Build Back Better: Cities, Sustainability and COVID-19

Nicholas Church - Schréder Hyperion
Nicholas Church
Global Business Development Manager for Smart Cities

The events of the last 18 months have fundamentally changed the way we live, work and relax. The way we use space in cities is no exception, and urban centres around the world are thinking about how to rebuild, invest and structure areas as people exit lockdown conditions and meet friends, loved ones and colleagues again.  
Cities worldwide have been moving towards more sustainable practices for decades, and the pandemic provides an opportunity to build back better. New lighting systems need to ensure safety, protect the natural world, and minimise resource use. What does that mean for cities worldwide? How can they become more sustainable in the wake of the pandemic? Nicholas Church, Global Business Development Manager for Smart Cities, shares his perspective. 

Let’s start with the big picture: how much will cities change? 

I believe cities are here to stay. A lot of the historic upheavals such as Black Death, dropping the atom bomb, the fall of the Roman Empire had surprisingly little lasting effect on urbanisation. Technology or innovation however is able to change the face of cities and events like the pandemic accelerate these changes. Today, this acceleration is exacerbated by the fact that cities are focussing on ecological and carbon zero objectives. 

Smog free Chinese cities are inspiring local authorities to strive harder for zero carbon cities and lighting can play an important role

Images of smog free Chinese cities and plane-free skies have struck millions of leaders across the globe. This has once again confirmed convictions that addressing climate change is a priority of this century and this is regardless of COVID-19. 

Can lighting really contribute that much? 

The first step to achieving carbon zero objectives is easy; most cities can save up to 50% on their energy bill just by switching to LED lighting, so we’d encourage them to do so. Smart control systems can add an extra 30% reduction in energy savings by dynamically adapting the light to cities’ bespoke needs (through things like presence and weather sensors or traffic monitoring). But the benefits don’t stop there; asset management and maintenance optimisations count for a lot and linking the lighting assets to other city systems to improve safety for example, is just one of many things digitalising and connecting lighting can achieve
According to the UN Environmental Program, 15% of global energy is used by lighting. So LED penetration is really going to have a big impact there. If you can achieve 50% energy savings and those lights last 25 times longer than incandescent lamps, the potential for achieving net carbon zero is unequivocal. Under the same umbrella goes respecting dark skies and protecting natural habitats which control systems can equally benefit.
Schréder sits on a number of standard-setting bodies and consortiums which help the industry evolve to benefit cities and citizens as technology comes in and disrupts. I believe that it could make sense in the future to introduce some sort of carbon credit scheme to reward cities that make sustainable choices. 

How easy is it to integrate sustainable features? 

Very! If we just look at Portugal’s Oeiras Valley programme: they want to make a Lusophone Silicon Valley. At every stage, the planners were thinking about sustainability by design. So they decided to install one SHUFFLE with light, WiFi, CCTV, an electric vehicle (EV) charger, all managed by the Schréder EXEDRA control system in each of its 17 parishes.

SHUFFLE light columns can be fitted with EV chargers and other features to provide more ecological infrastructure to towns and cities

With a range of regular and ultra-fast charging points, they’ve created the most comprehensive electric vehicle charging network in the country, and will be able to charge up to 80,000 km/day! This translates into the elimination of fossil fuels equivalent to 5,662 litres of diesel and 6,471 litres of petrol. That’s a huge change. Oeiras has been asserting itself in Electric Mobility, in the context of a smart city strategy, and it’s an extremely attractive region: close to Lisbon, a great R&D community, and lots of multinational companies based there. It’s really rewarding to see their lighting strategy be a part of that!

And what comes next? 

When we look at connected lighting, clearly one of the reasons to implement a system is to save energy. But that is obvious to some extent. If we take a different perspective; lighting is everywhere, connected to the grid, high up and it’s a well-maintained infrastructure of the city. It provides the perfect platform on which to build other services. Traffic flows are changing as a result of home working, public space usage is changing because of pandemic influenced policies (e.g. road side cafés in parking spaces), and who knows what the requirements will be for driverless cars?

Lighting can provide a platform to facilitate those applications, especially where edge processing maybe necessary. COVID has accelerated the motivation of cities to become more eco-friendly, but choosing open modular systems will mean that they will be ready for whatever comes next. We at Schréder can help with that, so get in touch!

About the writer
Passionate about building a sustainable future, Nicholas joined Schréder Hyperion, our Smart City Centre of Excellence, when it opened in 2019 in Lisbon. He is focusing on developing outdoor lighting control system offering to help cities build FutureProof lighting systems for smart city projects. Today he chairs the UCIFI marketing workgroup aimed at supporting and growing the UCIFI alliance that is intent on breaking down barriers to make smart city technologies more open. Nicholas studied Civil Engineering at Imperial College London, did an Erasmus in France and is now based in Portugal.

Connect with Nicholas on LinkedIn.