Smart cities

29 Dec 2009

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There is a crucial link between green IT initiatives by CIOs today and the design of the smart, sustainable cities of tomorrow, writes JOHN KENNEDY.

“The 19th century was a century of empires, the 20th century was a century of nation states. The 21st century will be a century of cities.” So says Wellington E Web, the former mayor of Denver, Colorado, in the IBM report A Vision of Smarter Cities.

As we enter the digital age, you could say we’re also entering the green age where the whole world will become consumed with the eradication or minimisation of the damage wrought by two centuries of unlimited, but often reckless, industrial endeavour.

As Ireland navigates the ebb and flow of the toughest economy for 50 years, one of the country’s saving graces is the conviction with which its entrepreneurs and scientific institutions have seized on the use of new technologies to find smarter energy resources, but also to become a smarter planet.

Before it plunged into the Dark Ages, Rome had a population of over one million people. It wasn’t until the 19th century that there were more than two urban centres in the world that could count concentrations of more than one million people.

But that all changed in the 20th century, and the need for space, along with clean, environmentally sound living, has put pressure on the technology world to deliver smarter answers.

India, for example, will require 500 new cities in the next 20 years to accommodate its future needs. As the IBM report points out, if there were ever a time to focus on the smart growth of our urban areas, that time is now.

“Replacing the actual city infrastructures is often unrealistic in terms of cost and time. However, with recent advances in technology, we can infuse our existing infrastructures with new intelligence. By this, we mean digitising and connecting our systems, so they can sense, analyse and integrate data, and respond intelligently to the needs of their jurisdictions. In short, we can revitalise them, so they can become smarter and more efficient.”

Ireland at present is focusing much of its energies on coming up with alternative energy projects. For example, Irish companies, including Glen Dimplex, are already developing a range of intelligent home heaters using smart meters and motion detectors. The Government-backed SmartBay, which involves IBM, aims to establish a marine research, test and demonstration platform in Galway Bay that will link surface and underwater sensors and networks to enable environmental research – new technologies will be created to aid oil and gas exploration.

But, according to industrial giant Siemens, Ireland will need to take a major leap of faith if it really wants to be a leading light in terms of smart cities and eco living.

According to Siemens’ Sustainable Urban Infrastructure Report: Dublin – a view to 2025, overall, greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, transport and energy supplies can be reduced by around 28pc by 2025, compared to 2005 – enabling Dublin to make a significant contribution to Ireland’s commitment to the Kyoto target (13pc above 1990 levels in the five-year period 2008­­–2012), and the EU goal (20pc reduction in emissions by 2020 relative to 2005 levels).

Beyond that, a combination of additional regulatory changes, lifestyle changes brought about by other means and future technological innovation could also help the city reach its international targets.

Until 2025, an incremental total investment of around €2.7bn – less than 1pc of Ireland’s GDP in the same period – would be needed to implement most of the identified technologies. This is roughly in line with the findings of Nicholas Stern’s 2006 report, The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, which places the cost of slowing the impact of greenhouse gases at up to 1pc of global GDP per year. Should nothing be undertaken, the report estimated that an unchecked rise in global temperatures could cost up to 5–10pc of the global GDP.

Among the solutions Siemens suggests are:

-        If Ireland meets its 2020 target of 40pc renewables contributing to the national grid, it would result in a reduction of 1.34 megatons (Mt) of CO2 for the Dublin region. A citywide district heating system would be another major lever.

-        More than 65pc of transport emissions in Dublin can be attributed directly to private cars. The single most influential lever in the transport sector is the Transport 21 strategy. It has committed to developing two metro lines in the Greater Dublin area and to improving and extending the Luas services, as well as upgrading and improving the existing bus and DART systems. If Transport 21 is fully implemented, the abatement potential would be 0.51 Mt  of CO2 per year.

-         The introduction of electric vehicles could reduce emissions by a further 0.05 Mt of CO2, if 12pc of all cars in the region were electric by 2025.

-         The technological lever that provides the largest abatement potential in the building sector is the retrofitting of buildings in the residential sector, which can reduce annual carbon output by 0.78 Mt CO2 by 2025.

-         Dublin currently loses over 20pc of its water production through leakages in its distribution system – equivalent to the volume needed to fill about 5,000 Olympic swimming pools every day. Savings on the demand side would therefore be especially effective.

-         A total of around six million cubic metres of water – approximately 10pc of the city’s total consumption – could be saved through economically sensible measures every year by 2025.

Siemens Ireland chief executive Dr Werner Kruckow explains: “To set the scene, Ireland produces over 70 Mt of CO2 every year. Ireland, right now, depends 80pc on imported fossil fuels.

“A scenario being put forward by the Irish Government is that 40pc of the country’s future energy needs can be supplied by wind and wave energy by 2020. The country needs to move fast if this is going to happen.

“Ireland needs to build, as a matter of urgency, smart interconnectors and grids that not only stiffen today’s networks, but provide, even export, excess wind and wave energy to western and eastern Europe. If the wind isn’t blowing strongly enough, the smart network would import only what we need – be it hydro energy from Scandinavia or nuclear energy from France – on a smart network.”

Dr Kruckow says another important move would be micro-generation, with Ireland currently falling behind international trends in this regard. “Whoever can supply electricity on a smaller scale, be it farmers with wind farms and ocean-energy applications, needs to be incentivised.

“Also, solar power isn’t being encouraged. I can’t understand why the Irish don’t talk about this enough,” he adds. “It has a climate similar to parts of Germany where state-of-the-art solar systems have been subsidised by the government for the past two decades. This is a matter for serious discussion.

“Our research indicates that micro-generation of electricity from sun, wind and waves can be a significant contributor to a future Irish smart grid. If Ireland gets this right, up to 50pc of its future energy usage could come from renewable sources,” explains Dr Kruckow.

To give added impetus to the opportunities and challenges Ireland faces, the European Commission has called for substantial additional investment in research in low-carbon technologies (LCT) and estimates that an additional investment of €50bn will be needed over the next 10 years across Europe.

This investment, it says, is vital in order to address climate change, secure EU energy supplies and ensure economic growth.

This would mean almost tripling the amount that EU countries currently spend on LCT research, from €3bn to €8bn, every year for the next 10 years until 2020.

“Upgrading investment in research in clean technologies is urgent if Europe is to make the road to Copenhagen and beyond cheaper,” EU commissioner for science and research Janez Potočnik says.

“With today’s estimates, the commission wants to make the Strategic Energy Technology (SET) Plan a springboard to leap into a low-carbon economy, which is only possible if public and private actors pool resources in a coherent way. Increasing smart investments in research today is an opportunity to develop new sources of growth, to green our economy and to ensure the EU’s competitiveness when we come out of the crisis.”

The commission, together with industry and the research community, has drawn up technology ‘roadmaps’, outlining the steps that need to be taken to reach their objectives for the technologies with the greatest potential at EU level: wind, solar, electricity grids, bioenergy, carbon capture and storage (CCS) and sustainable nuclear fission.

The commission also proposes a ‘Smart Cities Initiative’ to be implemented by local authorities in 30 cities across Europe. The programme aims to reduce greenhouse emissions in these cities by 40pc by 2020, through the introduction of low CO2 transport and energy-efficient buildings.

“Previous industrial revolutions have proved that the right technologies can transform the way we live for the better,” explains the EU Commissioner for Energy, Andris Piebalgs.

Werner

Siemens Ireland chief executive Dr Werner Kruckow.

A greener future

Ireland is making inexorable progress in identifying alternative green technologies and there are many great opportunities for its tech entrepreneurs.

In recent weeks, some €4.3m has been invested in 10 companies by Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI) into the development and deployment of ocean energy devices that can generate renewable electricity. The funding will enable the companies to take their proposals and prototypes to the next stage of development. Participating companies include Wavebob and OceanEnergy, which have been trialling their prototype wave energy converters in Galway Bay, and OpenHydro, which is developing a tidal turbine system.

Other companies receiving assistance in conducting research and feasibility studies include the Waterford-based Technology from Ideas and the Marine Renewables Industry Association.  Individual company grants range from €20,000 to €2m.

“The Atlantic Ocean provides an untapped source of renewable energy and gives Ireland a unique advantage in the development of ocean energy technology,” explains Prof Owen Lewis, chief executive, SEI.

 “The Government has set a target of having 500MW of ocean energy connected to the national grid by 2020.  SEI’s Ocean Energy Development Unit is working closely with development companies to test their technologies and make them not only operationally, but also commercially, viable.”

An early stage investor in green-tech businesses, which has just raised a new €3m investment fund, has forecast a positive outlook for Ireland’s green-business sector, despite the gloomy outlook for other sectors of the economy.

The positive outlook by BVP Investments, which has invested in firms such as Biomass and Wavebob, is based on its analysis of projected growth in the sector throughout 2010.

The current performance of Ireland’s green sector is generating optimism among investors that significant growth levels can be achieved in the next five years.

In 2007, BVP Investments launched a Business Expansion Scheme fund called the Simple.ie Green BES Fund.

It has already invested €2.5m in five Irish businesses over the past two years and, with three more high-potential start-ups in the pipeline, it is set to invest an additional €3m over the next two years.

“From the outset, we wanted to differentiate ourselves from the existing BES funds and so we chose to focus exclusively on the green sector and early stage ventures,” says Elliott Griffin, managing director of the fund.

“Over the past two years, we have invested in a diverse range of green businesses and we are already seeing the many positive results that have flowed from our investments. Despite the backdrop of falling stock markets, additional international investors have also been secured and these investors are attaching higher valuations to the companies we have invested in because of their high growth potential.

“There’s no doubt that, with the right investment behind it, the green sector has the potential to lead Ireland’s economic recovery over the coming years,” Griffin adds.

Clean-tech vision

The Irish clean-tech sector has experienced 200pc growth in exports, and 12 start-ups in the area recently visited Silicon Valley – the nerve centre of the burgeoning clean-tech sector – to win business and investment.

The CEOs of 12 Irish clean-tech companies visited Silicon Valley in late September as part of Enterprise Ireland’s first dedicated clean-tech trade mission.

The aim of the visit was to enable the companies to engage with the region’s clean-tech influencers, establish connections with strategic partners and showcase their technologies to local innovators, venture capitalists and potential buyers.

Enterprise Ireland has 144 client companies in the clean-tech sector operating across established sub-sectors such as waste and water and emerging sub-sectors such as renewable energy and energy-efficient technologies. These companies employ almost 3,400 people and achieved export sales of €117m in 2008.

The 12 companies that participated in the mission are reflective of some of the best of Ireland’s clean-tech innovation, including new-generation biofuels, inventive solar solutions and a unique technology to harness ocean energy and deliver electricity to the onshore grid.

There are also software technologies for energy monitoring and control, and a novel approach to manage household and industrial waste. Each of the companies that participated on this mission has a proven product or service based on a solid approach to research and development.

“The clean-tech sector is rapidly expanding and has seen export growth of over 200pc between 2005 and 2007,” explains Enterprise Ireland’s Environment and Life Sciences manager, Marina Donohoe.

“Several indigenous companies have capitalised on the opportunities that have arisen from legislation and have developed novel technological offerings.

“Ireland’s clean-tech sector has traditionally been domestically focused, but worldwide demand for such products and services is growing rapidly,” Donohoe adds.

By John Kennedy

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com