Friday, December 2, 2022
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Hello again, (I'm Roberto Brasero) in this new installment of Planet Energy we’re going to take a close look at Smart and sustainable cities. On how innovation and technology can improve the quality of life of the inhabitants of a large city.
"Welcome to my (smart) city. Come, take a look, and above all, listen!
Thank you, here we go! This is the sound we’re normally used to......
And this would be the perfect sound...
Yes, silence...or maybe this one’s better....
Yes, I know it may be a utopia, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be an objective.
Let's get back to reality: the world is becoming increasingly urbanized. More than half of the world's population lives in cities, and this figure will reach 60% by 2030, some 5 billion inhabitants, according to United Nations forecasts.
And that can lead - or is already leading - to urban sprawl where services are overburdened and air pollution worsens, among other things.
In fact, according to the UN, cities account for 60% of the world's GDP, but they also account for about 70% of global carbon emissions and more than 60% of resource use and energy consumption.
For all these reasons, one of the Sustainable Development Goals, number 11, focuses on the need to make cities more inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.
And that's where smart cities come into play: places where technology is used to improve decision-making about how they function. But that’s not all, as Julia Moreno, manager of the Forética organization’s Sustainable Cities 2030 initiative, points to a broader concept: the sustainable city.
"A city that is able to adapt to possible changes from an environmental, social, and governance point of view, as well as to the shocks that are happening around the world and that specifically affect cities."
Joan Ricard, head of IESE Cities in Motion, explains how the coronavirus pandemic has provided an impetus to work in this direction.
"The pandemic has taught us to move more decisively towards sustainability, security, and resilience. It has served as proof that technology can help us, and that it can unite intelligence with the development of a more sustainable city.”
Urban environments are hot spots of activity and therefore areas that are likely to suffer from air pollution or waste accumulation, which have a big impact on the environment and on the health of its citizens. We need cities that can adapt, but that can also mitigate their effects on the environment.
"Adaptation to climate change is crucial. We need more resilient urban infrastructures, we need green areas, we need to incorporate nature to better adapt to the effects of these heat waves, and the effects of sea level rise, extreme weather, storms, and floods. All of this requires cities that are much more adapted and resilient."
The challenges are enormous... and one of the main ones is city design, urban planning, especially in continents such as Asia and Africa, where population growth is very high... but also in more well-established cities.
"One of the most important challenges is making headway on designing more compact cities, where everything is nearby, as can be seen in the concept of the 15-minute city that is being implemented in Paris or the concept of superblocks in Barcelona."
For all this, progress towards energy efficiency, renewable energies, and green electrification is needed in order to try to reduce emissions in cities as much as possible and their impact. And, among other things, focusing on buildings is key.
"We need to work on buildings especially, on their energy renovation. There is a whole wave of renovation happening, the Renovation Wave, a plan to transform the relatively old buildings in Europe and try to move in that direction with new lighting, by using technology to make all the processes more efficient, and by using new materials to improve insulation."
A lot of work remains to be done in the area of mobility, one of the aspects that impacts cities the most, where almost 40% of emissions come from the transportation sector.
"There are examples of companies that are working on their vehicle fleets and that are even supporting issues such as sustainable logistics in the cities themselves and the development of low-emission zones, which are already regulated through the law on climate change and energy transition. They're even promoting active mobility, such as cycling and walking."
London, New York, Paris, Tokyo, Berlin... These are the cities that use the most innovative tools to build smarter and more sustainable cities, according to the IESE Cities in Motion ranking. And Asian cities are also being noticed:
"Where a lot of progress is being made at the moment is in Asian cities, in China, Singapore, Dubai, and at a slightly slower pace than the United States and Europe."
In Spain, Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, and Malaga rank first, followed by Mallorca, A Coruña, Zaragoza, Bilbao, and Murcia.
Cities that offer real solutions to the real problems its citizens have, and initiatives such as, for example, the first hydrogen bus on an urban line in Torrejón; the 20,000 sensors installed in Santander to monitor and measure traffic, parking, and waste management; or how Valencia has become the European capital of smart tourism and is the first city in the world to measure the carbon and water footprint of tourism.
And, if we look at examples from abroad, in South Korea we have the city of Songdo which was designed from the ground up to be smart and green, with most of the homes connected so that they can be controlled remotely... or there’s the city of Malmö, in Sweden, with an electricity system that’s based entirely on renewable energies.
Undoubtedly, technology is a fundamental pillar of Smart Cities, but it also leads to one of the population's biggest fears, the fear that it may invade citizens’ privacy.
For everything to move forward, it's essential that all the actors involved collaborate. From central and local governments to companies and, of course, society, each and every one of us:
"If you think about the mobility ecosystem that we have in place today, it requires much more complex governance to make it all work. Collaboration (public-private) is very important, we must be very clear about where we want to go, what the strategy is, and we must be open to innovation. These three elements are the fundamental triangle for moving forward".
And of course, the priority of Smart Cities must be people, social cohesion, and putting technology at the service of citizens. Laura García de Miguel, an architect specialized in Smart Cities and head of Cepsa Service Stations project planning:
"We cannot forget that Smart Cities focus above all on citizens by trying to respond to their main problems and encouraging them to take part in urban processes. Their main objective is to become sustainable cities from an economic, social, and environmental point of view. Solutions must be thought of by and for people, and real solutions to today’s problems must be found.”
Cities, without people, would be nothing more than empty structures.
You have listened to Planet Energy, a podcast promoted by Cepsa to share the challenges of the present and future of energy and sustainability.