Addressing global cities’ air quality

Soon, city leaders will be able to move the conversation from emissions reductions to improving lives, Siemens says


Nothing is free. Not even clean air these days.

Air quality in many cities has deteriorated over the years as a result of continuous urbanisation that had led to robust population growth, which also saw an increase in land use and changes in mobility behaviours.

Traffic congestion is also worsening globally, despite extra efforts to investment in public transportation, along with the campaigns that are pegged to it.

The sheer volume of inter-and intra-urban transportation has also outpaced improvements in and customer uptake of clean transport technology.

Global technology powerhouse Siemens AG said data shows that air quality in cities tends to be worst in the poorest communities, and disproportionately affects vulnerable communities including the young and the elderly.

Recently, the German company introduced cloud-based software City Air Management (CyAM) that would provide unique opportunities for city leaders to harness data to make better decisions and take action in the short term.

CyAM will monitor the city-wide, hotspot emissions of all environmental sensors which have been integrated in the tool, focusing primarily on PM2.5, PM10 and nitrogen oxide (NOx).

PM2.5 refers to atmospheric particulate matter (PM) that has a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres, while PM10 are particles that are 10 micrometres or less and also known as fine particles.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that long-term exposure to PM2.5 may lead to plaque deposits in arteries, causing vascular inflammation and a hardening of the arteries which can eventually lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Meanwhile, long-term exposure of NOx can reduce lung function, boost the risk of respiratory conditions and increase the response to allergens.

According to Siemens, CyAM will also forecast air quality and inform city leaders through a dashboard about where, and by how much air quality is expected to exceed health or regulatory thresholds over the coming three days, with 90% accuracy and up to five days at a level of 75% to 80%.

In addition, CyAM will allow city leaders to simulate specific predefined emission-reducing actions against the expected emission levels in order to reduce the risk of exceeding emissions thresholds or key indicators.

“The transparency and information derived from CyAM provides city leaders with unique opportunity to engage residents in making contributions to improve air quality,” Siemens said.

The process is also viewed as the beginning of a wider discussion about behavioural change and choosing more sustainable forms of transport in the future.

“City leaders will also be able to generate data and information on types of transport-related actions, and create a smart city technology roadmap that lays out which actions and technologies could have the best impact on air quality,” Siemens noted in its CyAM report.

Soon, city leaders will be able to move the conversation from emissions reductions by 2040 or 2050, to improving lives in 2018.

Innovation of Autonomous Vehicles

Autonomous vehicles are one of the innovations in dealing with urban challenges the world is facing — including congestion, air and noise pollution.

They are being tested in city environments all over the world and many national governments are preparing the way for their entry into the consumer market on a commercial scale.

According to Siemens, autonomous vehicles can only deliver genuine benefit to cities if their emergence happens alongside other transformation in the cities.

“The potential for connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) to bring transformative change is huge.

“However, without clear and thoughtfully considered policies and regulations, many of the potential benefits from CAVs could be lost or result in negative consequences,” Siemens stated in its “Cities in the Driving Seat” report.

The benefits of CAVs include a reduction in road fatalities and injuries, as well as a decrease in traffic flow and travel time.

If the emergence of CAVs pairs up with the emergence of zero-emission vehicles, enormous positive impacts on greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution will materialise.

In addition, if CAVs are shared and private ownership drops, many pre- dict that land currently used for parking and roadways could be converted into other uses such as green spaces, housing, schools or protected cycle lanes.

However, in the event that CAVs are not regulated to be low or zero-carbon, Siemens said vehicles will continue to emit greenhouse gases and air pollutants such as PM and NOx.

Cities will need to consider the implications of increased electricity requirements, if CAVs are also electric vehicles (EVs).

“The charging cycle of EVs also means that this demand is likely to be at peak times, in the early evening and early morning.

“While vehicles may be zero-emission from the tailpipe, the real greenhouse gas emissions savings will come from decarbonising the power supply itself,” Siemens stated.

It added that without also prioritising power supply, cities risk missing a great opportunity to drive down their greenhouse gas emissions.

Siemens also said cities must consider what CAVs will do when they have no passengers, considering that CAVs have the capacity to drive without humans.

The manufacturing company said a potential solution is to use CAVs for both passengers and goods. For that, CAVs must follow a modular construction approach that makes different use cases possible.

Disadvantages and risks of CAVs include the potential to undermine public transportation, exposure to malicious cyber attacks and job loss.

Siemens said the impact of autonomous vehicles will vary depending on the city, its size, urban form and existing infrastructure.

“Cities that are quickly developing around the world — whether in Asia, South America or Africa — will have to consider which major infrastructure investments will benefit them in the long term,” it said.

Siemens added that an automobile-oriented system might seem appealing, but without strong investment in public transportation, roads and overpasses will remain clogged and be a detriment to overall quality of life.