Developing exemplary smart cities for a smarter world

As cities grow and the world barrels toward urbanization, it's important to stay smart about city planning. It's estimated that $10 trillion in investments will be needed for urban infrastructure by 2025. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is working to help municipalities address urbanization and integrate technology to create smart cities in its Smart Cities Initiative (SCI).

"IEEE SCI works to bring together technology, government, and society in order to foster the creation of sustainable environments that reduce environmental impacts and offer citizens a higher quality of life," says Gilles Betis, Chair of the IEEE SCI. "In working with our first round of cities, we will garner actionable knowledge that's not just technology based, but that also demonstrates how to best build effective collaboration and cohesion amongst all parties involved in smart initiatives. The lessons learned will be applicable across a wide range of cities striving to create a functioning smart city."

Building the first smart city

Guadalajara, Mexico is the first of 10 planned municipalities participating in the IEEE SCI, which launched in March 2014, followed by Wuxi, China, and Trento, Italy. The IEEE initiative enables these cities to collaborate with each other and world-renowned smart city builders and experts in addition to drawing on a pool of knowledge from IEEE volunteers.

The culture-rich, historic city center of Guadalajara with surrounding universities and a high-tech community has a lot to offer, and the city's size – 1.5 million inhabitants and 2.7 million in the metro area – and projected growth make it a good target for the SCI.

"City leaders and Mexican government officials have been fully supportive of the project, and they see it as a test bed to develop best practices and a pool of talent that can be used in cities throughout Mexico," Betis says.

Guadalajara has already started the Ciudad Creativa Digital (CCD) campaign to drive the smart city transformation and become a global center of digital media creation. To create a Smart City of Guadalajara, city and national leaders are embracing IoT, smart grid, e-health, augmented reality, and other technologies to improve and revolutionize the city.

"For Guadalajara, we hope our support of the CCD will assist in the creation of a high-quality, socially integrated urban environment that attracts employers in advertising, gaming, movies, television, and related fields," Betis says. "It is hoped this project will generate more than 20,000 high-tech jobs, stimulate many millions of dollars of investment in the state of Jalisco, and raise Guadalajara to another level of competition. According to ProMéxico, a government agency that seeks to strengthen Mexico's role in the international economy, the project will generate US $10 billion of investment in Guadalajara over the next 5 to 10 years."

A smart grid for a smart base

Of all the systems at play in an urban environment, Betis says improving the energy sector is key to avoid straining the underlying infrastructure and supporting new smart initiatives.

"All supporting systems are ultimately tied to creating a smart grid and realizing the benefits it brings about," Betis says. "Smart cities can only exist with the support of smart grids in a symbiotic way where they share electronics, telecommunications, and information technologies to leverage smart initiatives across all the other areas involved in developing a smart city."

One example of how the smart grid can help city infrastructure as a whole can be seen through water utilities.

"Water utilities are typically one of the largest consumers of energy in a city," Betis says, "yet savings can be achieved by coordinating with the electric utility and shifting water pumping to non-peak hours. The water utility reduces its energy consumption and lowers its costs while, at the same time, lessening the demand on the electric utility so that it can provide for more critical and less flexible functions (such as hospitals) to maintain an uninterrupted energy supply."

In addition to other utilities, transportation can gain from a citywide smart grid by interactively managing electric trains' power consumption through better acceleration and braking while still staying on schedule. Building owners and the public can also benefit by participating in demand response programs that lower energy consumption and increase their utilities' efficiency.

Engineering a smart city

Smart grids are just getting started out in the real world, and embedded engineers have an important role in making efficient systems for smart cities.

"Embedded engineering plays a key role by allowing for modernization of power systems through self-healing designs, automation, remote monitoring and control, and the establishment of microgrids," Betis says. "Once these things are accomplished within a smart grid, other municipal systems benefit as well. So, embedded engineering and, for that matter, a wide span of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies are essential for smart grids to deliver resilient energy while improving efficiencies and enabling coordination between city infrastructure and operators. Energy, water, transportation, public health and safety, and other aspects of a smart city will rely to a great extent on embedded and IoT technologies to manage and support the smooth operation of critical infrastructure."

Though development in IoT and smart grid technology is advancing, there are still many engineering challenges ahead on the road to creating smart cities.

"One of the key challenge areas for core technology development and ongoing research will be energy storage," Betis says. "This is really important because overcoming these hurdles will allow for the storage of distributed energy sources, something that has been an issue up until now. For example, with windmills people have pointed out that excess energy is often wasted because there is no means to sell it, store it, or inject it into the grid. Advancements in large energy storage mechanisms, as well as increased individual low-scale storage capabilities, will open a lot of different options for how energy can be used and shared within a smart city. Additionally, having a stable system is essential for energy storage and the technical complexities of these systems rely on embedded technologies. Such a system needs to be carefully assessed and built out using accepted standards."

The IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA) is providing a platform for global, open development of standards to aid in the success and scalability of smart cities, with current work on creating an IoT architectural framework for cross-domain interaction, interoperability, and compatibility.