Tech Opportunities and Hurdles
Archana Vidyasekar, research director of the Visionary Innovation Group at Frost & Sullivan, says technology can be a massive enabler for sustainability. “For example, digital twins are helping cities create a more sustainable urban space, while AI (artificial intelligence) is ensuring a sustainable outcome by assisting with optimization problems,” she says. “For example, IBM’s AI offers optimized weather forecasting with predictions 30% more accurate than before, helping renewable energy companies maximize their energy production.”
Urban Land Institute’s Grayson says sensor technologies offer a huge opportunity for building digital, sustainable cities. “Low-cost, ubiquitous sensors can have a tremendous impact on building connected, digital, and sustainable cities,” he says. “An effective sensor network can help optimize building energy use, improve traffic flow, and strengthen power, water, transportation, and digital infrastructure and more effectively convey a range of key information across and through a city. They can enhance residents’ experience with the places they live, work, and play in a city, and they can improve a city’s response capabilities in the face of a natural disaster or other local emergency.”
Data analytics are also key to building sustainable cities. Remaking Cities Institute’s Carter says: “An example would be to demonstrate that investments in insulation and more sustainable sources of energy, although perhaps costly upfront, have a short payback period for cities. Sensors and monitors of air quality, traffic congestion, weather systems, and utility use, combined with artificial intelligence can provide the ability to control urban systems in a predictable and sustainable way.”
As to what’s holding cities back from pursuing sustainability or reaching their sustainability goals, Frost’s Vidyasekar says it’s policy. “Governments are in perennial policy gridlocks due to partisanship and a lack of compromise in policy commitments to environmental problems,” she says.
Carl Piva, CEO at Internetstiftelsen (The Swedish Internet Foundation), says setting credible sustainability goals and then building and executing a plan to reach those goals requires both political will and administrative and technical talent.