A greener, more intelligent infrastructure is the backbone of a smart Africa.
Definition of a Smart City
A smart city is measured by the efficiency with which resources, like energy and water, is provided. The goal is to make sure that the city prospers in the future while enhancing the quality of life of its people. To determine that, it is essential to look at the backbone of the infrastructure of that city and to make sure that it can support the advances in technology.
However, from a government point of view, this cannot happen if the right people are not employed to help develop, build and activate the necessary systems. The objective is to grant access to people to be connected, for example, to the municipality.
The first step to rectify this problem, according to Johann Mettler, City Manager of Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, is to look at how service provision is connected internally, within specific institutions. He uses the example of having the necessary traffic cameras set up, within the perimeter of the city, but then not having the infrastructure which allows this data to speak to the required systems.
So, although there are systems and connections in place, there is no system integration between them. To become a fully functional smart city, proper systems must be connected.
What does good system management look like?
It is important to know that every city starts at a different place when moving towards creating a smart city. There is a generic image of what a smart city should look like, but to get there, each city has a different journey.
Cape Town, for instance, has a smart grid which is loosely linked. Thus, the assumption that it is not a smart city is incorrect. The way it is functioning at the moment just looks different to other cities.
GreenCape is working specifically in the energy and waste utility spaces. They are trying to push energy back into the grid. To efficiently do that, a specific metering structure, which they are currently designing, is required. This design has to adhere to the South African Smart Specifications regulations, to be approved.
Nevertheless, even with this implementation, there are some very real technical obstacles to overcome. Practically for example, for proper systems to be connected would imply making sure that people won’t get the wrong electricity bill.
Furthermore, to operate efficiently as a smart city, a type of industrial symbiosis needs to happen: driven by a technology platform that matches the logistics module. Case in point, something that one person throws away, might be what someone else needs.
“It’s about making incremental improvements which put you on a journey to arrive at 2050 or 2070 as a city which provides better services to its citizens by having a more affordable provision of services the municipalities of regions are responsible for.”
Mike Mulcahy CEO of GreenCape
Making small changes and incremental improvements will allow the general population to feel that they are not left behind during the transition.
Challenges of driving aggressive improvements vs. incremental improvements
As a city visionary, Mettler finds that large organisations often have a very narrow focus. He notes that one of the leading areas of concern is the declining economy. To combat this, he suggests finding new, innovative ways of generating levy.
One way of doing this is by looking at data as the new currency. If this is true, cities have to start investing in intelligent telecommunications infrastructure. For example, it is no longer necessary to set up cell towers if they are replaced with small data boxes. The data box would be able to make space for multiple internet service providers. In effect, there would no longer be a Vodacom or other internet solutions, but instead, they would buy space from you. This type of infrastructure will work out much cheaper and, in return, you will gain interest on a small percentage of the turnover.
However, the problem is that the government doesn’t necessarily employ knowledgeable people whom can create such systems. Thus, the private sector will need to lend out these spaces to the public sector, which in itself can create various glitches.
How do we do smart cities?
According to the director of Enterprise & Investment, Lance Greyling, who is responsible for the economy of Cape Town and looking at what support can be given to various sectors of the Cape Town economy, there are three pillars of digital strategies which need to be implemented.
1. Digital Government
Bring as many government services online as possible so that people don’t have to stand in long queues waiting to be helped by an official.
2. Digital inclusion
Make sure that more people are involved in the digital economy.
3. Digital infrastructure
Ensure the integration between different industries. Currently, in Cape Town, there is a 900-kilometre fibre optic cable in the ground which connects various government buildings. The cable goes to areas where the private sector has no access.
Accordingly, it is clear that creating and living in smart cities is very possible. As Mike Mulcahy, CEO of GreenCape, sums it up:
“The opportunity, when you look at infrastructure, becomes even more enabled when there’s this environment that creates synergies and opportunities: when you can use the communication back-end to understand how transport integrates with energy; how energy integrates with your water management; how water management integrates with waste management.”
Using the given infrastructure correctly enables the city to understand the interplay of services which are publically provided by the municipalities. Industries are allowed to extract large amounts of dynamic data out of those sectors.
Cape Town has bought electric buses which will join the MyCity bus fleet. Electric vehicles can recharge at different rates. Thus, the energy department will be able to look at the city’s electrical grid to determine the rate at which these busses charge. The stability of this data is worth something to them and can be integrated into other industries, resulting in a smarter city.
Looking at different industries across the city, it is clear that there are ways in which these sectors can work together. They can then draw out extra efficiencies according to which a smart city can ultimately run. This enables the city to deliver efficient services to its citizens while finding ways in which to leverage off of each other.
It is important for cities to have the proper infrastructure and digital access to prepare for the future.
Mike Mulcahy, CEO of GreenCape
“Cities have different skills, resources, needs and infrastructural challenges. They should experiment with what works and what doesn’t and co-learn with other cities, along this journey.”
Lance Greyling, Director: Enterprise & Investment, City of Cape Town
“Cities should not be dazzled by technology. Each city should look at the specific objective of their city and work according to that. For example, Cape Town’s main objective is around resource efficiency – specifically around the water crisis, poverty alleviation and jobs. Therefore, they have to look at the ways in which technology can enable them to reach those objectives.”
Johann Mettler, City Manager, Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality
“It is important to look at the common vision within your own city and neighbouring municipalities. Look for common economic and cultural opportunities which can be integrated in a way which will be beneficial for the industries involved.”
If something might not specifically work for your city now, it will in the future. It is vital to have the proper infrastructure to enable that kind of development which will lead us to operate in smart cities.