As more people move to the cities, global urban population is expected to reach 66% by 2050. The higher city influx means that there will be a marked increase in consumption of resources such as fossil fuels, water and food, resulting in even more environmental concerns like waste management, air and water pollution.
Given how rapid urbanisation and development will surely impact natural resources, climate change, traffic congestion and quality of life, smart cities are looked upon as the solution for sustainable and innovative transformation.
What is a smart city?
The term ‘smart city’ may be a popular buzzword these days but it is not entirely a new concept as it first appeared back in the 1990s when there were already aspirations for a more efficient future. Today, we are a little closer towards our goal of establishing smart cities, integrating physical infrastructure with sustainable smart technologies into our daily lives in the hopes of a more efficient way of living to reduce environmental footprint.
A successful smart city strategy hinges on the ability for cities to integrate and innovate on key domains such as environment and energy, technology and mobility, health and living, safety and security, and government and policies. It is also about better use of resources, reducing wastage and adopting a sustainable lifestyle as we strive towards a better quality of life.
Building smarter green developments
Sustainability has far-reaching impact on urban growth and development, changing the way buildings are constructed and how the surrounding infrastructure is planned. Developers are paying more attention to calls for more green buildings as they are projected to give better economic savings in the long run, in terms of energy, maintenance and operational cost savings. Green buildings have been found to result in 20% lower maintenance cost and 17% higher in occupancy rates.
Energy efficient buildings focus on improving energy consumption and optimising the building’s energy performance. By harnessing renewable energy sources, energy bills can be significantly reduced by as much as 25%. This can be accomplished by implementing simple measures such as using more LED light bulbs and energy efficient cooling and heating systems to larger scale efforts like installing rooftop photovoltaic solar panels and having designs that capture and maximise natural lighting. Solar power, a clean energy source, can be used to power and heat up buildings as well as warm water, and does not produce greenhouse gases or other air pollutants.
Besides using sustainable materials in its construction with minimal impact on the natural environment, smart cities also need to take into account waste management, pollution levels and recycling efforts. A more efficient waste management system reduces waste output and optimises the output through reuse, recycling and energy recovery. Smart city dwellers can then look forward to lower carbon emissions, savings in terms of cost and increased recycling rates, and a greener and more comfortable living habitat.
World’s smartest cities
According to the 2020 Smart City Index, cities such as Zurich, Helsinki and Singapore are among the world’s smartest cities, based on economic and technological data from www.earth.org.
Helsinki has one of the world’s most advanced underground waste management systems called the Envac automated waste collection system which uses a series of pneumatic tubes hidden underground to transport recycling and waste to a central processing facility (www.socapglobal.com).
Singapore has seen a 21% growth in the number of BCA Green Mark Awards (Building and Construction Authority), from 347 awarded in 2017 to 420 in 2018. The country has also effectively introduced contactless payment technology for its 7.5 million public transport passengers through its Smart Nation initiative. There are plans for a new vehicle-free eco-smart forest city that will have five residential districts with 42,000 houses in the western region of the country.
In Malaysia, green buildings are assessed and rated according to The Green Building Index (GBI) along with an accreditation panel established by the Malaysian Institute of Architects (Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia/PAM) that ensures they qualify for the category. One example of a development that has sought to fill this green market niche is Bukit Bintang City Centre (BBCC) in Kuala Lumpur which has state-of-the-art energy efficiency technology and comprehensive green design, given a Gold Rating in GBI certification. Malaysia’s tallest building, the PNB 188 skyscraper, will also be within this development.
Driving into the future
Transportation plays a crucial role in smart cities and seeing how it contributes to more than a quarter of global carbon emissions, a green transport revolution is clearly in order. Globally, cities are investing in improving their public transportation systems, setting up car-free zones and encouraging the use of electric vehicles to avoid congestion and reduce pollution.
Helsinki, for example, has managed to reduce emission by 27% compared with 1990, and aims to go carbon neutral by 2035. By then, the city hopes to lower traffic emissions by 69% and use only electric buses while expanding its EV car charging networks.
The current push for electric vehicles (EV) is not about to change the car industry overnight, but it does provide one of the means to reduce emissions.
In the recent Budget 2022, Finance Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz announced that the government will provide full exemption from import and excise duties, as well as sales tax for EVs to support the development of the local EV industry. Furthermore, EVs will also get road tax exemption of up to 100%, in addition to individual income tax relief of up to RM2,500 on the cost of purchase, installation, rent, hire purchase as well as subscription fees for EV charging facilities.
These EV-related incentives will go a long way towards the development of green and low-carbon technologies in tandem with the implementation of Malaysia’s Low Carbon Mobility Blueprint.
In time to come, it will become economically more viable to make the switch from cars using fossil fuels to EV as green technology picks up pace and accelerates the progress of EV charging infrastructure. With a sustainable and more effective transportation system, it is possible to envision to a future with fewer cars on the roads and fewer traffic mishaps, enjoy better community living and breathe in cleaner air.