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How Far India Has Come In Building Sustainable Cities

The very concept of smart cities is an amalgamation of city-level initiatives that drive ecological solutions to deliver a sustainable, comfortable and healthy living environment. Since the inception of the initiative in 2015, a good number of real-time smart city solutions have been deployed in the country. These are paving the way towards better waste management, tighter security, reduction of carbon footprint, better energy efficiency and more.

In this article, we look at some of the latest smart city solutions deployed across India.

Waste management solutions

India generates a massive volume of solid waste, amounting to more than 130 kilotonnes every day, of which, barely 25 kilotonnes get treated. Many Indian cities have been up in arms to mitigate these challenges. Ranging from smart bins to robotic road cleaners, smart cities have been deploying interesting technologies to keep themselves clean.

For instance, New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) has installed reverse vending machines for waste collection that reward those who dispose plastic waste into the machines. The machines accept dry wastes like plastic cups, glasses, papers and plastic bags. Depending on the waste being submitted, citizens get a nominal financial reward. The reward can be collected by downloading the required smartphone application, which has an e-wallet for the money to get credited.

Dry waste collection bin

Dry waste collection bin

The system can be used for other operations as well, such as ticket bookings, NDMC bill payments and even some Aadhaar-based services. Many such machines have been placed across Connaught Place and India Gate areas of New Delhi.

Surat in Gujrat has created an underground waste disposal channel to prevent open and untreated waste accumulation. Throughout the city, 43 underground garbage bins with overhead disposal inlets have been installed. These have a total waste holding capacity of 1.5 tonnes. The inlets have segregated openings for dry and wet waste.

Sensors fitted in the underground bins notify the waste control team when these detect that the bins are filled up to 70 per cent capacity. The team can then clear the bins in due time.

The process has massively boosted urban cleanliness, ranking Surat as one of the cleanest cities in the country. Surat treats 57 million litres of sewage daily, which gets converted to 40 million litres of potable water.

Jamshedpur in Jharkhand also employs interesting waste management facilities to boost their Zero Liquid Discharge project. Apart from real-time sensorised bins and wastewater treatment units, it has also set up biogas stations where wastes are converted into reusable biogas. Sewage drain covers are customised with sensors that detect when sewage fluid is about to overflow, so that teams can be deployed accordingly.

Renewable energy

Solar panels are the most convenient choice for renewable energy production. Commercial enterprises, government institutions as well as domestic households across the nation are installing solar setups to reduce the load on grid-based electricity. Collaterally, carbon gas emission also takes a step back.

Solar trees are an economical option for solar implementation in cities. Central Mechanical Engineering Research Institute, Durgapur, West Bengal—a constituent laboratory of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)—has designed and deployed solar trees across villages in Durgapur to mitigate the lack of electricity with renewable energy. In 2017, 2.5kW-capacity solar trees were installed at Srijani Auditorium, Durgapur to power the gardens and lawns off the grid.

Solar tree

Solar tree

Charkha Park in Connaught Place, New Delhi has also received solar trees for storing solar energy for off-grid use and accommodating citizens to sit under these while charging their cellphones.

Solar rooftops are usual elements of major green commercial buildings across India. Solar-powered streetlights with inbuilt batteries are gaining prominence as highways and remote areas face challenges in reliable grid supply and cabling. For example, highways along Noida-Greater Noida stretch are slowly adopting solar streetlights.

A large volume of solar projects, including some of the world’s largest solar parks, is in progress, too. Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra are some of the leading Indian states in terms of solar installation. All these initiatives will enable India reduce its dependency on non-renewable fuels and mitigate the nation-wide demand for electricity.

Smart infrastructure for connected cities

Sensors play an important role in shaping smart cities. Urban development and sustainability depend on real-time action, which can be taken based on data shared by such sensors. One of the most popular applications of sensors is in lighting infrastructure, that is, smart lighting.

For example, the city of Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh has installed 400 smart poles and 20,000 LED streetlights across the city. Replacing existing fluorescent streetlights with LEDs was one of the first steps that India took towards energy efficiency.

Smart poles installed in Bhopal deliver remote- and auto-control of streetlights, employ mobile-based SoS notifications to control centres, generate Wi-Fi hotspots and come with integrated surveillance cameras and air quality monitors. Bhopal Smart City authority shares that this infrastructure will lead to zero operating expenditure and maintenance for the next 15 years—saving a substantial amount of money and energy through optimal usage control.

Wi-Fi stand in New Delhi

Wi-Fi stand in New Delhi

Another example of smart application is the real-time monitoring of water bodies. Jamshedpur, with the help of Jamshedpur Utilities and Services Companies (JUSCO), has installed sensors in lakes to monitor water quality and aquatic ecology consistently. Any changes in the aquatic composition enable it to take quick action.

Bengaluru in Karnataka is using a smart control platform to reduce traffic congestions. The Electronic City township in Bengaluru is currently running pilots with technology powered by surveillance cameras with computer vision, sensors and an artificial intelligence (AI) engine to assess traffic conditions and recommend rerouting suggestions in real time. The platform is also expected to automate traffic signal controls.

Many other Indian cities have launched real-time parking management platforms that help in reducing on-road vehicle congestion. As a result, gases and particles emitted by vehicles—one of the most dangerous sources of urban pollution—are reduced significantly.

Smart grids and smart meters are available across the country to allow utilities and consumers check the real-time supply and usage status of resources like electricity and water. This reduces resource wastage and promotes consistent distribution across an area.

All these are possible through well-distributed networks across cities. Each infrastructure is Wi-Fi-enabled or uses cellular networks to run. For instance, New Delhi has multiple Wi-Fi booths by Signpost across various parts of central Delhi that deliver open, public Wi-Fi services to its citizens.

Jamshedpur is covered all over by LoRaWAN network, which powers all its public services. There are more such examples.

We are just a few years down the line since the beginning of the ambitious Smart Cities project. While a lot still remains to be explored and done, the progress is quite significant. Not only utilising the newer technologies being installed, but also safeguarding these infrastructures as responsible citizens is crucial for our progress. Because, smart cities are the precursor to sustainable green cities.

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