Alejandro Preinfalk
President and CEO Mexico, Central America & The Caribbean
Siemens
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Expert Contributor

The Pursuit of Resilience and the Potential of Smart Cities

By Alejandro Preinfalk | Tue, 01/04/2022 - 09:03

Facing the challenges that are constantly presented to societies around the world is not easy. We still have to overcome the effects of the global health contingency and the resulting confinement that are added to environmental pollution, economic and social crises, and overpopulation in large cities. The United Nations predicts that by 2050, two-thirds of the total population of the planet will live in cities, so to begin with, we will need to breathe cleaner air.

This is also one of the perceptions drawn in the third edition of the Smart Cities Index of the Center for Global Competitiveness of the Swiss Institute for Management Development, which is carried out annually in collaboration with the Singapore University of Technology and Design, regarding how technology contributes to meeting the challenges of megacities. According to the study, access to better air quality and health services have become the highest priorities since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Stable economic development, comprehensive public safety, reliable infrastructure, as well as sustainable and affordable housing are crucial factors that allow cities to prosper and grow. The systems that support them require an effective operation to ensure energy supply, mobility, and the provision of services such as water, communication, and health, daily and during unforeseen situations. Faced with this, their leaders have to be prepared and find new ways to plan, design, build, manage and secure cities.

Technology is key to making our communities resilient, and this, in my opinion, is the primary objective of Smart Cities. Experts on the subject define these as "a city environment that applies technology to improve the benefits and reduce the deficiencies of urbanization for its citizens." At Siemens, one of our jobs is to help them become more adaptable. For us, resilience is not just about surviving, but also about thriving.

Today, cities need critical infrastructure to continue operating despite unforeseen situations and emergencies. Automation and digitalization technologies, coupled with real-time monitoring, backup and data analysis systems, could avoid the interruption of these services. For example, a distributed electrical microgrid could guarantee the provision of electricity, even if the central network collapses.

Another key element to Smart Cities is mobility, which sustains the social and economic activity of any city in the world, making a seamless and sustainable transport infrastructure vital. However, it can be affected by natural phenomena or accidents in any of its channels or roads. With intelligent information systems supporting it, routes could be streamlined, possible failures could be predicted, and interruption periods minimized, as well as expenses due to breakdowns that could be avoided.

As for buildings, they structure the cities and provide shelter to their inhabitants, while also molding the cities’ culture and physical character, which is why they must be configured with the highest standards of safety, sustainability and functionality. Expo 2020 Dubai, which started last October and will be available until March 2022, is the best and most complete example of how technology will reshape and improve urban living in future Smart Cities. At the expo site, Siemens technology is used to connect, monitor and control more than 130 buildings, promoting energy efficiency, as well as the protection and comfort of the 25 million expected visitors. This is possible thanks to a digital system based on MindSphere, Siemens’ IoT platform that manages lighting, air conditioning, energy, air quality, fire alarms and closed video circuits, while the Industrial Internet of Things makes it possible to monitor and analyze data for important decision-making and actions.

In general terms, according to data from the consulting firm McKinsey, using big data in the operation of Smart Cities has a positive impact on efficiency (it could save up to 25 to 80 liters of water per person, per day), productivity, environmental protection, availability of services, security (there would be 30 to 40 percent fewer criminal incidents, saving between 30 and 300 lives annually), health (there would be between 8 and 15 percent less incidence of disease), risk prevention (could improve response times to emergencies from 20 to 35 percent), time savings (the duration of daily trips to work would be reduced by 15 to 30 minutes) and, last but not least, life quality.

Analysis of supply chain data plays a key role in maintaining the resilience of cities, by identifying which parts of cities are most sensitive to disruption. This helps ensure the efficient and timely supply of food and medicine. Reducing the demand for electricity and, therefore, carbon emissions is another area in which technology is advancing. In Manchester, Siemens has been working with the city council and universities to equalize peak demand on the electricity grid and increase local use of cleaner and renewable energy.

However, to ensure the participation of the inhabitants of Smart Cities, the technologies involved in their processes must be easy to use and convenient for them, as well as safe. A possible barrier to the success of automation is the resistance of people to share their personal information; but this may change if they are shown how it would benefit urban living, guaranteeing data protection and transparency regarding how and for what ends it will be used.

To create the resilient and sustainable urban environments we need for the future, we must get better at analyzing data. This requires close cooperation between companies and the public sector. Only then we will realize the full potential of digitalization to transform cities. To generate this impact, industry, academia and civil society must also be involved, working together, and spreading the benefits of the aforementioned technologies.

To find out how Expo 2020 Dubai is a blueprint for future Smart Cities, go to https://new.siemens.com/global/en/company/topic-areas/expo-2020-dubai.html  

Photo by:   Alejandro Preinfalk