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As the pace of technology and its integration into society accelerates at an exponential rate, many municipalities around the world are aiming to transition to smart cities in order to take advantage of new waves of technology to improve the lives of their citizens and the economy of their cities through the creation of new, technology focused industries.
Smart City

In this Industry Insight, Powerstar has summarised what a smart city is whilst observing the requirements for smart cities to become commonplace. This includes:

  • What is a smart city?
  • Which cities are currently smart?
  • The growth of the smart city
  • The role of energy in the smart city
  • The benefits of energy storage within a smart city


What is a smart city?

Although the concept of a smart city can be easily understood as a futuristic, technology-centric city, the definition by Juniper Research suggests “A smart city is an urban ecosystem that places emphasis on the use of digital technology, shared knowledge and cohesive processes to underpin benefits in sectors such as mobility, public safety, health and productivity”1 is the most all-encompassing way of defining exactly what is meant when the term ‘smart city’ is used. This definition highlights the crucial aspects of a smart city such as it being an interdependent system, and the advantages that can be gained from smart cities should be used to improve the quality of life, deliver commercial benefit and increase the economy for citizens in those cities.

In addition to this, the definition also hints at a driving factor in all smart city technology, connectivity to the Internet of Things (IoT). The Internet of Things is essentially the connecting of large numbers of sensors, devices and computers together throughout an urban landscape via the internet, to gather data for use in increasing the performance efficiency of a city2. Due to the amount of big data that IoT can collect, it is a prerequisite for any smart city and the quality of a city’s IoT system can be a major contributing factor in the success, or failure, of a smart city.


Which cities are currently smart?

With many global cities aiming to become smart cities for a variety of reasons, it can often be difficult to ascertain which of these stand up to scrutiny as being smart. The 2017 Smart Cities Index studied 500 cities worldwide and analysed these cities on 19 factors, such as sustainability and digitalisation, which led to a top 3, in ascending order of Stockholm, Singapore, and Copenhagen3.


The growth of the smart city

The growth of smart cities is inevitable due to the growth of cities themselves. The growth of urban living is set to continue as 66% of the global population is forecasted to be living in cities by 2050, at which point the global population is expected to be 9.5 billion2.

In the UK urban living is already how the majority of us live, with 82% of the nation living in cities. Again this is projected to grow to 89% by 2050, at which point the UK’s population is expected to be 73 million.

Due to this increased level of urbanisation, the development of smart cities could be seen as a practical necessity to enable such a high volume of people to live in cramped city locations. The advantages of smart cities go further than simply helping congested cities become more efficient as next generation technologies, such as blockchain, that help develop them can create industries that have far reaching impacts on the economy.

This can be seen in projections which predict that the implementation of smart city technologies could have a positive multiplier effect of a 5% incremental GDP growth globally over the next decade4. It is in these projections that the ability of smart cities to transform people’s lives is most visible as smart cities can lead to economic prosperity and, in turn, increased quality of life.


The role of energy in the smart city

Due to the amount of data and connectivity required for a smart city, it is to be expected that they will be increasingly energy intensive. It has been claimed that there will be a requirement for 24/7 reliability of the electricity supply in cities, 365 days a year2.

Due to the increased use of energy in the modern world, the centralised energy system, known as the National Grid is being placed under ever greater stress. This is unsurprising given the age of the National Grid, however it is in urgent need of correcting as increasing energy usage on the current network increases the possibility of power failures which could be catastrophic to a service led economy such as the UK which relies upon a secure supply of energy to remain functional on a day-to-day basis.

This is especially important considering the current global energy transition which is taking place in the attempts to decarbonise in the wake of the Paris Climate Agreement to limit the rise of global temperatures to less than 2°c 5.

The decarbonisation effort requires the transition from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources and promotes increasing the proportion of green energy into the energy mix such as wind and solar, this is clearly seen in the UK with wind generation in the first quarter of 2018 found to be at a record high6. However, as wind and solar are intermittent sources their variability needs to be reduced so that there are few periods where too little energy is available to match demand or too much energy is wasted.

This is why solutions such as energy storage are so important. Energy storage solutions can store the energy from renewable sources and then time-shift the energy so it can be utilised after initial generation, at a time most beneficial. This can help solve both parts of the variability issue as previously stored energy can be used when the renewable generation is low, and on the other hand, when generation outstrips demand the energy can be stored instead of going to waste.


The benefits of energy storage within a smart city

Aside from capacity firming, another benefit of energy storage that is key to its implementation in smart cities, is the ability for energy storage solutions, to be integrated with a smart grid and help form microgrids as part of a decentralised energy network. A microgrid can operate independently of the main, centralised grid through the generation and trading of locally generated energy. This could be used in smart cities to take strain away from the main grid and to enable users to effectively manage their energy. The uptake of microgrids could allow authorities to achieve their aims in the energy transition, for example, the London Energy Project has an objective to offer “improved and transformative energy supply contracts for 2020, to deal with the ever more complex electricity market”7. The ability of microgrids to be transformative is unquestioned and would represent a change in the way that energy is supplied in response to a more complex market.

In addition to this, leading-edge energy storage solutions, such as Powerstar VIRTUE, can provide reliability to the electrical supply as they offer Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) capabilities. Integrated full UPS capabilities can provide rapid or even seamless support that can connect to the load within milliseconds of an energy-related failure, such as a blackout or brownout, being detected. With the aforementioned importance of maintaining the electricity supply on a continuous basis in smart cities, the UPS capabilities provided by leading-edge energy storage technologies could be pivotal in maintaining the functionality of the smart cities of the future.

Due to this, it seems that somewhat paradoxically, the development of energy intensive smart cities could actually further accelerate the energy transition. This is because the technologies that could help develop a cleaner energy network are already being produced and the needs of smart cities to enhance the quality of life of citizens in conjunction with being innovative could lead to a greater interest, awareness and implementation of microgrid systems that maximise the amount of renewables on the network.

It seems that the development of the smart city is inevitable and that, if managed properly, smart cities could raise the quality of life of their citizens. However, the energy intensive nature of smart cities needs to be met through low-carbon means such as by harnessing the benefits of energy storage, if Governments are to reach climate goals set out in the Paris Climate Change Agreement.


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