According to a study by the World Health Organisation, 54% of the global population resided in cities in 2015, an increase of 30% since 1950. The number of urban residents are forecast to rise to account for 60% of the population by 2030, with 2.5 billion more people living in urban areas by 2050.
This growth means that cities need to become smart, and make judicious use of non-renewable resources and existing infrastructure, and mitigate the impact of climate change and global warming.
A smart city is an intelligent metropolitan that employs innovative technologies to enhance the performance of vital local services, including energy, water, transportation, healthcare, waste management, and public safety.
The use of various channels of communication and information technology (IT) allows smart cities to effectively address many challenges, such as a rapidly expanding population, environmental sustainability, and economic viability, to offer a safe, secured, and clean environment to residents.
While there are several features of a smart city, the single most important aspect is its energy infrastructure, which impacts all other critical functions of the city. A smart grid is the solution for a sustainable, resilient, and affordable energy infrastructure.
But what is a smart grid? It is a dynamic, interactive, and real-time infrastructure concept that modernises power systems through automation, remote monitoring, and control.
Research and Markets’ Emerging Markets Smart Grid: Outlook 2017 report states that most smart grid investments have been concentrated in developed nations. Countries in North America, Western Europe, and East Asia represent more than 75% of the installed base of smart meters and other pioneering smart grid initiatives.
For instance, the US government has launched several initiatives, including the Smart Grid Investment Grant (SGIS) for 2009-2014, to modernise the country’s electrical infrastructure.
The $8bn joint investment programme, consisting of 99 cost-shared projects and involving more than 200 electric utility providers and participating organisations, deployed more than 15 million smart meters, 1,200 phasor measurement units, 19,000 units of distribution technology, and an assortment of customer systems. Similarly, nearly 30 smart grid projects with a total investment of $335m (EUR300m) were started in Europe.
Now, many developing countries are exploring the multiple benefits of smart grids. Almost 50 countries are forecast to invest $268bn in building smart grid infrastructure in the next 10 years.
Among these are the countries of the Middle East and North Africa region, where renewable energy initiatives are being rapidly adopted to manage the robust energy demands. The deployment of smart grids in the GCC is expected to help the region save up to $10bn in infrastructural investment by 2020.
The UAE leads the region with its novel initiatives to build smart cities. It launched the Energy Plan 2050 to increase the contribution of clean energy and cut dependence on natural gas to generate power in line with UAE Vision 2021.
It also pushed the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy during the inauguration of the second phase of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in 2015, which involves $27.2bn (AED100bn) in green-fund investments and $13.6bn (AED50bn) for the park.
Through the intelligent use of digital technologies and innovative applications, smart grids can contribute in the development of zero-energy buildings and green communities. They also encourage consumers to rationalise their consumption by bringing them closer to energy sources and providing them greater control over their usage.
However, initial installation costs pose a significant challenge, which can be addressed by governments formulating policies and offering incentives to encourage investment in transforming legacy power networks to smart grids.
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