Berenice Mann summarises some key takeaways from the recent Smart Cities Conference in Cambridge

So, recently, I attended the Cambridge Cleantech Futures Conference

“Smart Cities: From Leading Edge Thinking to Commercial Delivery Solutions and Contract Opportunities”.

And what did you learn, I hear you ask, in your day out of the office?

There were some interesting talks on a variety from ‘Global strategic trends: why smart cities are essential’ (Sir Paul Judge) to case studies varying from the low carbon smart city of Dezhou, China to a smart lighting project in Hampshire.

We learned about low carbon concrete, smart water networks, smart energy grids and smart car apps, among others.

For me the key takeaways are these:

There are numerous ways to go about creating Smart Cities, and we in the UK are lagging. I was speaking at a smart city event in Cambridge recently and, as the warm up act, I mentioned some of the drivers that were reiterated at this event, and they are almost all pain drivers:

  • Resource shortages (water, energy etc) and the need to manage them more efficiently
  • Follow the money (as ever!). The budget cuts for local authorities means that many are trying to reduce costs
  • Reduce traffic congestion and pollution (need I say more in Cambridge?)
  • Reduce carbon footprint – unfortunately not a key driver at the moment compared with money – how can we raise the importance of environmental issues?

The other issue that is crucial is how to go about creating smart cities:

  • Top down or bottom up? – these are questions that seem to stop people in their tracks – but does it matter as long as we DO something?
  • Suggested pilot schemes to prove the concept for city councils (for example) are smart lighting and smart bins – these are proven ways to reduce costs and provide a communication network that can be reused for further ‘smarts’.

Top down or bottom up is a key question – in some areas such as Milton Keynes, the Smart City projects are funded by a research grant and managed by the University allowing small technical companies to take part and show what they can do.

In other places they have chosen to tackle one project, such as street lighting or smart waste collection, to make cost savings. This is a good start but is not necessarily going to roll out a smart city and is not even seen as a smart city pilot, but a stand-alone project. A vision at the beginning would make this a more effective strategy that could be built upon. For example smart lighting saves energy and reduces carbon footprint as well as saving money.

In other places, such as Dezhou, the government has decided to create a smart city and they have included specific goals: renewable energy, low carbon footprint and having a beautiful city to live in. It’s certainly a good idea to have some overarching aims to work towards and, importantly, to remember that people have to live there.

If this conference has achieved one thing, I hope it is to encourage the local authorities, architects and developers to think more broadly, realise that we do already have the technology to enable smart living and cleaner urban areas and create strategy and policies which enable cities and developments, if not completely smart, to at least be much smarter.


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