Smarter cities can accelerate sustainable change in APAC

smart cities citizen engagement
Image credit: Jesus Sanz |

Here’s what we can do to ensure sustainable smart cities are built to meet our needs while maintaining high standards of living.

The development of digital technologies has advanced quicker than any other type of innovation in the world’s history – reaching around 50% of the developing world’s population within two decades. This veritable force has made a profound impact on both consumers and businesses in developing a society that is truly connected.

Smart city thinking of today is dominated by how we can continue to digitally transform sustainably and with resilience, while enhancing our entire ecosystem. The increase in APAC’s urban population coupled with the urgent call to keep global warming in check has put us at the breaking point to balance socio, economic and technological advancements, with our planet’s resources for generations to come.

As APAC strives towards a more sustainable future, what else can we do to build sustainable cities that meet our needs while creating or maintaining high standards of living?

The four fundamental pillars for smarter cities

A smart city is built on four fundamental pillars, namely – smart utilities, smart buildings, smart transportation and infrastructure, and smart industries. The starting point for any smart city framework and collaborative model is to recognise that these pillars are fundamentally interrelated, with co-dependencies that require a multifunctional approach across all elements to make up a city’s ecosystem.

Cities and provinces in Vietnam, for instance, are basing smart utilities and buildings as the foundation for their smart city programmes. The difference in every city brings a unique challenge for Vietnam to conquer. However, the use of technologies to support its smart city programmes remains the common denominator to manage electricity consumption, encouraging greater energy efficiency within buildings. For example, Viettel Group–a telecommunications company–has revamped its headquarters in Hanoi to reduce energy consumption through the ABB i-bus® KNX system which intelligently manages components such as lighting and shutter control, heating, ventilation, security and energy.

Next, we need to look at the system that powers these advancements. Smarter grid systems, greener transport infrastructures, and formal access to electric power will form the blueprint of a smart city. In today’s new world of electrical power distribution with integrated renewables, the adoption of smart energy distribution will be key in supporting energy efficiency and ensuring minimal power losses. Without investment in power systems, digital adoption only adds to urban pollution problems.

Take Singapore’s Green Plan 2030 – the roadmap outlines green targets to achieve its long-term net-zero emissions goal. A key pillar is its ‘Energy Reset’ pillar, which includes initiatives such as installing 60,000 electric vehicle (EV) charging points by 2030, with 8 EV-ready towns by 2023, and to green 80% of Singapore’s buildings by improving energy efficiency.

A framework supported by policies and private partnerships

The Australian government is also supporting the push for smart cities, with a total of A$50 million being set aside for a “Smart Cities and Suburb Program” which aims to support the delivery of innovative smart city projects across Australia. 

Over in Indonesia, the government kickstarted the “100 Smart Cities Movement” in 2017 to help the developing country address urbanization issues as almost 83% of the population is expected to live in urban areas by 2045. With two pioneer cities, Jakarta and Bandung, the government is encouraging other cities to collaborate with private stakeholders in managing issues and providing necessary resources.

From developing countries to more mature markets, it is evident that success in the urban ecosystem can only be achieved when new synergies form between public and private agencies. Through the expertise of private players and support from the government in regulation, countries will be able to develop a clear framework that balances the long-term vision for your smart city with the implications for critical infrastructures in the ecosystem.

COVID has only accelerated Smart City initiatives

The pandemic has further underlined the importance of smart cities. Just last year, the Japanese government announced that it would create a new digital agency to pave the way for the country’s digital transformation – which was enthusiastically received by the population as a step in the right direction to improve the economy. The digital initiatives will be focused around “Society 5.0” which aims to integrate the possibilities of digital technologies with human needs. This aligns with the vision of smart cities, which is also aimed at improving the lives of urban residents.

Smarter cities for a smarter society

Indeed, as countries across APAC embrace digitalisation and transform to create smarter cities, the human element must not be forgotten.

While smart cities benefit from deeper insights and data, unlocking the potential of creating cost-efficient, flexible and future-proof solutions for safer and more reliable systems; we need to remember who these systems are being built for.

Smart cities are built by the people, for the people – to create societies where citizens benefit from improved mobility and accessibility, utilities services, and most importantly, a better quality of life.

By Andrew Stepien, Manager, APAC Electrification Distribution Solutions, ABB

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