Barcelona reaps big rewards from its heavy investment in the Internet of Things—including 47,000 new jobs, increased parking revenue and decreased costs for energy and water.
While more cities across the globe are recognizing—and realizing—the multitude of benefits the Internet of Things (IoT) can deliver, some cities identified its potential much earlier than others. Considered by many to be the first true “smart city,” Barcelona, Spain, embraced the idea of using connected technology as a tool to both improve its citizens’ lives and save the city money long before the concept was widely lauded.
Spearheaded by Barcelona’s mayor from 2011 to 2015, Xavier Trias formed his Smart City Barcelona team shortly after taking office, and they quickly went to work looking for areas where the city could leverage IoT technology to improve services for its residents, increase revenue and cut operational costs.
Beginning in 2012, the city implemented reactive, connected technology across its municipal infrastructure. By 2014 its Smart City Strategy had grown to include 122 projects classified into 22 programs, and created 47,000 new jobs.
Today, Barcelona’s IoT-powered infrastructure provides myriad services, from those that better serve its elderly and in-need residents to those that ease congestion while improving parking to ones that reduce water usage and electricity consumption—and much, much more.
Caring for Citizens in Need
Thanks to the IoT, Barcelona boasts the speediest emergency response service for its citizens who are elderly, those who live with disabilities, or are dependent on others. The city provides this service free of charge to more than 70,000 people. Each user has a push button device installed in their home (connected through a mobile phone or land line) that connects them to a dedicated call center. Help is only ever a single click away.
Available 24/7/365, the program, the city calls its Telecare service, has two goals. The first goal is providing quick and appropriate responses to requests for help and assistance—whether that’s alerting emergency responders or reaching out to a user’s family member. The second goal is preventing common problems from arising in the first place, which is done by providing preventative interventions that keep citizens safe and minimize social isolation or loneliness. This objective is further supported by another IoT-powered city project, Vincles BCN, a digital platform the city uses to help reduce the social isolation its elderly residents are at a higher risk of experiencing.
Barcelona has transformed the way its citizens and visitors park by implementing an IoT-powered system that uses sensors to direct drivers to the closest available parking spot. ApparkB, the app used to locate open spaces, also allows users to pay for their parking.
Embedded in the city street, the sensors can detect if a parking space is taken. Once a vehicle occupies a space, the app enables the driver to pay for the exact length of time they use by determining the payment once the driver has left the spot.
By quickly guiding motorists to vacant parking spots the program has reduced congestion and lowered emissions. And, the city is making a very smart profit, too, increasing its parking revenues by $50 million per year.
Conserving Resources = Big Cost Saving
Another street-side project, the city’s IoT-powered lampposts, saves the city big money. By 2014, more than 1,100 city lampposts bulbs were transitioned to LED and posts were outfitted with movement sensors. If the lamppost sensor detects a pedestrian nearby, full illumination is delivered, but when the streets are empty, the lights automatically dim, conserving more electricity. These improvements have significantly decreased energy consumption and resulted in a 30 percent energy savings across Barcelona’s lighting system.
The city is also saving water—and money—with its IoT-powered park irrigation system. To increase water efficiency in Barcelona’s parks, the city deployed a system of electric water valves that work in conjunction with new sensors that can monitor rain and humidity in the park environments. Maintenance workers use the sensors to determine the level of water needed and remotely control the IoT-enabled valves to deliver only the water necessary. The program has enable the city to realize a 25 percent increase in water conservation.
The extensive benefits the city of Barcelona has experienced make a strong argument for embracing connected solutions at the local municipal level—one that has inspired many others to follow suit. IoT-enabled cities continue to make sense, providing the ultimate win/win—improving the lives of local citizens and conserving valuable natural resources while increasing revenue and reducing city expenditures.