renewable energy and energy‑efficient and intelligent building technologies.

Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) have developed transparent solar panels that can be mounted on the windows of buildings in order to capture more sunlight than traditional roof-mounted panels.

Another innovation is a small, ultra-light wind turbine built into a building or other urban structure. These are already in use or undergoing trials around the world, from the Eiffel Tower to Bahrain’s World Trade Centre and the Pearl River Tower in Guangzhou, China.

The falling costs of sensors, controllers and gateways will see the IoT gain further traction in the smart buildings market, especially among owners of small and medium‑sized buildings.

In these and many associated areas, the work of the IEC on standardization and conformity assessment as a fundamental principle in the development of future smart city technology is set to play a central role.

Gallery
Vertical axis wind turbine Vertical axis wind turbines can be installed in cities on top of office and commercial buildings (Photo: DARcorporation)
Dusk to dawn sensor Dusk to dawn sensor (Photo: CCTV Wholesales)
Siemens flush-mount sensors Siemens flush-mount sensors (Siemens press photo)
DuPont photovoltaic modules Photovoltaic (PV) modules (Photo: Courtesy of DuPont)