Bright lights, big city

Smart cities offer solutions to achieve the UN SDGs

By Natalie Mouyal

More than half of the world’s population currently lives in cities. This growth is expected to continue with city residents estimated to make up two-thirds of the population by 2050. Megacities – with a population of more than 10 million – are proliferating, fuelled by economic growth and rapid industrialization.

Fact about cities Cities are growing...and will account for 60% of the world's population by 2030

The growth of cities brings prosperity. They generate approximately 80% of global GDP. But cities also increase the demand for resources, like water and electricity, while generating much waste and pollution. Overcrowding, traffic gridlock and the strains on infrastructure and services are some of the burdens of the urban dweller.

The United Nations has called on governments, industry and society to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. This is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the core of the UN blueprint for building a better world by 2030.

Smart cities can offer the tools to improve the quality of life in cities. According to Michael Mulquin, Chair of the IEC Systems Committee on Smart cities (SyC Smart cities), they can be defined as cities "where improvements in quality of life, city services, sustainability and resilience are accelerated by the widespread and transformative use of data and technology".

Standards for smart cities

IEC Standards help cities ensure that critical infrastructure, such as transport networks and electricity grids function properly and safely. More than 2 000 IEC publications directly impact safe and sustainable urbanization, from energy generation and efficiency to security, lighting and water management.

Standards can also help cities to make existing systems smarter. It is now possible to collect data easily and, using algorithms, to analyze the data in real time so as to formulate an overall picture of what is going on in a given area – and how it can be improved. Data on energy consumption, traffic patterns and building usage can be analyzed and used to improve quality of life for residents. These technologies rely on IEC Standards for sensors, cloud computing and artificial intelligence.

However, while intelligent technologies bring great possibilities, they also increase potential privacy and security risks. Standards, such as those in the ISO/IEC 27000 family, serve to protect city data and people while others, like IEC 62443, have been developed to protect industries from cyber attacks.

As a further step, standards can be used to develop common approaches, allowing for interoperability and compatibility across systems and services. As a result, IEC has taken a systems approach to smart cities with the aim of providing a holistic approach to address complex situations. The SyC Smart cities is actively working together with various IEC technical committees and other standard organizations to assist in the development of standards for city systems.

As noted by Mulquin, "smart city standards need to be developed in a systematic way, recognizing that to address complex city needs, the requirements of many different stakeholders must be analyzed and satisfied".

The work of SyC Smart cities specifically addresses the UN SDG 11 on sustainable cities and communities and its targets related to city management and disaster resilience and recovery. IEC has also recently set up a new group, SEG 11, to study the transition toward sustainable transport.

City management

Based on a global City Need Survey it conducted in 2017, SyC Smart cities is proposing a new work item for city information modelling (CIM). Similar to digital twins used by manufacturers, CIM is the digital representation of a city with various types of city information, from the natural environment to infrastructure to human activity, updated in real time. This is a tool that can be used by local governments, as well as industry and residents, to enable better city planning and management.

To help city planners identify which standards they need, SyC Smart cities is developing a system reference deliverable: Smart city standards inventory and mapping. According to Mulquin, this is "not simply to catalogue standards relevant to smart cities, but an exercise to find a way to map and categorize them so that it is much easier to understand which standards are relevant to which type of projects".

Disaster resilience and recovery

From severe droughts to hurricanes and flooding, disasters appear more frequently and with a greater intensity than in the past. The UN SDG calls for strengthening the resilience of infrastructure in the face of disasters as well as the mitigation of the adverse effects of disaster.

Continuity planning is a key factor to minimize cost and damage should critical infrastructure become inoperable. It ensures that potential disasters have been considered and local plans developed for the restoration of services. As Mulquin noted, "no city service can work without electricity and so the most urgent and important need is to get the electricity supply working again".

SyC Smart cities is currently developing a new standard, IEC 63152, as a best practice tool for city planners. Given the increased frequency of natural disasters and the destruction they cause, this draft standard proposes guidelines to sustain a variety of city services following a disruption. It provides the basic concepts of how multiple city services can cooperate to maintain the supply of electricity.

Sustainable transport

SDG 11 calls for the provision of safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport for all. It recognizes the need to reduce the dependency on fossil fuels while also anticipating the growth in urban areas which will require new solutions for transport. Urban mobility will require a comprehensive strategy that can also bring together the requirements for clean and safe solutions while benefiting from the use of new technologies.

IEC Standards for trains, subway systems, trolley buses and ferries are just a few examples of the IEC contribution towards sustainable transport. These standards also support the infrastructure necessary for the operation of these different transportation systems.

Additionally, IEC SEG 11 will examine the standardization tools needed to help countries. At the first meeting held in July, participants identified examples of future, electric-based transportation systems that can help accelerate the transition to renewable energy.

Help make cities smart

The new technologies used to make cities smarter can help achieve the quality of life in cities and meet the targets set out in the UN SDG 11 on sustainable cities and communities. These technologies rely on IEC International Standards to ensure safety, performance and interoperability.

As noted by Mulquin, "the widespread development of smart city standards has the potential to help cities all over the world to benefit more quickly and effectively from global best practices, as well as to open up new and profitable opportunities for industry".

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Fact about cities Cities are growing...and will account for 60% of the world's population by 2030
Picture of Michael Mulquin, Chair of IEC SyC Smart cities Michael Mulquin, Chair of IEC SyC Smart cities