Special Report
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Urban innovations: From cleaner power to cable car connections

Measuring the population’s health via the sewers is another impressive advance

Localised power generation

A feature of the ongoing decarbonisation of electricity is the increasing use of small cogeneration combined heat and power (CHP) plants and trigeneration – combined cooling, heat and power (CCHP) plants within cities closer or even inside the point of consumption. These plants increase the overall efficiency of power generation by harnessing the excess heat, steam or other gases that would otherwise be lost. The use of excess thermal energy to generate electricity and useful heat means that less fuel needs to be consumed to produce the same amount of useful energy.

The Sydney city authority has turned to trigeneration to reduce the carbon footprint of a number of public buildings and leisure facilities. In a further innovation, the turbines in the gas-fired plant can reduce their output in response to falling demand, further increasing efficiency and reducing emissions.

Repurposable space

Large spaces such as car parks and transport terminals can often go unused at night or at weekends. In Miami, a multi-storey car park has been designed specifically to host weddings, exercise classes, parties and other events. The design also makes maximum use of natural light to improve the experience for users.

Connecting with cable

The London Olympics provides an example of how an old technology can be adapted to bring new benefits to city dwellers. The cable car system installed to connect Olympic venues north and south of the river, where a bridge was impractical, proved so popular with Londoners and tourists alike that it has been retained as a permanent feature of the city. Medellín in Colombia took a leaf out of the same playbook and has installed its Metrocable to improve city access and quality of life for people living in mountainside settlements that are home to some of the city’s most disadvantaged communities.

Smartening up your streetlights

Ordinary streetlight poles can be transformed into smart city enablers through the installation of internet-connected sensors. These sensors can collect data on everything from air quality, wind speed and traffic noise to the composition of rainwater. This Array of Things technology has now been installed in Chicago and a number of partner cities to collect real-time data on the city’s environment, infrastructure and activity for research and public use. The aim is to create a “fitness tracker” for a city, measuring factors that impact liveability in the urban environment.

Tapping into the waternet

Most people will have heard how scientists have been testing sewage to track and trace Covid-19 outbreaks in cities around the world. This is nothing new, and researchers at MIT have been working on what might be termed a waternet – an internet of pipes – for several years. The smart sewage system collects and analyses data about the composition of sewage waters for environmental monitoring, public health and other purposes.