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Who are smart cities initiatives actually benefiting?

Shanghai, China, a high-speed development of the city

A new project by the University of Calgary will see a team of researchers compare smart city projects from various continents to try and define their characteristics and benefits.

An article in university newspaper The Gauntlet profiled the new smart city project taking place in the western Canadian province of Alberta.

The initiative is a component of the university’s Eyes High research strategy that will see academics compare smart city projects in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas.

With almost every municipality claiming some form of smart urban strategy, the concept of a smart city is something that is interpreted and applied in myriad ways around the world. And so the project was launched to provide some welcome clarity and concrete definitions in the amorphous smart city space.

“Some [approaches] are very top-down and are about controlling populations in the interest of others. Others may be bottom-up, where citizens have a lot of input and the initiatives are about enhancing participation,” said University of Calgary professor Byron Miller.

He cited the example of the top-down approach taken by Rio de Janeiro during the recent Olympics. There the government set up surveillance camera monitoring centers that enabled the collaboration of multiple civic departments.

Is Big Brother benefitting?

But such extensive surveillance raises concerns about monitoring of the public and related data collection.

“One of the approaches to smart cities would be to make data much more transparent, widely available and accessible,” said Miller. “Other approaches are about controlling data and using it as a means of social surveillance and control.”

“You may have digital technologies in common but it’s a question of how they’re employed and in whose interest.”

This raises a key question that the Calgary researchers hope to shed light on: who exactly is benefiting from smart city projects?

“Urban politics, public participation, various types of social fields — all are impacted by smart city initiatives, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is figure out which approaches have brought benefits.”

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Will IoT actually keep us coal-dependent?


There are quite a few arguments for renewable energy investment, but one argument used against renewables was the cost factor. Five years ago, we started to see that cost gap close, leading countries like Germany, China, the United States to ramp up investment into solar farms.

We may see a slow down on that investment, due to new Internet of Things (IoT) tools that lower the costs of running a coal plant and reduce the amount of emissions.

See Also: How IoT can change the future of farming in droughts

GE, IBM, Siemens, and Schneider Electric have all launched digital power plant systems—for renewable, gas, and coal plants—that lower costs, emissions, and boost efficiency.

The improvements, while helpful for the businesses and towns that stay open thanks to coal power, may also prolong our use of coal as the dominant power source.

According to MIT Technology Review, an Italian plant shut down in 2014 due to excess electricity and reduced prices, but reopened in 2016 due to operation enhancements from GE’s hardware and software.

The plant is now able to go from dormant to fully operational in two hours, down from three hours under the old system, which vice president of A2A Massimiliano Masi says is a huge improvement.

Coal plants use IoT to gain efficiency

On top of operational speed, GE’s system can improve energy efficiency from 33 to 49 percent. This means more electric power can be captured while burning the same amount of coal, leading to a reduction in emissions.

While this may lead to a cleaner, smarter coal power system, it also allows factory owners to keep the plant running for longer. That would leave us at the same position, in terms of emissions, as we are at currently.
For environmentalists, the invasion of IoT into coal plants may be seen as a disaster, but plenty of towns rely heavily on the factories for jobs.

In the U.S., coal power accounts for around 33 percent of electricity production, but it has been dropping for a few years as renewable energy and natural gas make gains. We don’t think the small gains from IoT will have a major impact here, but in China and India, it may prolong the dominance of coal power and inflate the co2 emissions for another generation.

The post Will IoT actually keep us coal-dependent? appeared first on ReadWrite.

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What your boss actually wants from your local search reports

Do you ever find your eyes glazing over when putting together and presenting your regular local search reports? Columnist Lydia Jorden explains how to develop a revenue-based report that will be sure to impress both your client and your boss.

The post What your boss actually wants from your local…

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