The Role of Technology in Creating Green Urban Environments

The pressing demand for green urban spaces and the concept of ‘smart cities’ necessitate the integration of technology to meet the growing population’s needs while improving quality of life and promoting sustainability.

The role of technology is not to be strictly associated with the installation of new digital technology systems within a city. Rather it is more concerned with using technology to help decision-making and use the right tech in order to fulfil societal needs.

There are a multitude of sectors that are using technology to improve and develop green urban environments:

Construction (Smart Buildings)

Buildings consume a substantial amount of energy in urban regions. Energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, lighting controls, and automated shading are examples of smart building technology that can assist reduce energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions.

A smart building that uses technology aims to optimise the way a business operates in order to enhance the energy efficiency, air quality, and to create a happier and more productive environment.

Technology that is at the heart of this is the Internet of Things, commonly referred to as IoT’s. IoT’s refers to a network of physical objects or devices connected to the internet and capable of sharing data with other devices and systems, which can range from simple sensors and smart appliances to more complicated industrial machinery technologies. A key example is Infogrid’s indoor air quality (IAQ) sensors which give insights into carbon dioxide levels and other indoor air pollutants within a workplace  and can allow businesses to optimise their ventilation and heating to create healthier workplaces for employees.

Waste Management

Technology has the potential to significantly improve waste management by providing more efficient and effective methods of reducing, reusing, recycling, and disposing of garbage. In the development of green urban environments, waste management can offer a prime opportunity for optimisation and with sustainability at the core of the creation of these environments, waste contamination risk needs to be minimised as much as possible.

One technology that has responded to the call for more efficient waste management in urban areas is waste-to-energy (WtE) systems. Such a system supports the concept of a circular economy that has recently been adopted by the European Commission. Waste-to-energy is a process that converts waste into energy with the most common method currently used in urban areas being Thermal WtE plants which incinerate the waste to create energy. However, studies show that such process has high rates of emissions and are often economically unsustainable.

Innovative technologies that can counteract these higher rates of emissions whilst still optimising waste management in urban areas are Gasification and Hydrothermal carbonisation (HTC) which both reduce the number of emissions produced when compared to incineration.

Energy Grid Optimisation

Technology can help optimise energy grids by increasing energy efficiency, decreasing waste, and balancing supply and demand. Utilities can construct a more sustainable and resilient energy system that satisfies the requirements of consumers while decreasing environmental impact by using the power of technology.

An example of such a technology system in order to optimise the energy grid is through the use of advanced analytics and machine learning algorithms. These techniques can assist providers in identifying energy usage patterns and trends, forecasting future energy demand, and optimising energy distribution and transmission. Analytics, for example, can assist in identifying parts of the grid experiencing high energy demand and allocating resources accordingly. Such an area is leading the way in smart grid monitoring with innovations shaping the power industry and new patents for new technologies being filed frequently by major companies.

Allowing technology to monitor energy usage and demand allows urban environments to reduce energy waste and allocate resources when needed to ensure that all those that need energy at a given time, receive it.

If you are looking for advice on how to help your business become more energy efficient and would like a feasibility study on how to start generating your own energy for the long term, our technical and financial team are available to talk you through how to get started.

Article by George Martin

George is currently undertaking a masters degree in Public International Law at the University of Nottingham. He provides paralegal and research assistance to the legal team at Prospect Law.

Prospect Law is a multi-disciplinary practice with specialist expertise in the energy and environmental sectors with particular experience in the low carbon energy sector. The firm is made up of lawyers, engineers, surveyors and finance experts.

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