Smart city — from concept to reality

ABB Australia Pty Ltd

By Ian Richardson*
Monday, 07 January, 2019

Smart city — from concept to reality

Famous Irish playwright, novelist and critic George Bernard Shaw described in his play Back to Methuselah a conversation that the serpent has with Eve: “You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?’”

This quotation was used by President John F Kennedy in an address to the Irish Parliament in Dublin in 1963. It was then adapted and quoted by his brother, Robert F Kennedy, in his 1968 campaign for the presidential nomination as “Some people see things as they are and say, why; I dream things that never were and say, why not.”

The notion of ‘why not’ has been applied to the concept of a smart city for some years. With over half of the world’s population currently living in an urban area, and a projected 70% of the population to live in urban areas by 2050, governments worldwide are looking at urbanisation and smart cities to support economic growth.

However, a smart city means different things to different people. Is a smart city an adaption of the futuristic cartoon of the sixties? Is it an image of the 1927 movie Metropolis directed by Fritz Lang? Some people are concerned that a smart city is a step towards the fictional Big Brother character from George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

With the many interpretations of what a smart city should provide, it is clear the vision of a smart city can have many forms. A popular interpretation of the physical nature of a smart city can be an interconnected society where the building has automation features providing comfort and energy efficiency to the inhabitants. Invariably many people consider the smart city to be the realm of smart data, with high levels of internet connectivity incorporating the Internet of Things, or IoT. But is the smart city still just a concept?

A smart city vision has been turned into reality in a suburb of Helsinki, the capital of Finland. As is common in many coastal cities of the world, Helsinki had a harbour for shipping trade and an industrial sector close to the city for convenience in the early days. The modern urban planners decided to move the port facilities and industrial sites away from the city to allow for expansion. For a time this created an industrial wasteland. Almost 10 years ago the area became known as the new suburb of Kalasatama and the City Council decided to propose the 175-hectare (430-acre) site become a model of the smart city concept, or intelligent urban development, as they have called it.

Initially, the partners for the technical development of the Kalasatama district were the regional energy supply company Helen Oy and ABB Finland. A jointly produced paper, known as the Kalasatama Smart Energy System, defined the properties of a usable smart energy system that would underpin the design requirements for the smart city of Kalasatama. The white paper was based on the existing European guidelines plus the national energy efficiency recommendations, and lays the foundation to design a true smart city urban development.

The Smart Kalasatama project will offer a home for approximately 28,000 residents along with employment for over 8000 people by the early 2030s. Currently, over 3000 people live in the Kalasatama district and the City Council’s vision is that the smart services of Kalasatama will save one hour of a citizen’s time every day. In the early planning stages, the urban designers set targets for the development for climate neutrality and a high-quality neighbourhood. This encompassed targets of being carbon neutral by 2035 and having a 60% total emissions reduction by 2030, compared with the 1990 level.

The Kalasatama Smart Energy System paper defined certain basic features that needed to be provided in each building in order to achieve the high-efficiency energy targets. All apartments and buildings in Kalasatama are required to have the following features:

  • Binding contracts defined by the city requiring each house include basic automation and be part of the smart grid.
  • Central off switches to disconnect non-priority electrical loads when leaving the apartment.
  • Reduction of the nominal room temperature setpoint when leaving the apartment.
  • Closed loop controls with outside sensors for heating systems and ventilation systems.
  • Each house be part of the central heating and cooling system.
  • Compulsory electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure.
  • Separate measurement of electrical loads such as lighting and EV charging to allow energy management.
  • Measured load data to be available to energy management and load management systems via a smart grid interface.
  • Consumption data to be able to be checked by residents via smartphones or tablets.

The underlying principle of the paper was to facilitate and support the efficient use of heating, cooling, water consumption and energy usage. There is a clear requirement for a building automation system and the City of Helsinki required an open protocol with innovative solutions to be available. The City also wanted to provide test platforms within the smart city for the testing and innovation of new sustainable solutions. The vision was for the smart neighbourhood of Kalasatama to be a showcase of a modern urban development providing work, leisure, housing and services together in a single development.

KNX was chosen to fulfil the task of the building automation platform due to its stability and reliability, along with the standardisation of KNX through the ISO/IEC 14543-3 international standard. This ensured an open protocol supported by numerous manufacturers as well as the ability to incorporate future technology onto the system, as demonstrated by the KNX system’s forward and backward compatibility since 1991. The international standard ISO/IEC 14543-3 was also recently released as a direct text adopted in Australia as the Australian and New Zealand Technical Specification SA SNZ TS ISO/IEC 14543.3.

At the building level, the use of a standardised bus system provided economy for the installation and the ability to easily incorporate multiple disciplines and functions onto a common bus such as lighting control, heating, cooling, blind and shutter control, water and waste management, security, audiovisual interfaces, remote access etc. An essential requirement from the City Council was for building users and residents to be able to personalise and control their own automation. KNX was able to provide these requirements from existing products, and can integrate new technologies as they become available without modifying the base building infrastructure.

Outside of the apartment and building, the automation information is available via internet connectivity with KNX/IP, KNX IoT and KNX Secure. A building automation system does not require the high speed of Ethernet connectivity within the building, which means cabling costs are reduced through the use of a traditional twisted pair bus cable. Reliability and immunity to electromagnetic interference from power cables also makes the KNX twisted pair bus system a viable option to CAT 6 or similar cabling systems within the building automation infrastructure.

Kalasatama is becoming one of the world’s most extensive integrated areas that utilises a building services engineering standard. Many countries around the world have visited the Smart Kalasatama project to gain insight and share experiences.

As a smart city development, Kalasatama has gone beyond that of a building automation system providing energy efficiency and convergence of building operating systems and services. The basic building block of a standardised KNX bus system providing building automation allows essential data to various service providers via a gateway to their specific system. The service providers can utilise this data for trend analysis and modelling. The data transfer is not just one way, and in the event of unusual demand situations, energy suppliers can signal energy reduction requests that can be incorporated down to building and room level in order to avoid service outages. The KNX system is able to meet the high demands for data security with KNX Secure devices preventing cyber attacks.

The Smart Kalasatama project has also provided a platform for the testing of new solutions that allow smart urban living and increased livability in the neighbourhood. A number of pilot programs were underway in 2017/2018 where Smart Kalasatama has hosted innovative projects in a modern urban environment enabling the development of their smart solution prototypes, including:

  • solar power plants embedded in the building design;
  • smart mini-grid systems;
  • new storage solutions for electricity;
  • district-level heating and cooling grids;
  • EV network including charging stations and the availability of shared EVs for residents;
  • smart vacuum waste removal and management system;
  • Kalasatama Health and Wellbeing Centre where a program that alleviates stress and anxiety in patients is being trialled;
  • the Helsinki public health organisation introduced the Kalasatama Wellbeing pilot which provides life crisis solutions and virtual psychological support leading to self-help services;
  • an artificial intelligence system that provides an image-based platform to coach users in food choices by analysing their meals. The aim is to reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by providing nutrition advice;
  • a digital shopping tool providing tailored grocery bags with organic foods on the basis of the user’s personal preferences.

In addition, the Smart Kalasatama project consolidates urban transport infrastructure to ensure mobility of residents. The consolidated and well-planned design of the residential buildings, workplaces, recreation spaces, shopping and services precincts provides efficient and low-cost transport requirements to residents. Minimising transport times for residents is considered a high priority of the district’s philosophy to allow people to save one hour a day, which they can utilise doing something more rewarding than an everyday chore.

The fundamental European guidelines of energy efficiency and energy reduction targets are met with the integrated KNX building automation system and building design. Renewable energy programs work with the energy provider and interface to the building automation systems. The intelligent energy systems project is a joint effort from local energy provider Helen Oy, ABB Finland and Fingrid, the national electricity transmission grid operator, which works on Kalasatama’s smart grid interface and its related products such as EV infrastructure, plus energy management and storage. So the smart city concept provides a place for easy living in a modern urban environment.

The futuristic view of a smart city portrayed in those old movies may not be the reality of what we see now and what is ahead in the future. The George Bernard Shaw quote, “Why not?”, paraphrased by the Kennedy brothers, John and Robert, embodies the principle of what is possible in the smart city.

*Ian Richardson is a Senior Product Engineer with ABB in Australia and Chairman/Director of the KNX National Group Australia since 2011.

KNX is the only worldwide standard for home and building automation, adopted by Standards Australia as a technical specification. KNX devices can manage lighting, blinds and shutters, HVAC, security systems, energy management, renewable energy, audio video, whitegoods, visualisation, remote monitoring, etc.

Image credit: ©

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