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Shaping Malaysia’s Smart City Dreams

Malaysia’s urban areas will be home to up to 87% of its total population by 2050. This is good news for economic growth. Yet, unchecked urban development around the world is resulting in wasteful use of the planet’s finite resources while negatively impacting the health and lives of the very people economic development is meant to serve. Over the past few years, smart cities have emerged as key to tackling the increasing demand on public infrastructure and natural resources. Using digital innovation, smart cities intend to make urban services and development more efficient while preserving the environment and providing a better quality of life for citizens.  

Malaysia has been home to projects focused on setting up the country’s digital infrastructure and tech capabilities to bring its ambitious smart city aspirations to life.

Over the past 5 years, Malaysia has been home to projects focused on setting up the country’s digital infrastructure and tech capabilities to bring its ambitious smart city aspirations to life. The 2021 Smart City Handbook Malaysia highlights just how technology and data are shaping the future of Malaysian cities as part of the country’s commitment to revolutionise life in the city. 

Why Smart Cities are the Solution 

Urbanisation brings important benefits for economic, social, and cultural development. Yet, responding to an increasing urban population with unchecked, under-planned development strains available resources and makes a city a ticking time bomb for disaster, especially as we experience the extreme weather events of climate change. The flash floods Malaysia has been subject to recently are evidence of this, such as the 3-day torrential downpour which resulted in floods that displaced over 65,000 people as irrigation systems failed to redirect access rainfall and drainage systems became overwhelmed.  

Fortunately, innovation over the past decade has produced technology with the potential to transform the way cities operate. When coupled with data gathering and analytics, disruptive technologies allow us to strike a balance between urbanisation and environmental preservation – especially in managing climate-related risks such as flash floods and landslides.  

Using available resources, smart city technology optimises a city’s functions, facilitates economic growth, and improves the quality of life of its citizens. Herein lies the core of the smart city concept, where technology is not just about reducing cost and improving efficiency, but for transforming the way people live to create a safe, holistic environment that breeds innovation and economic growth while preserving the natural environment.  

A Strategic Approach to Smart City Goals 

The future of urban Malaysia hinges on a strategic approach by the government to bring smart cities into reality. As outlined in the 2021 Smart City Handbook Malaysia, realising our smart city vision will require action and collaboration around 7 important areas: 

Academia and the private sector play large roles in this strategy. Academic and research institutions are crucial in conducting fundamental research to inform smart city deployment and areas of focus, while the private sector’s hardware, software and networks will bring smart cities to life.  

The key enabler of this transition, however, will be government. From setting the nation’s smart city vision, defining supportive regulations, creating incentives for technological innovation, and coordinating the deployment of our smart city vision, effective governance at the federal, state, and local level will lay the foundation for Malaysia’s smart future.  

Building this City on Efficiency and Innovation 

Malaysia’s smart city development plans focus on widening and strengthening Malaysia’s digital infrastructure and capabilities such as underground fibre optics, telecommunications towers, energy infrastructure and data collection capabilities. This has allowed the country to lay the groundwork of WiFi, broadband and data networks needed for the smart services that improve the quality of life for citizens and enhance the efficiency of public services.  

The country’s strategy of tackling urbanisation challenges by implementing technological innovation to digitalise services and increase the reach as well as efficiency of available resources and infrastructure is already becoming reality.  

With programs like Smart Meters across the country, consumers are becoming more involved than ever in the digital transformation. Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB)’s Smart Meters make it possible for consumers to monitor consumption patterns in ringgit or kilowatt-hours (kWh), and receive consumption notifications at the end of the billing cycle. Ultimately, this could change consumers’ consumption patterns and behaviours in response.  

The property industry is also making its stride towards this reality. Ilham Residence, a Sime Darby development in partnership with GSPARX, a subsidiary of TNB, specialising in rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) solution for retail customers, built homes that come equipped with solar panels, smart green meters, and home energy management systems. Some of these initiatives will allow homeowners to manage their energy consumption and export excess energy back to TNB under the Net Energy Metering (NEM) scheme. 

Shaping Our Future, Now 

The nation’s 12th Malaysia Plan (RMK-12) highlights its aspirations to resetting the economy, strengthening security, wellbeing and inclusivity, and advancing sustainability. The work so far towards reducing carbon emissions, developing enabling instruments for climate action, and supporting 120 cities and district to achieve green and resilient cities status by 2025, among others, have already set a solid foundation for future development while sustainably addressing growing urban needs. Smart cities are a key part of that development journey, but more needs to be done to clear a path to this smart future such as investing in preparing our energy grid and preparing consumers for this change. However, if Malaysia remains on its current track, there’s no doubt that smart cities will be a ubiquitous part of our future.    

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