We have smartphones, smart cards, smart cars, and pretty smart houses, judging by the increasing number of data-sharing devices linked up between the kitchen and the living room. It makes sense that our cities should be equally smart as well.
For some time now, cities globally have been investing in all sorts of infrastructure to make them hyper-connected, environmentally sound, and, well, cool. Certainly, in some places (San Francisco, New York, and Tokyo instantly come to mind), living in a smart city has become almost a civic right, a basic service citizens demand and won't live without.
Let's stop for a second and put this into perspective. Thanks to the billions of dollars (or euros, yen, yuan, pesos, or whatever other currency comes to mind) already spent by cities, states, and nations, we can make calls while riding underground subways, get GPS info from solar-powered bus stops, whiz by highway toll booths without hitting our brakes, and surf the Web at a park while listening to the birds sing. These are impressive accomplishments.
The exciting -- or scary -- part, depending on your point of view, is that capital projects like these show no sign of slowing down. Networking, energy efficiency, mobility, smart grids, and smart buildings will continue to be potential growth areas the world over as municipalities and regional governments set budget plans for the next decade, industry experts predict.
A report released this week by clean-tech market intelligence firm Pike Research, for example, forecasts that investment in smart city technology infrastructure will total $108 billion from 2010 to 2020. By the end of that period, the firm anticipates that annual spending will reach nearly $16 billion. $16 billion annually. Numbers like that make me think this could be a steady, niche market for component suppliers and semiconductor makers for the foreseeable future.
The conversations about what projects will get the green light are happening now. This week in Amsterdam, leaders from various corporate, government, and environmental segments are gathering at Smart City Event 2011 to discuss, share, and advance the concept of smart city development and "climate neutral" projects. Participants will swap information about best practices, funding opportunities, and cross-industry stakeholder cooperation.
On a European scale, a government commission has even been established to help create a roadmap for smart city initiatives. Among other things, SETIS (Strategic Energy Technologies Information System) pools together different tools smart city planners could use: interactive strategic modeling, technology and capacity mapping, scientific reports, implementation methodologies, and energy cost calculators.
Across the world, and perhaps not at all surprising, China is pumping more money in broadband infrastructure. According to a report this month from IHS iSuppli, China’s spending on broadband infrastructure equipment will soar to $1.15 billion in 2014, up from $925 million this year and $688 million in 2010.
This is only a sliver of what's happening on regional and national levels. Multiply high-tech capital works projects by individual cities on every continent, and I'd say the math would cause some eyeball popping among supply chain professionals.
On the surface, these projects may not seem as glamorous as the hyped up tablet computer or smartphone space. Nevertheless, the smart city market will be just as important -- or even more important -- to end users. Really, what good is a smartphone if you can't get a WiFi signal or buy a coffee with a flick of your wrist while waiting at an electric car charging station?