Smart Cities require a holistic approach to infrastructure

The need to make cities sustainable will drive the adoption of a range of smart solutions

By Morand Fachot

With mass urbanization emerging as an unstoppable trend across the world, cities need to become sustainable on many levels. The solution is to design smart solutions at all levels to help meet multiple challenges and lead to the development of smart cities.

NYC aerial
Megacities - here New York - will have to become smart cities to remain sustainable (Photo: NASA)

Unstoppable trend

According to a recent UN report, 54% of the world’s population were living in urban areas in 2014, a proportion that is expected to increase to 66% by 2050, when another 2,5 billion people are added to urban areas. Furthermore, there were 28 mega-cities with 10 million inhabitants or more worldwide in 2014. By 2030, the world is projected to have 41 mega-cities.

Many, if not most, services in cities and buildings are directly or indirectly dependent on electricity and electronics, and increasingly on IT systems. When Hurricane Sandy struck the northeastern United States in 2012, it brought home to millions how central electricity is to their lives. When electrical power from a central source is down, water supply is cut off, sewage overflows, fires rage out of control and all modes of communication and transportation are disrupted.

Need to achieve sustainability

To prosper and avoid major issues, cities must achieve economic, social, and environmental sustainability and become "smart cities" in the future. This can only be realized by integrating their infrastructures and services to improve urban efficiencies, as is stressed in the IEC White Paper "Orchestrating infrastructure for sustainable Smart Cities".

Technical solutions for improving overall efficiencies that are directly relevant for smart cities already exist in many domains, such as buildings, transportation, industry and services. They include energy management (generation and distribution), lighting, heating and cooling, appliances, communication networks and mobility solutions. There are hundreds of IEC International Standards that will make possible the smart integration of smart solutions for energy, buildings and homes, lighting, mobility and others. Many of the International Standards that will make cities smarter are referenced in the IEC Smart Grid Standards Map.

The Internet of Things (IoT), the network of interconnected objects or devices embedded with sensors and mobile devices which are able to generate data and to communicate and share that data with one another, is set to play a central role in smart cities (see article on IoT and smart buildings in this issue of e-tech).

Smart energy

Smart energy requires the optimization of electricity supply systems. This includes the integration of generation from new renewable energy sources, transmission and distribution networks and connected user installations.

IEC Technical Committee (TC) 8: Systems aspects for electrical energy supply, prepares and coordinates, in cooperation with other IEC TCs, the development of international standards and other deliverables in these areas. IEC Subcommittee (SC) 8A prepares International Standards for the grid integration of large-capacity renewable energy sources. Standards for these are prepared by IEC TC 82: Solar photovoltaic (PV) energy systems, and IEC TC 88: Wind turbines (IEC 61400 series).

Also central to smart energy are International Standards developed by IEC TC 57: Power systems management and associated information exchange. They include International Standards for communication networks and systems in substations, and for power utility automation (IEC 61850 series); for application integration at electric utilities (IEC 61968 series); for power systems management and associated information exchange (IEC 62351 series); and for energy management system application program interfaces (IEC 61970 series).

Proper energy management requires accurate metering. Multi-function, communicating "smart" meters that provide measurement of export/import energy, demand and power quality, and management of load, local generation, customer information, customer and contracts and other value added functions are essential when creating smart grids and smart cities. IEC TC 13: Electrical energy measurement and control, develops International Standards for such meters, in liaison with other IEC TCs such as TC 8 and TC 57.

Smarter buildings

Buildings make up 40% of global energy demand – and will soon account for 60% of it.

Smart cities need smarter, more energy-efficient buildings. Buildings use electricity for equipment and systems such as escalators, lifts, access control, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) or appliances.

Automation can make buildings smarter. It is more advanced in commercial than residential buildings as the former are usually refurbished and modernized more frequently. Automation in buildings includes the installation of programmable thermostats, timers and sensors that switch heating off or on, ventilation, lights, escalators and other equipment such as security systems, as required. IEC SC 47E: Discrete semiconductor devices, prepares International Standards for components used in a variety of sensors.

Other systems that make buildings smarter are alarm and electronic security systems. They encompass systems for access control, alarm transmission, fire detection and alarm, intruder and hold-up alarm and social alarm as well as those that can be connected to remote receiving and/or surveillance centres. International Standards for these alarm and electronic security systems are prepared by IEC TC 79.

Work done by ISO/IEC JTC (Joint Technical Committee) 1/SC (Subcommittee) 25/WG (Working Group) 1: Interconnection of information technology equipment – Home electronic systems, paved the way to energy management systems with its home automation/home networking standards. These allow consumers to take control of their energy use and programme their devices to a much greater extent than ever before.

A number of initiatives in countries around the world aim at having zero-energy buildings: those that produce as much energy over the year as they use. This can be achieved through the integration of renewable energy sources such as PV or geothermal, of storage systems, heat-pumps, and plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) in addition to energy conservation construction technologies and insulation.

Smart lighting

Smart lighting can be fitted in buildings. It can also be installed in public and external spaces such as streets, plazas and parking lots.

Street lighting installations, which may account for as much as 40% of local authority electricity bills, are seen as opening possibilities for providing long-term savings and good returns on investment. LED-based lighting solutions, replacing high-intensity discharge lamps, introduce tailor-made and smart solutions, in particular when combined with control nodes and various sensors which allow for remote on/off switching and some level of dimming control. LED-based lamps are also extremely energy efficient. IEC TC 34: Lamps and related equipment, prepares International Standards for lamps and related equipment, including LEDs.

Smart mobility

A major problem facing cities, which is bound to worsen in the future, lies with obstacles to mobility as more people have to commute to and from work over long distances.

Smart mobility systems and the wider introduction of EVs offer solutions to this problem.

Smart mobility systems may include driverless electric-powered vehicles running on dedicated guideways, as found in some airports and in Masdar City near Abu Dhabi, UAE (United Arab Emirates), and traffic control.

Adaptive traffic control systems,which optimize the operation of signals to improve traffic flow, and are already deployed in some urban areas, will play a growing role in smart mobility together with connected systems such as adaptive cruise control installed in cars.

EVs for both personal and public transport are needed to cut noxious emissions. They can also be integrated in a smart infrastructure when plug-in EVs communicate with the power grid and provide electricity to it or curb their charging rate, according to the grid's needs.

IEC TC 69: Electric road vehicles and electric industrial trucks, prepares international Standards for EV conductive and inductive charging.

Batteries are another building block central to smart mobility and to electrical energy storage. IEC TC 21: Secondary cells and batteries, develops International Standards for secondary cells and batteries.

Water and waste management

As more and more people move to urban areas, the demands on water supply as well as on waste water and solid waste management are bound to increase significantly.

Fresh water supply is heavily dependent on electrical systems, from the pumps needed to extract water and send it to mains water networks to purifying installations required to ensure that water is safe to consume. Increasingly, water supply systems are connected to IT networks and can be operated from remote sites.

Likewise, waste water treatment is becoming highly automated and relies on electrical equipment such as pumps, rotating motors for clarifiers and aeration tanks.

Solid waste management depends on many electrical systems and machinery such as conveyor belts, which, like equipment for fresh water supply and waste water treatment, rely on rotating motors. IEC TC 2 prepares International Standards for the rotating machinery used in all these processes.


An important aspect of smart cities (and smart buildings) that needs particular attention is the protection of their multiple systems against cyber-attacks.

Since most, if not all, systems making up smart city environments are IT-based and connected, they can be the target of cyberattacks aimed at either disrupting certain systems or shutting them down completely, which could have catastrophic consequences. The IEC has been closely involved in the development of Standards for cybersecurity for years through its work in ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 27: IT security techniques.

The creation of two special bodies illustrates the importance the IEC attaches to cybersecurity:

The IEC Standardization Management Board (SMB) has set up an Advisory Committee on Information security and data privacy (ACSEC) to deal "with information security and data privacy matters which are not specific to one single technical committee of the IEC" and other tasks.

The IEC Conformity Assessment Board (CAB) has set up Working Group (WG) 17 and  IECEE has established a Policy and Strategy (PSC) WG, both focusing on cybersecurity.

The IoT presents particular cyber-security challenges as "a single vulnerable device can leave an entire ecosystem open to attack, with potential disruptions ranging from individual privacy breaches to massive breakdowns of public systems", according to a recent report by the global professional services network Deloitte.

A tale of many TCs

Many more International Standards for all the Smart Grid and Smart Cities building blocks are being prepared by dozens of IEC Technical Committees and their Subcommittees, allowing the development of tailor-made solutions.

In addition to these, aware of the crucial importance of Smart Cities for the future, the SMB has launched a Systems Evaluation Group, SEG 1 on Smart Cities. It is currently preparing a reference architecture and standardization roadmap in cooperation with different organizations. It is looking at liaisons both within and outside the IEC. This includes groups such as ISO/IEC JTC1, ISO, ITU-T (International Telecommunication Union Telecommunication Standardization Sector) and more.

Some 180 experts are active in SEG 1, its 8 Working Groups – which look at issues linked to city service continuity, urban planning and simulation system, city facilities management, use cases, smart cities assessment, standards development for smart cities – and its 3 Task Groups. SEG 1 is set to be converted into a SyC (Systems Committee) later this year.

In addition to this work, the IEC Market Strategy Board (MSB), which brings together Chief Technology Officers of leading international companies, led the preparation of the White Paper on Smart Cities: "Orchestrating infrastructure for sustainable Smart Cities".

All this work by multiple IEC TCs, IEC SEG 1 and other groups will help the development of Smart Cities.

NYC aerial Megacities - here New York - will have to become smart cities to remain sustainable (Photo: NASA)
smart mobility masdar Example of smart mobility in service: Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) System station at the Masdar Institute Campus (Photo: Masdar City)
urban lighting Smart street lighting using low energy LEDs, motion and dusk-to-dawn sensors will cut towns' energy bills