As our cities become increasingly smart, we need to ask ourselves, ‘what we should use this level of intelligence for’? In the worst-case scenario, smart cities will just help corporations maximise profits. Alternatively, smart cities can make our lives easier, can help us save money, and they can make us more environmentally friendly.
Traffic management has been one of the first things that smart cities have been able to help us with. In the UK, congestion cost the economy £8 billion in 2018. Traffic jams waste time and money and they also massively increase the amount of CO2 we pump into the atmosphere.
Smart cities use video detection and radar to detect traffic data. Drivers and public transport users can access this data via a mobile app. This allows them to make better decisions about transport, reducing congestion. In Pittsburgh, USA, after implementing a smart traffic management system, vehicle emissions dropped by 21%. Studies have shown that the adoption of similar technology over the whole EU could reduce traffic emissions by 16%.
Smart energy can reduce reliance on the national grid. Local smart grids in individual towns and cities allow peer-to-peer energy sales. By installing solar panels on as many homes as possible we can allow people to become producers and consumers of electricity. This will allow consumers greater choice in where their energy comes from. This means we can quickly move from fossil fuels to renewable forms of energy.
Using blockchain these smart grids will allow energy producers to sell any excess electricity to their friends and neighbours. Smart contracts can be automatically executed when a producer is selling energy at a competitive rate. This way smart cities can save the climate whilst also saving us money.
One great opportunity with smart cities is that we can learn how and when to use different resources rather than having them always switched on and draining energy that no one is using. Smart streetlights will track foot traffic, dimming and brightening as required. By monitoring energy usage we will also be able to predict when a streetlight will cut out and carry out maintenance to keep it operable.