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TechBite on Smart Cities

Key insights and resources recorded at a IET Project Controls Technical and Professional Network seminar in January 2016.

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From its position on the Victoria Embankment, the IET’s newly refurbished Savoy Place looks out across the Thames skyline with its landmark buildings and buzzing river, road and rail networks. How apt that one of the first Technical and Professional Network events to take place inside the state-of-the-art venue should explore the subject of ‘Delivering Smart Cities’.

“The rapid growth of urbanisation continues to make this a hot topic for engineers,” said Chairperson Mikele Brack,  Founder and CEO of City Impact Challenge, opening the panel discussion in front of more than 76 IET delegates. “Already more than half the global population lives in cities. By 2050, that will be 70%”. (Unicef)

Brack outlined the increasingly urgent demand for expanding cities to adopt innovative transport, energy and building technologies, not only to accommodate higher urban populations but also to make cities more enjoyable and manage resources sustainably.

Panellist Dan Byles, Chairman of Smarter UK followed up with equally stark statistics: “We’re actually at crisis point. By 2025 we’ll have laid down new urban floor space equivalent to the size of Australia. In London alone, the population is growing by one full tube train every three days.”

Disruptive technologies

In his presentation, Byles spoke of the need for disruptive technologies to drive smart city development. Transport for London’s new contactless payment technology recently ‘disrupted’ its own Oyster Card system, which had been in place for only a few years.

Citing another example of disruption in the field of transport – Uber – he predicted the end of private vehicle ownership in London by 2050 and looked ahead to the positive impact on congestion, freeing up a huge proportion of the city’s floor space currently dedicated to parking.

“Smart cities will be those that can break out of process thinking and consider outcomes instead,” said Byles. “For example, we commuters will buy a ‘journey’ not a train ticket. A smart city transport system will decide how we can best make that journey, by bus, boat, train or taxi, depending on efficiency, availability, air quality and a whole host of other factors.”

Systems thinking

Echoing the need for outcome-driven design, Helen Pineo, Associate Director at BRE, urged building designers and engineers to adopt ‘whole system’ thinking that understands human behaviour.

“People living in smart homes should not have to understand how the heating, cooling and ventilation systems around them work. We need technologies that respond to our behaviour rather than a system that requires us to understand the most efficient way to keep our home comfortable.”

So-called ‘smart’ energy meters in our homes are in fact not quite smart enough: “Smart energy meters alone have not had the desired impact of reducing our energy consumption and behaviours on a large scale,” says Pineo. “They give us fairly limited feedback on our home energy usage. We need to consider what other meaningful interventions we can make in this system – including behaviour change or new technologies – to achieve the outcomes we actually want in the smart home in the smart city.”

Collaboration and connectedness

For cities to function well and provide the positive experience that attracts people to them, tech innovation needs to be embedded early – at the planning or ‘place-making’ stage. Victoria Hills presented Old Oak & Park Royal Development, London’s largest regeneration project.

The northwest London brownfield site is set to become the UK’s most connected business and transport ‘superhub’ including 25,000 new homes within 10 years. “We’re embedding smart from the start with Old Oak,” says CEO, Hills, alluding to greater collaboration between government and private sector firms and consortia such as HyperCat.

Complex multi-stakeholder urban development projects, like Old Oak, like the Olympic Village, can only become smart if traditionally separate silos to take a more collaborative approach and budget lines are viewed from above. Investment in one area such as emissions reduction will show its return in health and wellbeing. “To truly deliver smart cities, planning leadership needs to sit above those separate budget lines,” concluded Dan Byles.


Join the discussion

Take a look at the IET Project Controls Community and get involved with the latest discussions on Smart Cities.

Further resources on Smart Cities

If you are interested in learning more about smart and future cities, please try these IET presentations, insights
and case studies online:

If you are interested in getting involved in the IET’s thought leadership work on Future Cities, please contact thought-leadership@theiet.org