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Get smart, get efficient

Date: 14/10/2013 | Author: Paul Sanderson

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Smart city technology could transform the way we deal with waste, transport, water and energy as a new report discovers


Technology is transforming our lives as smart phones and computing power enable us to do things we have never been able to do before.

But technology could also have a revolutionary effect on us by improving the services in the cities where 80 per cent of the UK’s population lives.

A new report commissioned by the Department of Business, Innovations and Skills looks at smart cities and how intelligent technology could enhance our quality of life in urban environments.

Indeed, this Global Market Opportunities and UK Capabilities for Future Smart Cities written by Arup Director Volker Buscher, suggests that the smart cities industry could be worth a total of $400 billion globally by 2020 with the UK taking a 10 per cent share worth £25 billion.

The report looks at five key verticals that it argues could benefit from smart city technological uptake. These are: water, waste, energy, transport and assisted living.

So what are the benefits of smart cities?

David Willetts Universities and Science MinisterUniversities and Science Minister David Willetts says: “The opportunity to develop new technologies for smart cities in the UK is massive. We want to make sure that we are at the forefront of this digital revolution so we can stay ahead in the global race designing new innovations in the UK and exporting them across the world.

“With around 80 per cent of the UK’s population living in cities, we need to ensure that they are fit for purpose in the digital age. Through our information economy strategy we will support cities to improve energy efficiency, reduce carbon emissions and save money.”

The report says: “Smart solutions across the verticals optimise resource through better information on where resources are being consumed.

“This information enables better monitoring and management on the part of the utility and also enables consumers to make more informed use of resources, and lower their consumption.

“This in turn reduces utility operating costs and extends the operating life of existing infrastructure. Smart technologies also provide opportunities for new services to citizens.”

But the report warns that taking each of the five verticals in isolation will not lead to smart solutions, but Government needs to take a lead in removing barriers to innovation and facilitating collaboration between multiple diverse actors.

It adds: “There is a need for cities and government to take a cross-sectoral approach. Cities and government have traditionally considered these resources by verticals: energy, water, waste, transport and health have been considered and managed separately.

“Our study takes the same approach since the deployment of smart solutions has happened largely within these vertical value chains, without much interaction between different verticals.

“However, cities are starting to look at smart city solutions as part of a more integrated approach to information technology and data.

“Furthermore, they are looking to smart solutions and open data to address wider economic and social challenges. This cross-sectoral approach leads to additional opportunities for cities and citizens, and should also yield additional opportunities for UK industry.”

The report gives four key recommendations. These are:

  • The five verticals studied in the report are fundamentally material to our society and economy, and government has an enabling role. Government should collaborate with cities, business, and academia to help form a vision of how cities and the five verticals will benefit from smart city solutions. Relevant departments and regulators in each of the five verticals should commit to this vision and a roadmap for deployment. This would give industry clarity on what is expected and help to address the current fragmentation of the market.The Technology Strategy Board’s Future Cities Catapult will have a role in coordinating a common vision for the sector which could be a platform for growth.
  • Cities need to develop capability in leading and facilitating collaboration with industry, academia and citizens because deploying solutions requires collaboration between different actors in the value chain. There is a role for government and its agencies in convening multiple stakeholders.
  • Large scale trials of whole systems should be implemented, with a focus on business models and deployment, rather than just technology.
  • Cities and utilities need to find ways to make it easier to deploy innovative products and services. Cities should look for ways to attract capital and create organisational structures which have the authority and capacity to deliver innovative programmes.

Material sortingFor the waste management sector, the report says much more could be done using smart technology including RFID and other tracking devices as well as develop smarter sorting and separating technology. It also suggests there is a need for better information on waste streams as a result.

The report says: “Our review of the waste management industry has indicated that there is not a significant amount of smart technology being used in the waste industry at present. Firms generally use technology to reduce cost and improve efficiencies. However, there are only a small number of examples where companies have used smart technology to create an economic benefit.

“Current economic, regulatory and environmental conditions do not appear to be driving key players in the industry towards the adoption of smart technologies. The smart waste management is a nascent market, whose true economic value and wider environmental benefits require further research in order to be fully determined.

“Waste is a by-product of economic activity and the smart management of waste will have economic implications. However, waste has never seen the same level of research, innovation, product development or investment as the water or energy sector.

“Human behaviour towards waste, its generation and treatment, plays a significant role in explaining why the uptake in smart waste management is lagging behind those of other smart sectors.”

The report suggests that there is insufficient knowledge within the waste sector of how smart technologies could be developed and that there is a lack of funding for research, innovation development, and large scale trialling of innovation.

It identifies these gaps in particular:

  • Existing waste systems do no provide/gather sufficient information (data) to enable cities to develop/manage waste more sustainably.
  • There are funding gaps in deployment of smart waste technologies for waste management companies and city councils. City councils have to prioritise where they allocate funding and since the tangible and intangible benefits of smart waste management have not been fully developed, they find it hard to provide funding for the deployment of smart technologies.
  • The UK is lacking tier one manufacturing capability (UK suppliers are not ready to supply parts in the development of new technologies). From a product development perspective, this means that most of the equipment and technology required will not be manufactured in the UK.
  • There are no British Standards or guidance notes which will lead the development and deployment of smart waste management solutions in the UK.

It suggests there are opportunities for “highly regarded” UK consultancies to provide smart infrastructure design services worldwide, UK infrastructure in terms of universities and R&D is good, and there is an opportunity for Government to procure smart technology for its use nationally.

However, implementing smart technology is also up against barriers including:

  • Understanding the problem: many counties/cities have a poor grasp of the waste they generate and its composition.
  • Realising the potential: secondary markets into which materials could be recycled/sold are often poorly defined, managed and regulated
  • Overcoming social concerns: waste management is often out of sight            and out of mind and can have a generally negative reputation in the community.
  • Optimising production: many products today are designed for a short life and to be replaced. It is often difficult to disassemble these products for recycling. By incorporating end of life considerations into the design of products, reuse and recycling can be made easier.
  • Reducing consumption: as people get richer they generate more waste. Research and trialling of mechanisms which find a way of breaking this link while still maintaining economic growth need to be undertaken.
  • Protecting the environment: the uncontrolled dumping of solid waste can have very negative impacts on the surrounding environment and human health.
  • City councils may need to review their contracts with waste collection companies to permit them to trial smart technologies.
  • While there have been huge developments in treatment technologies recently, technology barriers which these technologies face will become barriers for smart technologies in future.

The report recommends that the UK Government should explore how smart waste management could help to address issues in the UK.

It suggests that “Government has a role in convening and co-developing platforms that enable the waste industry, academic, associations, government entities utilities, SMEs and local groups to collaborate on the advancement of the waste industry.

“These platforms can contribute to the setting of vision and standards for smart waste management, as well as public engagement activities, and knowledge sharing on procurement, benefits and implementation aspects.

“One outcome of the collaboration, vision and goals driven by government, should be a roadmap or strategy for deepening academic and industrial research into innovative applications of smart waste management concepts and their tangible benefits, in conjunction with BIS and Research Councils UK.

“Supporting and encouraging R&D in areas of research that are currently under invested, such as dematerialisation, the restorative economy, new business models, and behavioural issues, will put the UK in a leading position regarding smart waste management internationally.”

The report also recommends that when it comes to local authority contracts, these should be focussed on outcome-driven models where citizens, waste producers and waste management companies are all incentivised to reduce waste and manage waste streams better.

National government should fund research into what this model would look like and then provide guidance to local authorities on local waste policies, procurement models and contracts, to encourage the use of smart technologies to deliver better outcomes.

It also recommends that UK businesses must do more work to develop a better understanding of waste.

The report adds: “The waste management industry in particular must work to develop new business models and a clearer business case.

“This will require a better understanding of the tangible and intangible benefits of smart waste management solutions and the vision of future waste management.

“The industry must also collaborate more closely with the wider material and value chains – i.e. with the industries that manufacture and sell products that currently end up in disposal.

“The waste management industry must articulate more clearly how real-time information from smart waste management solutions can be used further back in the manufacturing and design stages of the cycle.

“Business is best placed to lead this collaboration, though there is a role for government.”

For more information from the full report on the four other verticals, energy, water, transport and assisted living, visit https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/249423/bis-13-1217-smart-city-market-opportunties-uk.pdf

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