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Energy

What Is a Smart City?

Friday, Apr 02, 2021 - 4 mins

A photo of Singapore's waterfront.
A photo taken from Singapore's waterfront. Singapore is considered to be the smartest city in the world.

As cities grow in size and population, the energy demands of our digitally connected lives are growing with it. Now, with smart cities, we have an opportunity to make urban life more efficient while also reducing our environmental impact on the planet.

Let’s explore what a smart city is, what they offer residents, the challenges of powering them—and how REEF would like to help.

What Is a Smart City?

A smart city is an urban area that integrates technology throughout many of its essential operations—like traffic management, waste management, and parking management.

Using a series of complex sensors and electronic devices, smart cities can send, receive, and analyze data in real time. This data helps local governments manage city services and resources more efficiently, and in a manner that minimizes waste. Smart cities also collect data about daily living, helping the local government to better respond and adapt to residents’ specific needs.

What Can Smart Cities Do?

Here are just a few examples of the ways smart cities can make life better for residents:

  • Waste management: A traditional public garbage bin doesn’t have a way of knowing or communicating when it’s full. But a smart garbage bin, like those found in Barcelona, can use sensors to monitor its capacity. It can then send a signal when it’s getting full, so that crews can be dispatched to empty it before it overflows.
  • Traffic management: A standard traffic light works on a fixed timer. Smart traffic lights constantly monitor the roads using data from a wide range of sources—like sensors, cameras, GPS in vehicles, and even cell phones. Smart traffic lights can detect changes in the flow of vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian traffic and adjust traffic lights and pedestrian signals to keep people moving with minimum delays.

    Smart traffic lights can also detect changing weather conditions that might affect safety and lengthen the timing of amber and red lights to accommodate. And because they reduce the time that cars spend waiting in intersections, smart traffic lights can also help reduce vehicle idling—better for people and the planet.
Some traffic lights in Toronto have been retrofitted to sense congestion and adjust their timers accordingly.
  • Utilities management: Standard city utilities rely on routine inspections to avoid major damage. But smart city’s sensors help local governments take more preventative steps in the care of city utilities. For example, sensors can warn electrical engineers about weaknesses or faults in infrastructure long before a power failure occurs. Smart water mains can detect the earliest signs of leaks, so repairs can be made before there’s a catastrophic break.
  • Transportation management: Ever waited for a bus that never arrived? Smart cities provide residents with real-time access to transit data. This can take place on site (for example, through a digital sign in a bus shelter), or through a smartphone app. When residents are alerted about service interruptions, commuters can choose the most efficient way to reach their destination.
A digital bus sign shows estimated arrival times in Uxbridge, England.

Behind the scenes, sensors on transit systems can also automatically adjust the spacing between buses, streetcars, and subway trains, so commuters can travel with fewer delays.

  • Energy usage: A typical streetlamp turns on—and stays on—for a fixed duration. But in a smart city, sensors in sidewalks can trigger streetlamps to dim when there are no pedestrians. This leads to lower power usage and less light pollution.
Smart street lamps in Tokyo, Japan.
  • Electric vehicle usage: A non-connected electric vehicle (EV) charger does nothing more than allow users to charge their car. Smart EV chargers are Wi-Fi enabled, so drivers can monitor their charge progress remotely. Most also allow for participation in demand response utility programs. This means they can communicate with each other and with the grid, automatically delivering power at off-peak times or switching to alternate sources of energy (like solar panels) when available. This can save money and help to balance the grid.

How Are Smart Cities Powered?

At the heart of any smart city are the connections between smart devices. Just like the smart devices in your home, smart cities use a complex system of artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT), and cloud computing technologies.

All of these elements, however, rely on one fundamental thing: power—and lots of it.

Most cities rely on one main power grid serving a large area. As demand continues to grow, these grids can become overwhelmed. They’re also susceptible to extreme weather (as seen during Texas’ big freeze), and cyber attacks (as seen in the Ukraine), the impact of which can be felt by millions of people.

Decentralizing the grid can help. This means smart cities would instead draw energy from hundreds—even thousands—of smaller sources of power spread out throughout the city. These sources of power are sometimes known as “microgrids.” We believe decentralization is essential to building successful smart cities—and we’d like to help accelerate the trend.

How Can REEF Help Power Smart Cities?

We’re building an adaptable battery storage network to help support the many product and service offerings that occupy our neighborhood hubs. This means our customers and clients don’t have to worry about having an “off” day.

A REEF Energy storage unit occupies just 1-3 parking spaces and can store power in case of a grid outage.

Occupying the equivalent of just 1-3 parking spaces, each of our portable batteries can support the electric vehicle, e-scooter, and e-bike charging stations we provide in our hubs.

But beyond supporting smart mobility methods, our battery storage system can keep businesses running in cost-effectively when demand on the grid is high. They can store the additional power generated by solar panels installed on surface lots, helping property owners to use energy more responsibly.

Would you like to learn more about our smart energy solutions? Get in touch with a member of our energy team.

Closer Customers.

Happier Communities.

Growing Businesses.

REEF is here to help.