Meet the smart utilities ushering in greener and more efficient cities

By ST Engineering

Experts from defence, technology and engineering group ST Engineering explain the smart utilities that can make cities smarter, more efficient and more sustainable.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, worked with engineering group ST Engineering to install 300,000 smart street lights which saw them save on energy costs, improve maintenance efficiency and safety. Image: Canva

Five years back, aspiring smart cities set a goal of being able to respond to citizens’ needs in real time. In a 2018 seminar, Professor Archan Misra, then Director of the Singapore Management University’s Centre for Applied Smart-Nation Analytics, said then that this ideal would soon become reality with the boom of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and sensors.

Today, it seems his vision is proving true as smart streetlights now line roads and highways, and smart water meters have been integrated into pipelines and homes of citizens around the world.

When utilities get outfitted with sensors and digital measurement capabilities, they improve situational awareness, says Chong Liang Ming, Vice President and Head of Smart Utilities, Urban Solutions at ST Engineering. The benefits are multifold.

Sensors for improved efficiency

First, digital utilities can help improve energy efficiency through adaptive usage.

While traditional streetlights can only be switched on or off, or perhaps dimmed to pre-set levels, smart street lighting differs in the ability to “control each and every individual streetlight”, Chong explains.

This means that street lighting intensity can adjust automatically depending on various factors, such as the level of use and time of year. For instance, the lights can be adjusted such that they are brighter in more critical, high-traffic areas, and dimmer in areas that see less traffic. Likewise, they can also be adapted to light up later during months when the sun sets later and vice versa during periods of daylight savings.

“As a regular citizen, you don't feel the effects because the lights will make the adjustments and balance based on the ambient environment,” Chong says. This ensures that citizens still receive adequate lighting but with less energy being consumed, he adds.

For instance, the city of Auckland in New Zealand partnered with ST Engineering to install 40,000 smart streetlights, which allowed the city to reduce energy consumption by an additional 20 per cent on top of the energy savings that came with switching to LED lights.

The use of sensors in utility services also allows city planners to collect a wealth of data that can then be used for pattern analysis and the optimisation of resources. “When you monitor your assets and their status, it gives rise to the ability to then do some predictive maintenance before the actual failure of the item itself,” Chong explains.

With the smart streetlights, Auckland could significantly reduce the lead time needed for repairs as they were able to digitally and remotely monitor the health status of every streetlight, as opposed to having to send maintenance crews to physically check each one.

Similarly, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the installation of 300,000 smart street lights helped the local municipality save on energy costs as well as improve maintenance efficiency. This was particularly crucial for them as public lighting was the second most expensive item in their municipal budget, Chong says.

The street lights also brought about a secondary benefit of improved safety. “It enhances the community’s perception of security when you have lights and it reduces opportunity for crime,” Chong explains. Over time, this makes the city safer, which helps to promote economic activity, he adds.

Anomaly detection and wastage reduction

Data collected by sensors can also help to detect anomalies. For instance, sensor data in smart water meters can determine when there is a spike in water consumption, which could in turn indicate a leakage.

A lot of water is lost between the processing facilities and when it gets to household taps, potentially due to leakages, says Eddy Kafry, President & CEO of ST Engineering Telematics Wireless Ltd–a subsidiary of ST Engineering specialising in advanced wireless systems, networks and solutions for roadway and street lighting control, water resource management and advanced metering infrastructure.

“With smart water meters, you get an accurate measurement of the water coming in and water coming out at the same minute. If there is a difference between them, then it is attributed to loss,” Kafry explains.

With ST Engineering’s AGIL Water Advanced Metering Infrastructure, city planners are even able to pinpoint exactly where the leakages are. This is because the smart water meters can collect water consumption data for the entire city, down to the second. This allows municipalities to easily identify the source of the spike in water consumption.

Connectivity as the foundation

“The smart city of the future will be one where the communications within the city are well connected,” Chong says. It is upon this principle that ST Engineering has developed its smart utilities solutions. The smart streetlights, for instance, are all able to communicate with one another through the T-Light Galaxy base station. 

The base station ensures reliable communication between a control station and all control points - in this case, streetlights. A single T-Light Galaxy station is able to cover a radius of 10 kilometres of lighting in urban settings, where there may be numerous obstructions like tall buildings. In more rural terrain, the coverage goes up to 25 kilometres, Chong says.

ST Engineering has also developed an IoT platform which can help to manage IoT applications, including smart street lights as well as devices from other systems. The platform provides an overview of all IoT devices within a city in real time, including information on how they are functioning, as well as the ability to automatically send alerts for maintenance and anomalies.

These smart technologies bring with them the ability to uncover deeper insights with the data that has been collected, says Chong. With these insights, municipalities can then take action to improve energy efficiency and reduce waste, to create greener and more sustainable cities.

“You will be able to analyse and determine which part of the city is working and which part is not,” he adds. “We can then work from there on to find the appropriate solutions that need to be implemented and improve the quality of life of every citizen within the city.”