How far can ‘smart technologies’ help manage the impact of London’s growth?

Thursday 16 January 2014

NLA think tank co-hosted by AECOM
From minimising traffic congestion on London’s roads to improving the way we run our homes, smart technologies can play a big part in helping to manage the capital’s predicted growth.

A special think tank session held at the NLA sought to add some detail to that, one of its headline findings. Miles Attenborough, AECOM’s technical director of sustainability and building engineering, said that with a population set to increase by 10 per cent in the next 10 years and a relatively constrained infrastructure already, London will be faced with pressures, not least on housing, and stretched services. Energy infrastructure will also have to accommodate needs, with a greater use of electric vehicles, for example, while that growing population will also mean even more of a shortfall in primary and secondary education spaces. Moreover, much of our infrastructure has been with us for a long time, Joseph Bazalgette’s 1860s sewerage system being one example. Technology, said Attenborough, can play a significant role in deferring investment or making investments more wisely and can aid the management of energy at a more local level, including via smart meters in buildings and active network management. But one of the key advances will be to harness the power of mobile devices, of which there will be eight billion in the world by 2016. Smart phones open up two-way flows of data, he added, which could for example enable more efficient space planning and utilisation of buildings and other assets.

The GLA’s principal policy officer for innovation and knowledge, Catherine Glossop, said the GLA’s Smart London Plan highlights how congestion on the roads costs the economy £2 billion a year but technology can help. Ian Wainwright of TfL said smart technology could help in re-phasing HGV deliveries to supermarkets at times safer for other traffic users. ‘It’s a way of getting vehicles in at the right time, on the right routes’, he said. The Smart London Plan ( aims to increase the number of Londoners using digital technology, with more tech apprenticeships; leverage London’s research capabilities, enable it to collaborate with future cities; share data across the GLA, roll out more free Wi-Fi across the city and offer ‘a smart London experience’ – a place where people can find out what a future London will look like.

Future technological advances include systems to enable companies to consolidate their freight movements more efficiently, aids to finding parking spaces – and thereby cutting unnecessary driving around. But the data that local authorities have is of limited use, said Pat Hayes, executive director of regeneration and housing at Ealing Council. ‘We probably over-collect’, he said. The other worry from his perspective was that we are using technology to help motorists drive in London when what was needed was the bigger challenge of a ‘channel shift to allow and drive behavioural change’.

Smart technology also brings with it the opportunity for people to better understand how their energy is being consumed, and where – in order that they can modify their behaviour thereafter, said URS technical director, Oliver Riley. ‘Most consumers don’t have a clear picture of how their actions impact on energy consumption’, he said. ‘It’s then about what we do with that data.’ Education is also an important element in the mix, with simple devices available for house-owners to save energy in their homes. Allowing more drawing of power at night when it is cheap will be like an enhanced version of Economy 7, he added, while there is a synergy with electric vehicles and energy storage since they represent a powerful energy storage system. Turner and Townsend Director Paul Maitland agreed, saying that whilst reducing energy use in a smart way is paramount, there are also huge gains to be made in utilising property space more effectively. Large companies and organisations are doing this with the likes of hot-desking, while universities are implementing centralised teaching space booking. The next step, however, is for technology to allow a joined-up approach to the more widespread sharing of office space by SMEs.

Tech may also play a role in aggregating energy demand management across a number of buildings, said Miles Attenborough, and also help reduce the ‘huge amount of wastage’ you can see on a walk around London at night. An example of this in action is the streetlights system in operation in Westminster. When first installed, light bulbs are brighter than after three years so they don’t need to be run at their brightest – a help to easing Westminster’s £1m per year bill just on public lighting. Another area is in smart cars, said Foster + Partners partner Alistair Lenczner, where "Boris-Bike-style" electric car hire stations provide induction charging as cars wait for re-use. This would offer a new "green" option for non-cyclists. 

At the 2012 Olympic Games and forthcoming 2014 Commonwealth Games CISCO played a major part, said its innovation technology manager Ersel Oymak, along with various Smart Cities initiatives across the world and the BIG – British Innovation Gateway – platform. Oymak stressed the importance of: having an IP-based network infrastructure as the fourth utility to be deployed into the smart buildings of the future in London; ‘the strategic benefit of having convergence and integration in the built environment where IT and silo-based proprietary Building Automation System architectures merge’; and the need for a common, city-wide Services Delivery Platform for all local government services to co-exist upon.

‘People actually don’t want more data’, said Nick Bromley, iCity programme manager at the GLA. ‘They want the decision made for them’. Thus, service providers can automatically reduce tariffs for customers, although Bromley said he was worried about too many interests hijacking that move. We have the technology, said The Academy of Urbanism director John Worthington; the question is whether we have the will. Essentially it comes down to the people issue and how we change behaviour, and although the Olympics forced London to adapt with the way goods were brought in at night, that adaptation did not stick. Two cities showed markedly different approaches to the use of smart technology. On the one hand in Helsinki, and elsewhere in Finland, smart tech is an accepted attitude of mind, while in Moscow the abundant free Wi-Fi everywhere outside a building is there for one reason – ‘they are checking on you.’ So we need to create a sense of collaboration and trust, Worthington proposed. Then again, said Pat Hayes, a huge amount of data is put into the public domain already, so, added Martin Wainwright, there has to be transparency. And, added senior masterplanner at HOK Ekaterina Lichtenstein, finally, there is another application: data is being used more as a design tool, not only in energy modeling, but in post-occupancy engagement too.

Technology can play a significant role in deferring investment or making investments more wisely and can aid the management of energy at a more local level, including via smart meters in buildings and active network management. 

Technology can also aid smarter use of office space 

London could benefit from increased Wi-Fi rolled out across the city 

With an increased utilization of smart devices, data needs to be handled sensitively and transparently

David Taylor, New London Quarterly

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