If we compare an aerial photo of the world today with the same image from 20 years ago, we can see from light distribution that urban centres are now a significantly more prominent feature. More and more people are choosing to live in cities, in search of new opportunities and to improve their quality of life. However, in many cases poor or absent urban development planning has not accompanied this growth in urban population.
Each one of these clusters of light represents a different set of challenges. There is a clear need to seek out new, efficient solutions, which help to “order and regulate” life in cities, optimising the use of the natural resources and guaranteeing long-term sustainability. In this context, the concept of the “Smart City” is born, with citizen commitment at its core, around which a complex system of smart networks and platforms revolves, collaborating to achieve efficient management in the many aspects of city life: urban development, transport, energy system, health care, public safety, provision of services, etc.
But is it possible to achieve high levels of efficiency in a Smart City? To what extent can a city become “Smart and Sustainable”?
I believe that the answer to these questions is that it is possible to achieve high degrees of efficiency, and that the level of sustainability, efficiency and intelligence of a city will depend on incorporating the concept of the Smart City into public policies, and on citizens taking on board a commitment to innovation aimed at developing new services and ideas which lead to sustainable economic growth by means of the efficient use of resources.
The role played by ICTs (information and communication technologies) is fundamental, in part because of their ability to act as a digital platform from which an information and knowledge network can be created. Such a network enables the gathering of information for analysis and a better understanding of how the city works in terms of the consumption of resources, use of services and lifestyle. From this we have a basis for deciding actions and policies aimed at increasing the efficiency of the processes and systems that define our urban centres.
In line with this, we can start to talk about Green ICT Services as a new concept in environmental innovation, which incentivises better management of natural resources, above all water and energy. The concept also describes the eco-efficiency of the services provided in cities such as transportation, industry, service providers, construction, health care and education, among others. These are integrated services which add value for users and society in general, and which moreover enable governments to gather information based on which they will be able to review and redefine their urban development and social inclusion strategies.
Telefónica is one example of a telco that has taken this concept to heart and offers different Green ICT services, in order to collaborate in the development of sustainability and intelligence in cities, and to reduce carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. Examples of these services are virtual meetings, building automation systems and
climate monitoring tools.
In turn, on the market there are a wide variety of innovative applications for smartphones aimed at providing information about traffic, routes, cycle paths, etc., in different cities. Examples of these applications are:
- Ride the City, an application capable of tracing cycling routes in different cities.
- Bike Hire App, which makes it possible to consult the availability of bicycles and parking spaces within the vicinity, in the city of Barcelona.
- Cycle Hire Widget, which includes weather information for the city.
- Carpooling or Blablacar, which put different users who need to use the same routes at the same time in contact with each other.
- WAZE, providing information on the traffic in real time.
- ElectriCar, to find the nearest charging points, among other features.
Another important point is to understand the importance of the creation of standards which make it possible to produce benchmarks and replicate the best Green ICT service practices in different cities around the world. These standards make it possible to unify criteria for the study, development and implementation of new services, and also for the measurement and constant improvement of already-existing services.
It’s clear that Smart Cities represent a new opportunity to innovate looking towards economic growth, social development and integration, and environmental sustainability, with the ultimate aim of improving people’s quality of life and their interactions with the environment around them.
And you, what do you think? We can talk about it on Twitter @Tef_green #GSWMadrid #Smartcities and during the 3rd ITU Green Standards Week (GSW), which will take place at Distrito Telefónica, from 16 to 20 September (free registration).
María Paula Sartori is graduate as Environmental Engineer from Argenitian Catholic University (UCA). She is currently working in the Climate Change & Energy Efficiency Office at Telefónica S.A. as Green ICT Services Expert, and sees green technology as a powerful way to contribute to environmental sustainability and social inclusion.