Smart cities: Adapting the concept to the African continent

Cities in Africa are following the example of some of the major metropolises around the world including Tokyo, London, Paris, New York and Dubai.
Published: Fri 08 Jul 2016

Cities all over the world are beginning to understand the impact of urban migration to large city centres. This is true not only for the developed world, but for populous communities in developing parts of the world including Asia, Latin America, India and Africa. According to a paper published by the New Climate Economy initiative, 22 million people are added to Africa’s cities every year, and it is estimated that 1.34 billion people will be living in African cities by 2050.

The demand of the inner city population is influencing the more interconnected approach to city development. Therefore, the transition to resilient, sustainable, smart green cities has become a pivotal development area upon which many have based current and future social and economic plans. Global consultancy firm and certification body DNV GL, describes a smart green city as one that maximises liveability for all its inhabitants and takes into account the need for sufficient resources to accommodate more people. Green, public and open spaces, a sustainable economy, efficient transportation and traffic planning, clean air and water, smart sewage and waste management, robust social infrastructure and health, IT and telecoms, adequate energy and climate change mitigation strategies and resilience are all characteristics of a smart green city.

The firm asserts that a ‘smart power system’, which integrates information and communication technology (ICT) into T&D networks and end-user appliances, underpins ‘any vision of a smart green city’. It adds that intelligent power systems, enabled by ICT, helps increase the efficient use of energy to smooth out demand peaks so that there is sufficient power to meet demand. Smart technologies, such as advanced meter infrastructure, while still a nascent technology in Africa, are often accompanied by new business models. These include real-time variation of electricity prices, such as time-of-use (ToU) pricing to match current demand and utility billing contracts that offer users savings for agreeing to demand-response conditions.

Cape Town and Johannesburg win at COP21

At the recent COP21 climate conference held in Paris, the cities of Cape Town and Johannesburg were listed as prestigious global cities for climate change innovation. Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille was presented with the C40 Cities Award for “Adaption Implementation”, recognising the city’s water consumption and demand management programme (WCWDM), while Johannesburg was the winner in the Finance and Development category for its Green Bond initiative. The two cities were Africa’s only two winners. The C40 Cities Awards spans categories all recognising cities demonstrating climate action leadership.

As one of the key electricity utilities and transmission companies in Johannesburg, South Africa’s financial hub, City Power has over the past several years commenced with a number of initiatives aimed at curtailing the demand side of electricity using technology. One of the interventions City Power implemented was the rollout of solar water geysers in low-income households across its area of supply in Johannesburg. Approximately 150,000 solar water geysers were installed over a period of two years, which considerably reduced pressure on the national grid. In addition to rolling out solar water geysers, City Power further replaced existing electricity meters with smart meters across its area of supply in Johannesburg.

The rollout of the smart meters was the biggest smart meter deployment of its kind undertaken in South Africa. Over 92,000 smart meters have been rolled out across Johannesburg and City Power expects to deploy about 150,000 in total. Another innovative solution that was implemented by City Power is a solution called load limiting. Load limiting, which utilises the smart meter network, allows City Power to remotely disconnect households that fail to reduce their consumption during periods of constrained supply to a stated threshold. “The implementation of load limiting has spared residents of Johannesburg from a series of planned outages,” said Sicelo Xulu, managing director at City Power, in an emailed statement.

“The forced curtailment of consumption during periods of constrained supply has alleviated pressure on the grid and gave City Power the leeway not to implement planned power outages due to the excess capacity generated by the implementation of load limiting.”

Xulu added: “At the beginning of the year, the City of Johannesburg hosted the Eco-Mobility conference and people were barred from entering Sandton, the country’s financial capital, using their cars.

“Elements of smart environments and more eco-friendly ways are now being incorporated into city planning in many facets, from infrastructure rollout to the manner in which basic services are being provided.”

In 2013, state-utility Eskom and Nissan joined forces on a three-year research project to study electric vehicles, their charging requirements, and characteristics. As the project progressed, Barry MacColl, general manager of Eskom’s Research, Testing and Consulting Business, noted that the focus of the research conducted changed from EV development to rather understanding their need for energy and the subsequent impact of EVs on the electricity grid.

MacColl said in an early statement: “The recent developments by suppliers of hybrid and pure EV has made us realise that we need to watch this technology closely and be ready for the wave of EV deployment if it happens. Note we say ‘if’; we are not sure that there will be a quick uptake of these vehicles nationally or internationally but if it does happen we want to be prepared.”

As part of the research project, EV charging stations were piloted at Eskom’s head office, Megawatt Park, in Sunninghill and at its research facility in Rosherville in Germiston. 

African cities ‘leapfrog’ into the future

A major advantage to smart city development in Africa is that many African cities do not suffer from the crippling cost associated with maintaining legacy infrastructure systems, and therefore have the ability to ‘leapfrog’ into present day smart city ecosystems that the more developed countries have found challenging to undertake through infrastructure upgrades and retrofits.

By way of an example – many African cities have already jumped into mobile and wireless services rather than implementing a fixed line alternative. Whether it is Lagos, Nairobi, Cape Town or Accra, new edge solutions for telecommunications and other critical infrastructure have enabled municipalities and governments to solve city problems on a daily basis.

While it is worth mentioning the developmental state of much of the continent, Dr. Hamadoun Touré, former ITU (International Telecommunications Union) secretary general and recently appointed Executive Director of Smart Africa, highlighted several examples of where cities in Africa have used technology to ‘leapfrog’ straight into 21st century intelligent urban environments.

He notes that Kigali and Nairobi are some of the most connected cities in the world (not just in Africa) and deserve the title of smart cities. According to Touré, “a smart city by definition is a city where connectivity by fibre and wireless networks are guaranteed, where all public areas are Wi-Fi enabled, where transport, energy and other utilities are provided and managed online, and administration can provide basic services to the public on line (birth certificates, drivers licences, construction permits and so forth).”

In Kigali those services are well provided for, with free Wi-Fi on public transport; hotels, public parks, schools and universities are all well covered by 4G connectivity. In addition, the private sector and especially the banking sector offers online services and service points with the full range of e-services. New services such as “e-imboni” (a document tracking system that will allow public institutions to securely share documents electronically), and “Irembo”, a one-stop portal for e-Government services are the latest examples of new services in this vibrant city.

Touré goes on to say that the biggest challenge is always the decision by the leadership and the setting of the right regulatory and policy environment. For that, leaders need to understand that “technology is always on our side and can make life easy.”

He adds: “[The] private sector can come in, invest, and of course make profits, but they will create the jobs so needed by our youth today, and will provide those services and applications that will trigger more innovation and creativity.”

Other examples of smart urban city developments springing up in Africa include the Konza technopolis outside Nairobi, King City located in close proximity to the port of Takoradi, Ghana, and notably Eko Atlantic on Victoria Island in Lagos. These urban smart and futuristic projects are designed to offer high-quality services and modern infrastructure, bringing together leisure facilities, business opportunities and social amenities for their residents.

The New Climate Economy initiative paper, entitled, Better Growth, Better Cities: Rethinking and Redirecting Urbanisation in Africa puts into perspective the potential for development across the African continent spurred by urbanisation. It says: “A feature of much of the literature on African cities to date is that it anticipates change, describes plans and highlights potential, but provides very little by way of proven success (AU, 2014; UN-Habitat, 2014; UNEP, 2015).

References

http://www.africancentreforcities.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/NCE-APP-final.pdf

http://production.presstogo.com/fileroot7/gallery/DNVGL/files/original/cc61d966eac94418a3f93e67682bea8d.pdf

http://senseable.mit.edu/papers/pdf/20140509_Ratti_AfricasCities_WorldEconomic.pdf

http://www.siemens.co.za/sustainable-development/pdf/Cities-in-Africa-Report-1.pdf

http://www.afdb.org/fileadmin/uploads/afdb/Documents/Events/COP21/The_African_Development_Bank_at_the_UNFCCC_COP21_ meeting.pdf

http://telecomworld.itu.int/blog/smart-africa/

http://blogs.worldbank.org/arabvoices/smart-cities-in-north-africa

This article first appeared in Metering & Smart Energy International, Issue 1, 2016.