Millennium Post

Energising smart cities, a tall order

India has at last woken up to the concept of smart cities and is gearing up to develop 100 such settlements. The programme is to be implemented in 22 states, where places have been almost identified. Work has commenced on Dholera (Gujarat), Shendra-Bidkin (Maharashtra)  and Global City (Haryana) among the seven that are to be built as part of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC), the ‘global manufacturing and trading hub’, by 2019.

Ideally, citizens in the new urban settlements will have water, electricity, gas and internet connectivity via a smart grid. All infrastructures- power, transportation and others- are centralised computer-controlled systems. Energy is supplied through renewable sources. They are pollution free and environment-friendly. Such an urban settlement exploits technology and ICT.

Smart cities are based on smart grid technology, which enables energy efficiency. Transport systems are sustainable, street lighting is efficient, buildings are equipped with sensors and devices aimed at cutting energy consumption and energy networks are managed in a smarter way- making living more comfortable and hospitable with adequate safety and security. More than Rs 7,000 crore has been allocated in fiscal 2014-15 to build 100 new smart cities, and to develop satellite towns around existing cities. Additional funding is expected from Indian and overseas private sector companies.

The concept is not new. Several countries from Japan to Holland to Israel have developed smart cities. Japan is carrying out four experiments to identify the optimum form of smart grids and smart cities. The Sino-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City (SSGKC), being developed in China, integrates the concepts of a smart city, an eco-city and a learning city.

Varanasi is being transformed into a smart heritage city based on the Kyoto model. The city-centre lies 19 km from the airport, an ultra-modern structure. One has to cross villages with narrow washboard roads to drive to the city. A vehicle breakdown leads to traffic jams along the route. It is a paradox. Can India bring these ideas and innovations to makeover Varanasi and develop 100 smart cities?

The driving force in a smart city will be energy.  India has suffered from serious power reliability challenges for ages. The July 2012 power outage which affected nearly half the population is a grim reminder. Hence a major issue would be the energy sector which would require smart electric grids. Is India capable of generating power to feed these cities?

Rapid development, improvement in expected lifestyle and explosive growth in commercial and residential floor spaces are constantly aggravating the gap between supply and demand.

Air-conditioning in these buildings alone makes up nearly 40 per cent of power consumption in one utility’s consumer base. Currently, commercial, residential and industrial sectors account for 10 per cent, 39 per cent, and 24 per cent, respectively, of the total 694,392 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of energy use. While commercial sector electricity use is a smaller slice of the pie today, electricity demand in this sector is skyrocketing at an annual rate of 12-14 per cent, studies and surveys show. In the next 20 years, commercial and residential sectors will add new floor space that will be twice and thrice respectively of what currently exists in these two.

Hence, right technologies will have to be deployed in the new urban settlements to enable citizens to live comfortably and affordably. The affordability factor has to be addressed by uptake of energy efficient technologies which reduce the energy and carbon footprint and also make them sustainable and improve living conditions. Energy efficiency would require consequent replacement central power stations by decentralised generators (DG) to bring production closer to demand. A high and ever-increasing demand on electricity and cooling simultaneously require an optimal use of multi energy systems (mostly based on DG) using smart control and communication technologies.

Since the proposed urbanscapes will focus on shifting the population from the existing cities, new housing clusters would need maximum power. They ought to be built on the concept of Net Zero Energy Building (NZEB). A NZEB is a highly energy efficient building which annually consumes as much energy as it produces energy at site using renewable energy sources.

Currently, buildings are highly dependent on energy supplies from utilities. For a building to qualify and reach the status of a NZEB requires substantial reduction in its energy consumption (derived from fossil fuels) by incorporating several energy efficiency measures at the design stage, and simultaneously equipping itself to generate its own energy at site through renewable energy sources to meet its remaining energy requirements, says a document by the International Resources Group. Will the smart cities be really self-sustaining?

The present supply from all thermal, hydel, nuclear and renewable energy sources will be inadequate to meet the demands of smart cities. India’s solar mission, launched in 2009, promises 20,000 MW of power by 2020. But, the total grid-connected solar capacity stands at 2,632 MW. The generation is abysmally low, less than one-eighth of the planned capacity.

Despite efforts to achieve energy security by opening new mines and acquiring wells abroad, the massive energy required for smart cities is likely to remain elusive. From where will India meet the energy demand for smart cities? Is it going to be at the expense of existing cities?

The author is an independent journalist
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