In his State of the Nation address, President Cyril Ramaphosa said: “I dream of a South Africa where the first entirely new city built in the democratic era rises, with skyscrapers, schools, universities, hospitals and factories.”

Taru Madangombe, vice-president of power systems in southern Africa for Schneider Electric, comments: “This is an exciting vision and one that we at Schneider Electric South Africa share. The President added: ‘Has the time not arrived to build a new smart city founded on the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR)?’

“This is a concept that we wholeheartedly endorse in line with the Smart Cities Africa Summit that took place last week. This year’s theme of ‘co-creating smart cities in Africa – beyond the rhetoric’ is a compelling call for all of us to share knowledge on sustainability and growth.

“At Schneider Electric, we are aware that smart, connected devices are being deployed in cities and industries globally to gather data and glean contextual insights used to achieve higher levels of efficiency and productivity. In alignment with 4IR, in which the Internet of Things (IoT) is reshaping societies, Schneider Electric has formed a strategy in a bid to refuel growth, boost organisational efficiency and better leverage opportunities in the Middle East and African regions.

“City managers ultimately aim to provide better services, affordably. In fast-growing cities, this is particularly difficult, however. Our goal is to promote digitisation by building a smart ecosystem in cities to improve the quality of life of citizens and attract more investments for economic activities,” Madangombe adds.

“Schneider Electric’s IoT-enabled, plug-and-play, open, inter-operable architecture and platform, called EcoStruxure, provides services required to help businesses and cities plan ahead and improve the way they are managed. It delivers innovation from connected products to edge control, and apps, analytics and services, on six domains of expertise – Power, IT, Building, Machine, Plant and Grid.

“IoT will continue to play a pivotal role in shaping our strategy towards an ecosystem that enables productivity and nurtures occupants towards its purpose – whether it is an office building, a hospital or a university. With approximately 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions and 70% of energy consumption attributed to buildings, a smart building is the fundamental element of a smart city.

“If a smart building is a collection of disparate systems seamlessly working together, a smart city is a microcosm of disparate environments, including smart buildings and the grid, operating as one organism. Cities define a civilisation, which shine light on the human element. Thus, today’s push for a smart building to meet these humanistic objectives, such as well-being and social cohesion, will form a key part of the transformative journey to a smart city.

“If there is one driver that is only going to become more central to the story, it is electricity. The future relies on our ability to provide resilient electricity to the infrastructure within the smart city. The grid is the backbone of the smart city, and this backbone needs to be flexible, much like the human backbone. The grid’s ability to respond actively to surges in energy demand and supply will be a key enabler to realising our smart city vision. However, this also remains one of our biggest challenges to date, particularly with increasing amount of technology reliance on electricity.

“Smart buildings and smart grids hold the key to a successful realisation of this vision. The quickest win in this journey is the strengthening of our grid, enabling a dynamic, intelligent, automated power system. Parallel collecting and analysing data from our buildings, and more importantly converting those analytics into actionable insights, will help shape truly smart buildings. Like the grid, condition-based monitoring of building management systems can pave the path towards self-healing buildings, augmented by technologies such as artificial intelligence, service automation and work force scheduling. The journey to smart cities is going to be a challenge – a challenge that can be easily overcome by strengthening the foundations of the concept through buildings and the grid,” concludes Madangombe.