Addressing sustainability challenges through smart cities

Singapore, June 5, 2017

Addressing sustainability challenges through smart cities

Addressing sustainability challenges through smart cities

Cities around the world are growing rapidly as more and more people migrate to urban centres in search of better job prospects and a brighter future. By 2050, the proportion of the world’s population living in cities is expected to reach 70 per cent[1], up from 54 per cent in 2014[2]. This will pose a significant challenge to urban centres as they struggle to cope with infrastructure and resource constraints in the face of rising population density.

In Singapore, we have a population of 5.4 million within a land area of 718 sq km. This translates into about 8,000 people per sq km, making us the third most densely populated nation[3] in the world. Energy consumption is on the rise, with total electricity consumed by households rising about 4.3 per cent year on year[4]. Transportation is also an issue both from the perspective of rising carbon footprint through the burning of fossil fuels, as well as the perspective of land use. According to the Ministry of Transport, roads took up 12 per cent[5] of land in Singapore in 2012.

These challenges are not unique to our city state. Sustainability is an imperative for cities around the world if they are to successfully transform their growing populations into an economic asset rather than a burden and deliver a better quality of life for all residents. And one way that many urban centres are seeking to achieve this is through the creation of smart cities where technology and data can be harnessed to better manage and optimise infrastructure and resources.

What are smart cities?

According to the European Commission, a smart city is a place where “traditional networks and services are made more efficient with use of digital and telecommunication technologies, for the benefit of its inhabitants and businesses”.

The smart city concept means “smarter urban transport networks, upgraded water supply and waste disposal facilities, and more efficient ways to light and heat buildings. And it also encompasses a more interactive and responsive city administration, safer public spaces and meeting the needs of an ageing population”.

Smart city initiatives have the potential to impact many different aspects of residents’ lives. Unveiling Singapore’s Smart Nation vision[6] in 2014, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, “We should see it in our daily living where networks of sensors and smart devices enable us to live sustainably and comfortably. We should see it in our communities where technology will enable more people to connect to one another more easily and intensely. We should see it in our future where we can create possibilities for ourselves beyond what we imagined possible.”

An operating platform for smart cities

NCS’ vision for smart and sustainable cities is encapsulated in SURF (Solutions for Urbanised Future), where we look to harness next-generation technologies to transform public services, empower individuals and create vibrant and sustainable communities. To this end, we work closely with stakeholders across the value chain to transform current city infrastructure to smart cities. This includes collaborating with urban master planners to strategise on technology blueprints, designing and developing smart city products, as well as delivering and supporting smart city deployments.

Underpinning all these smart city efforts is data. We believe the smart city of the future can only be enabled by actionable insights derived from the synthesis of data from a wide range of sources.

This has led to the development of IntelliSURF, a next-generation smart city operating platform designed to help government agencies and enterprises take on the challenges of urbanisation and work towards a more sustainable future.

IntelliSURF is an open, interoperable and scalable smart city platform that can help governments and enterprises to ingest data from a wide range of sources such as video cameras, geospatial and other sensors, social media and corporate information systems. The information is then synthesised to detect evolving situations and visualised through a unified dashboard to provide real-time situation awareness. The actionable intelligence derived from the platform helps increase operational efficiency through automated responses with standard operating procedures, notification and collaboration tools, and also empowers individuals on the ground with information and insights.

A foundation for sustainability

A platform like IntelliSURF provides a unifying foundation for smart and sustainable cities of the future. It enables holistic master planning for smart habitats which will offer a better way for cities to house their growing populations. For example, IntelliSURF lies at the heart of a smart hub that would transform the management of housing estates as part of Singapore's Housing Development Board's Smart Urban Habitat Master Plan.

IntelliSURF also has the potential to transform public transport, supporting initiatives such as Singapore’s Smart Mobility 2030 masterplan which outlines the way forward for a car-lite community.

The masterplan aims to take urban mobility to a new level by using data analytics and making relevant and useful information available to commuters and motorists in a timely fashion. Data captured from in-vehicle equipment, surveillance cameras and other Internet-of-Things (IoT) sensors deployed in buildings or along streets can be fed into IntelliSURF for big data analysis to enhance the efficiency of the transport network, optimise utilisation and improve the maintenance of public transport assets.

This paves the way for the introduction of Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS), a subscription-based service that seamlessly stitches together different transportation modes to help motorists and commuters get to destinations more quickly and comfortably.

MaaS represents a paradigm change in how transport is managed, provided and consumed. From a sustainability angle, one of its advantages is that it does not focus on adding new vehicles or modes of transportation. Instead, it aggregates existing transportation services and increases productivity of these sectors by optimising usage through smarter ways of matching demand with capacity.

The IntelliSURF platform also works with other software applications to provide greater visibility into consumption patterns and inform more sustainable practices in the use of resources such as energy and water.

For example, the Energy Meter Data Management module gathers and analyses energy meter data to help estate and building management owners gain better visibility into their energy consumption and work towards a more efficient Energy Utilisation Index, while the Water Meter Data Management module enables remote monitoring of water consumption levels and raises alerts when there are unusual water usage scenarios.

Another solution with a strong angle on sustainability is iLight, an integrated outdoor and indoor lighting control management system that allows automated control of lights based on weather and light conditions in order to optimise power consumption. With lighting accounting for about 20 per cent7 of the global building electricity consumption, the implementation of sustainable and cost-effective lighting solutions will not only increase direct energy savings but also enhance comfort, improve security and promote safer navigation.


The challenges facing today’s urban centres are huge – increased density, ageing populations, limited healthcare resources, transport constraints and rising energy consumption. But we believe these problems are not unsurmountable. The solution lies in making effective use of data and next-generation technologies in a holistic and integrated fashion to improve decision-making, influence behaviours and automate processes where appropriate so that our cities can be smart, safe, citizen-centric and sustainable.