Smart Cities at the time of climate change

Anil Valluri, President, NetApp India & SAARC
snip20170704_12 Anil Valluri

Peru’s witnessing the worst floods in nearly a century which has killed more than 70 people, left 70,000 homeless in nearly every province and damaged 130,000 structures. In Chennai, intense rainfall has damaged infrastructure and affected transportation & communications, while spreading disease in flooded areas. In Jakarta, about 40 percent of the capital city is now below sea-level, and that share is only growing with time.

Doomsday predictions? Not really.

The Peru flooding only happened a couple of months back. The brutal season of floods took scientists by surprise as the last El-Niño, usually associated to such extreme downpours, ended only a year ago. Jakarta is slowly being swallowed up by the sea since the country suffered one of the worst floods in 2007. Take a closer home, and the situation looks just as bleak. Chennai the last couple of years has seen the worst during cyclone and flood situations, rising sea-levels and torrential rains are threatening to swallow up land masses in Mumbai, and Delhi has been witnessing record temperatures the last couple of summers.

It’s no secret that Climate change and its implications are no longer up for debate. Climate change is very much a reality that all of us, businesses, administrations and the common people, have to accept and prepare for.

Smart Cities and Combating Climate Change

One of the biggest developmental challenges our Governments face in the 21st century has to be dealing with the growth of urban areas. Estimates suggest that cities, which account for over 70 percent of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, grow by about one million inhabitants every other week. Increasingly recognized as the place for “opportunities”, cities now apart from trying to keep pace with the mass influx witnessed, also have to deal with the climate implications this urban migration brings along.

 

Having said that, cities have the potential to be major incubators for climate change solutions. The smart cities project in India, an ambitious $1.2 billion flagship initiative, talks of creating a digitally-led economy by building core, large-scale infrastructures to sustain growth. But today’s city administrations and businesses have to look beyond just infrastructure to focus also on the impacts of climate change and possibilities of increasing natural calamities.

The most ambitious and innovative actions to reduce emissions and improve quality of life need to happen at the city level. In fact, a leading analyst firm predicts for half of all smart city objectives to include climate change, resilience and sustainability by 2020. While cutting down carbon emission by adopting smart, green technology is already been worked upon, what else can city administrations do differently to bring climate smartness to the city?

Bringing Climate Smartness to the Cities

Being a data-reliant, 21st century Smart City brings its own set of problems. With more number of people going online would directly mean more data being generated and accessed. Cities would also have to cope up with more number of data centres emerging in and around due to the expected increase in content and traffic.

Though these heat-generating Data Centres already have a few cooling mechanisms in place, could administrations make it mandatory and set benchmarks in tune with climate control policies to improve cooling and bring-in greater innovation in the space? Can we look at Green construction and energy-efficient buildings that are also able to conserve water through rainwater harvesting? Additionally, with technologies available to collect data on weather & climate patterns, and sea-level patterns, could administrations make use of predictive analysis technology to better prepare for any climate backlash that might happen in the future?

Such technology is already being put to use across the globe and many have proved to be successful in application. To cite a few examples, in Jakarta, the government officials are hoping to use video analytics to discover insights in flood detection by detect changes in water levels in all thirteen rivers that flow to Jakarta and its surrounding areas. In another notable instance, the California Natural Resources Agency built an internal private cloud solution at a time when California was facing its worst drought on record. This helped the Department of Water Resources receive fast access to more than 100 years of data—on everything from water flows and soil erosion to climate change and population growth— which was critical to keeping the water flowing. Since adoption, the State of California has set new standards of Governance with 35% cost reduction across 29 agencies, 300% increase in storage space with 30% decrease in storage footprint.

Given that much of our coastal areas are expected to be affected by unstable and erratic climatic conditions going forward, such technologies would go a long way in helping projects like Smart City Chennai to better prepare themselves. While it is endearing to see administrations already adopting green technologies like public transport run on clean energy and solar-powered streetlights, much more has to be done to offset climatic impacts. We’ve long been behind in the race to combating climate change and global warming. Today’s Smart Cities and the administrations will have to take steps beyond just adopting clean energy to be climate resilient and make our cities ‘climate smart’.

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