From rhetoric to action: building a smart Hong Kong

  • Published: 21 February 2018
  • Author: Carmen Lau

The concept of a “smart city” is gaining traction across the globe. Whilst the definition of smart city can vary, the term essentially refers to cities that use technology to enable large scale, real time data collection and analysis, from which insights can be generated to enable local authorities and services providers to better monitor and manage service delivery.

Raising Demand from Citizens

In a recent Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) survey of 2,000 citizens across 20 cities in ASEAN and Asia-Pacific, 8 in 10 (82%) said their city should create more smart city initiatives. 77% of respondents cited high-speed broadband is one of the most important initiatives in making a city smart and sustainable (Figure 1). High-speed broadband infrastructure is central to enable smart city technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing and big data. Other important initiatives include energy management systems, (78%), intelligent water treatment (76%) and smart waste management (76%), which rely heavily on broadband connectivity.

Figure 1: Most important smart city initiatives (Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit)

An improved environment and, interestingly, higher quality of education were the top benefits identified by survey respondents (Figure 2). The result shows that the definition of a “smart” city goes beyond a city with technology-enabled services.

Figure 2: Main smart city benefits (Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit)

Building Hong Kong into a World Class Smart City

In December 2017, The HKSAR Government released the Smart City Blueprint for Hong Kong (The Blueprint), setting out measures, policy objectives and recommendations in six major areas, namely “Smart Mobility”, “Smart Living”, “Smart Environment”, “Smart People”, “Smart Government” and “Smart Economy”. While the Blueprint outlines the Government’s aspirations, a specific action plan and targets are missing.

Among all aspects, the content in “Smart Environment” is relatively weak. Three of the top-rated smart city initiatives identified in the above survey (i.e. energy management systems, intelligent water treatment and smart waste management) are not included in the Blueprint. Given that over 60% of respondents from Hong Kong identified an improved environment as the main benefit of being smart city, the Hong Kong Government should strengthen “Smart Environment” measures when developing its action plan and targets.

Smart Energy Management Systems

With smart metering, building operators and end users can receive crucial information they need to improve building energy performance. Currently, smart meters are mostly used in commercial buildings in Hong Kong. In Singapore, smart meters will be extended to households in 2018. Hong Kong could extend the adoption of IoT-driven smart meters in different buildings.

Many cities have embraced renewables and a smart grid to improve reliability, resiliency, flexibility and efficiency of their energy provision systems. In 2010, the City of Yokohama formulated the Yokohama Smart City Project (YSCP) that introduced a Community Energy Management System (CEMS) by linking each EMS, such as in homes and buildings, and stationary energy storage in three areas (Figure 3). Together with renewable energy initiatives and electric vehicles, consumers will also receive incentives to limit electricity use. YSCP contributes the city’s goal of reducing carbon emissions by 16% by 2020, 24% by 2030, and 80% by 2050. Hong Kong is one of the few advanced cities in the world with no feed-in tariff scheme. To implement smart grid, a policy reform is required.

Figure 3: CEMS of  Yokohama Smart City Project (Source: City of Yokohama)

Smart Waste Management

In 2016, the disposal rate of municipal solid waste (MWS) in Hong Kong was 1.41 kg per capita, compared to 1.39 kg in 2015. This is well under the Government’s 2017 target to reduce MSW to 1kg per capita. Also, the Government seeks to increase the recycling rate to 55% by 2022. Yet the Blueprint covers little on the topics of waste management. Technology provides both integrated waste management and waste collection solutions.

Songdo International Business District in South Korea has an automated waste management infrastructure that is powered by a high-speed data network. Using underground pipes, trash is transported directly from the garbage bin at home or on the street to a central sorting and disposal facility. Once trash reaches the facility, the garbage is automatically recycled, incinerated, or buried deep underground. The system is expected to increase the district’s recycling rate to 76% in 2030.

Figure 4: Songdo’s pneumatic waste collection infrastructure (Source: Eco-business)

It might be difficult for Hong Kong to adopt Songdo’s automated system in developed areas as it requires massive underground work. Smart waste management can also apply IoT improvements to the point of residential or commercial waste disposal and collection process. A common set of elements found in smart waste collection systems includes sensors that monitor fill level and other indicators such as temperature and tilt within waste containers, a communication node to transport data and a software suite for accessing, managing and analysing that data. A growing number of cities, including Amsterdam, London, Melbourne, Dublin and Seoul, are using solar-powered smart bins that harness solar energy and use sensors to continually compact the waste that is deposited, increasing the capacity by up to 700% and reducing waste collection by up to 85%. Smart waste management results in fewer collection visits, and reduced congestion, traffic interruption, carbon dioxide and other emissions from refuse collection vehicles.

Figure 5: Solar-powered smart bins (Source: Bee Smart City)

Intelligent Water Treatment and Supply

The Hong Kong Government is establishing the Water Intelligent Network that uses state of the art technology monitoring and sensing equipment to collect data for active leakage detection and control, pressure management, efficient repairs and asset management by replacing aged water mains as needed. Intelligent water treatment and supply is not the focus of Hong Kong’s Smart City Development as it is not covered in the Blueprint.

Hong Kong could explore IoT for water conversation. Using sensors, Barcelona has implemented IoT technologies to monitor rain and humidity to control park irrigation and water levels in public fountains. Park workers can determine how much irrigation is needed in each area. A system of electrovalves is then remotely controlled to deliver necessary water across the city. The programme is implemented in 68% of public parks, helped the city save 25% of water and USD $555,000 per year.

Smart City Success Factors

Smart cities are not only about ICT solutions. Government and private sector initiatives worldwide are exploring innovative ways to make cities more efficient, liveable, sustainable and more competitive. IBI Group suggests 10 smart city success factors that Hong Kong should consider:

  1. Consider stakeholder benefits: Smart city strategy should identify and measure clear benefits to different stakeholders
  2. Engage stakeholders and get buy in: Engaging stakeholders early sets the tone for how inclusive the city is, and will encourage citizens to participate in the smart city development process.
  3. Align initiatives with community needs: Initiatives should address the needs and vision of the local community, focusing on enhancing the quality of life and competitive advantage.
  4. Identify foundational initiatives and build momentum: Identify existing initiatives that are foundational to smart city. Establish a clear implementation timeline, and work on communicating the plan to build momentum.
  5. Develop clear public messaging and branding: Clear messaging helps stakeholders understand the rationale, benefits and outcomes of smart city initiatives and drive understanding and buy in from stakeholders.
  6. Create a “dust-proofing” strategy: With the pace of technology change, many short-term projects can look different by the time they are completed. Cities should consider their smart city strategy as a living document with high-level policies and frameworks that have supporting initiatives and projects that evolve over time.
  7. Learn from experience and other cities: Cities need to continuously evaluate the outcomes of the initiatives, learn from what has been done and has worked (or not) in other cities. Taking part in smart city coalitions offers learning and knowledge sharing opportunities.
  8. Integrate technology in urban planning: Including an urban planning component in smart city initiatives is critical to success.
  9. Set performance indicators: Developing performance indicators that are relevant to local context and meaningful to stakeholders helps cities to evaluate the effectiveness of their initiatives. Determining the right indicators is useful for internal operations and the outward messaging to the citizens.
  10. Create a lasting smart city culture: Sustainable smart city initiatives require a culture of innovation. To maintain a lasting smart city culture, ongoing coordination, sharing of challenges and successes openly to stakeholders, and smart governance are essential.