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The challenge is to crack the right combination of facilities and technologies from the best practices worldwide
“Smart Cities” is a trendy term garnering high-level of attention in India lately. Though a lot has have been written on what Smart Cities are and what India should be looking at, the bigger question is how to make cities more sustainable, energy-efficient and eco-friendly.
The concept of Smart Cities is based on ecologically-friendly urban settlements that exploit technology to offer a more structured living environment. Such cities would have a centralized control system that provides authorities with real-time data on the availability of water, electricity, education, public transportation and sanitation — the basic modern-day needs.
But just providing smart services is not enough for a sustainable future. The basics of planning, designing and construction of Smart Cities should also conform to smart and sustainability standards. This was the essence of one of the thematic sessions at the Fifth US-India Energy Partnership Summit held in Washington DC earlier this month. The Summit was organized by The Energy and Resources Institute North America (TERI NA) and Yale University. The debate comes in the wake of Prime Minister Narendra Modi announcing plans to develop 100 smart cities across India and allocating Rs 7,060 crore in the Union Budget 2014.
“It is a unique opportunity. If 100 cities in India can really become a sort of a benchmark of environmentally responsible habitat development, then I think this would be a powerful message for others also,” says Dr R K Pachauri, President TERI NA and head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Panelists at the Summit reiterated the need to build efficiency in cities and saving energy through various measures, including adoption and implementation of green building codes. “The concept of Smart Cities needs to be defined in a more detailed manner. The key issue is modifying the process of urbanization — planning and investment — and then integrating it with the new data streams we have at present. This will allow the stakeholders to take decisions on operations and city planning. The challenge is to develop a system, which is not only more efficient, but is also manageable and sustainable for years,” says Prof Uwe S Brandes, Executive Director, Urban and Regional Planning Program, Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies.
Experts said in existing smart cities such as Amsterdam, Barcelona, Osaka (which has adopted ‘Osaka Environment Vision’ to adopt environmentally sustainable solutions), Masdar in Abu Dhabi, smart networks are monitoring people, cars, electricity, water and other infrastructure. For example, intelligent transportation systems can improve traffic flow; smart lighting can be provided by the use of solar panels; and, these can be controlled wirelessly or through surveillance systems in crowded public.
“There are a few key elements we need to consider for building Smart Cities –adopting solar modules for every house to generate electricity, setting up of vehicle emission standards and houses that consume less resource. A vital ingredient in achieving the vision will be information and communications technology,” said Venkatesh Valluri, Chairman & President, Ingersoll Rand India Region.
Other participants reinforced the need for public-private partnerships, a federal loan-guarantee programme similar to that of the US Department of Energy, and a better way for financiers, contractors, and government to connect. “We have an unprecedented opportunity to form partnerships, particularly private-public, private-private and intergovernmental partnerships, to address urban challenges,” adds Valluri.
Besides, the experts emphasised the energy challenges for the smooth functioning of the Smart Cities, namely, uninterrupted power supply and a robust cyber connectivity system. Accelerating energy efficiency, as India is witnessing skyrocketing growth in the buildings market, and this provides a huge opportunity to generate energy savings that translate directly to financial savings. The reduced demand for energy also has huge public health benefits, addressing the climate change, and bridges the widening gap between India’s energy production and demand.
“We are in an era of overuse of energy consumption. We need to find ways to reduce consumption. New technologies in lighting and cooling are helping us achieve this goal. Low-energy cooling systems in India have a very significant role to play. TERI has been working in this area,” says Mili Majumdar, Director, Sustainable Habitat, TERI.
It is clear that ‘Smart Cities’ are far from a one-size-fits-all concept. Every potential project in every city should be subjected to a rigorous and consistent analysis to ensure that the ‘Smart Cities’ strategy adopted by any specific city is the most appropriate for that city. The challenge at present is to adopt the best practices available and internalise high-tech solutions within the existing social ethos, urban planning and governance of the country. This could be achieved if the 100 smart cities project focuses on sustainable urbanisation, good governance, transparent metrics and reporting and, importantly, keeping poor people in the mind.