Over the last few months, we have lived through a generation-defining crisis. The impact to our economies, livelihoods and collective well-being cannot be understated as we have seen the effects a global event can have on our local communities.
This interconnectedness reinforces the need for us to move forward, together, with a common goal. The pandemic can be a learning moment for us all.
While we were unprepared for a global crisis of this scale, there is another crisis we know is happening — climate change.
As we rebuild from the pandemic, we must do so in a way that takes climate change into consideration and builds on the progress we have made to achieve our global emission-reduction goals.
We have an opportunity to set ourselves on track towards a sustainable future for all.
But this future cannot be achieved without critically reflecting on how we live, work and play. More than 80 per cent of Canadians live in cities, and around the world cities account for 70 per cent of carbon emissions. Our ability to achieve a low-carbon economy rests on our ability to drastically reduce the impact our cities have on the environment. Rebuilding our post-pandemic world and making our cities smarter and more sustainable is an important first step.
The concept of a smart city — one that leverages technology to gather data that can be used to improve operations, efficiency and the overall experience for citizens — is not a new concept. But it has yet to be realized in a meaningful way across Canada. While individual cities have started to embrace smaller scale projects, collaboration between cities and across the country to create a connected smart city ecosystem will drive even greater impact on emission reductions.
To get there, we need to transform two major components of a smart city: the buildings that make up the city, and the infrastructure that supports, connects and powers it all. The digital transformation of buildings leads to increased efficiency and connected technology allows building managers to make intelligent decisions on energy consumption and optimize the buildings’ assets in real time.
Beyond making our buildings more energy efficient, the pandemic has caused a rethink in how we use these buildings. Smart, sustainable practices can, and should, be a part of redefining these spaces.
Office buildings are one clear example. While return to office efforts are underway, how we utilize buildings will be different, with remote working becoming a bigger part of the new work environment. Business owners and building managers must evaluate how to best use the space moving forward. Will they transform into multi-purpose spaces as companies look to consolidate real estate? Will there be an increasing need to understand when and how spaces are being used, to keep occupants safe? Smart technologies can provide clarity into many of these unknowns as we plan for post-pandemic building usage.
Industry reports cite that a smart building with integrated systems can see 30—50 per cent in energy savings. While these results are significant on their own, they become exponentially greater when you have large-scale adoption in buildings across a city.
Smart buildings play an important role in a low-carbon future. But our infrastructure must also be modernized and digitized. Our energy grids, for example, must meet our growing demand for power while supporting and incorporating new power generation, including renewables. Doing so will reduce our reliance on centralized energy producers and allow for small-scale power generation and storage technologies to offset the growing demand placed on utilities. Or in the instance of a major outage, provide power to critical infrastructure such as hospitals and airports that cannot afford downtime.
Truly smart cities need smart buildings and smart infrastructure to work in harmony and enable efficient and reliable energy consumption. Though many cities and communities may have been hesitant to implement what can feel like major projects, now is the time to explore, test and model these solutions. Among the many lessons that will be learned in the wake of the pandemic, one point is clear: we need leaders in business, industry and government to work together and equip themselves with the resources necessary to mitigate our other global crisis, climate change.
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