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Smart Cities and Urban Growth in Southeast Asia

It’s 7am and your alarm starts to ring. Sensors in your apartment register movement, switching lights on in response. At the same time a coffee machine begins to brew your morning cup in the kitchen. The curtains slowly open, revealing delivery drones soaring above the cityscape. Automated vehicles navigate seamlessly along streets, guided by smart lampposts that are part of an integrated road network.

The ultimate promise of smart cities is one of a utopian urban ecosystem, where traffic moves freely, energy is consumed efficiently, and connected data and analytics work cohesively to enhance our way of life. The future of smart cities may seem like a scene from the movies, but it’s more relevant, and present, than you think.

Improving urban travel across brimming ASEAN

Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia have more than 200 vehicles per km of road

Across Southeast Asia, an estimated 90 million additional citizens will relocate to a city by 2030. Rapid urbanisation and rising incomes have contributed to a perfect storm of traffic jams in many of Southeast Asia’s busiest metropolitan areas. Analysis shows that countries such as France and the USA have roughly 40 registered vehicles per kilometre of road. Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia have more than 200.

For the 11 million citizens of Indonesian capital and megacity, Jakarta, traffic congestion is a particularly difficult challenge. The Jakarta Smart City unit has been attempting to tackle this problem by employing data scientists who utilise CCTV camera footage and data from a navigation app to predict traffic jams hours in advance. The data is also integrated with TransJakarta bus services to streamline bus arrivals with traffic conditions and user demand. This has allowed city transport planners to adjust routes and improve services by making informed decisions around predicted traffic hotspots.

How cities in Southeast Asia are getting smarter  

Traffic cameras registering moving cars are just one element of the smart city equation. Today, our cities are collecting and analysing data at an unprecedented level. Creating a smart city is about connecting those dots to provide actionable insights, while ensuring privacy and anonymity are protected within the smart decision-making process.

Energy efficiency is one such area where data insight will enable a future of smart decision making. With growing urbanisation, the use of data analysis to reduce energy burden will be key. It presents not only an opportunity to cut costs and reduce electricity consumption, but also serves as an important front in the battle against climate change in a world where cities are responsible for 65% of global energy use.

In Thailand, oil and gas company PTT is embracing data analysis to enhance critical national infrastructure, employing technologies to improve internal energy efficiency as an element of smart city transformation.

Cities are responsible for 65% of global energy use

Warit Taechajinda, Manager at PTT Public Company Limited shares, “At PTT we’ve implemented solutions to make cities smarter for many years now. More than [a] decade ago we carried out district cooling system for the Bangkok airport. That is a joint venture between PTT and other electricity authorities of Thailand to supply electricity and cooling system to the airport.”

“Likewise, in our headquarters in Bangkok, the energy intensity in the building now is around 81 kilowatt hour per square meter per year, which is nearly half of what normal buildings consume. So that is how much we move regarding efficiency.”

The aptly named ‘Energy Complex’ houses both PTT and Thailand’s Ministry of Energy, and is specifically designed for its sustainable credentials. It combines the use of natural light with smart lighting sensors that automatically adjust brightness, as well as occupancy sensors that detect movement and turn off lighting in unoccupied areas. A smart air-conditioning system operates throughout the building, responding to the needs of each building zone as part of an efficient, integrated system. In total, the building includes more than 4,000 monitoring control points to create an intelligent building management system which, when combined with renewable energy generated from rooftop solar panels, greatly alleviates the building’s energy burden.

These efficient building solutions present significant opportunities when replicated across the urban environment. The combined potential of smart building management integrated with renewable energy generation, such as rooftop solar, provides a vital opportunity to tackle urban energy use.

In Vietnam, Danang has recently announced its own plans to join the smart city fraternity, following national trailblazers in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. These cities are connected by a desire to make use of e-government services, smart traffic systems and smart utilities to improve urban living. That includes everything from strategic waste management to improving traffic flow through smart monitoring and real-time updates to channel traffic through less congested routes. Vietnam aims to integrate this smart city initiative by replicating it across major urban centres in coming years.

Cambodian city Phnomh Penh is taking a more innovative approach to smart city evolution by partnering with a Singaporean tech firm to use blockchain software as the foundation for a 100-hectare smart development. This initiative aims to go a step further to integrate citizens’ experiences into the smart city environment by creating digital passports and wallets that integrate the lived experience of citizens into urban services.

Smart cities don’t stop here

Smart cities represent an ongoing evolution, which means as technology evolves, so too does the potential to transform our urban environment. The examples of Jakarta, Phnomh Penh and Danang are just the tip of the iceberg. Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Phuket, Johor Bahru, Manila and many more are piloting or implementing smart technologies to improve the lived environment.

The emergence of 5G technology is likely to provide a further boost to smart city potential, providing widespread and high-speed data access that connects everything from streetlights to water sprinklers as part of an interconnected urban network. As urban populations in the region continue to grow, the usage of smart technology to enhance urban living will become an increasingly pressing priority. The vision from your apartment window might not be one of a smart utopia just yet, but those connections are growing. In a future of rapidly accelerating urbanisation, smart cities provide the foundation for a better world to live.

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