Outsmarting urbanisation’s dilemma to achieve green goals

By Okay Barutçu, Grundfos’ Regional Managing Director for Asia Pacific


Cities across the globe are swelling as resources dwindle. The United Nations (UN) estimates that two out of three people will live in a city by 2030, with megacities of 10 million inhabitants or more located primarily in Asia.

Driven by rapid growth and urbanisation, Asian megacities are lifting millions out of poverty. However, city planners face a whole host of challenges to make such large cities liveable. From modern infrastructure, sanitation, climate change, to environmental and social sustainability, it’s clear that cities today face a unique mandate.


Urbanisation’s dilemma

Globally, cities account for about 70 per cent of carbon emissions, and this poor environmental record is already taking its toll. For example, air pollution results in high healthcare costs and reduced labour productivity, and far more in human cost, causing more than 3 million deaths a year – killing more people than AIDS, malaria, or tuberculosis. Scientists also caution that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, we will pass the threshold when global warming becomes catastrophic and irreversible.

Here in Singapore, we continue to face constraints as a small city-state, including limited land and lack of natural resources, especially water – a key resource essential for any city to run smoothly. In 2015, the Water Resources Institute (WRI) predicted Singapore to be one of the most water-stressed countries in the world by 2040. Meanwhile, Singapore’s dependence on fuel imports for its economic survival means energy efficiency represents a crucial component of nation building.

With environmental pressures mounting, Singapore has adopted ambitious green goals, including this year’s plan for the public sector to cut electricity consumption by more than 15 per cent and water consumption by more than 5 per cent by 2020.


Smart cities building the future

It is imperative for cities to be smarter in their approaches to energy, water supply and waste water management, empowering communities and industries to be self-sufficient in a way that consumes the least resources. For many, this vision is based on creating ‘smart cities’, which means harnessing digital technology, big data, and intelligent products and networks to help cities distribute resources efficiently and solve large-scale environmental challenges.

This momentous task cannot lie with a single entity to tackle on its own, but instead calls for the collaboration of businesses, citizens, and governments.

Copenhagen is a great example of this approach, achieving the status of being the world’s most liveable city. They have done this by working with businesses and organisations to prepare for climate change such as building public spaces which include runoff areas for excess water, and implementing an innovative cooling system that saves 70 per cent of the energy compared to traditional air-conditioning. Copenhagen has reduced carbon emissions by 50 per cent since 1995.

Businesses can also work with the government to set standards and push for policy changes to adopt more sustainable approaches.

For example, Grundfos has been actively working with the Singapore Green Building Council over the years to expand the use of intelligent and efficient pumps, and set industry certification standards such as the Green Mark for high efficiency.


Taking the pressure off with smart technology

The smart city vision has led industries such as the pump manufacturing industry to develop smart solutions to play a part towards building resilient cities. Pumps play a vital role in the transportation and treatment of water in cities today, especially with demand for clean and safe drinking water increasing all over the world.

Something as simple as water leakage is a prevailing problem in many cities. For instance in London, 1,000 million litres of clean water – or 400 Olympic-sized swimming pools – are lost every day. Other cities have recorded water losses of up to 70 per cent of water pumped.

With pumps responsible for a staggering 10 per cent of global electricity consumption, the pump industry is an obvious target for reducing energy consumption through higher efficiency motors and built-in intelligence.

One such solution is Grundfos’ Demand Driven Distribution, an intelligent water management pumping solution which automatically adjusts to water flow through the use of remote sensors, and reduces excessive pressure in the water pipes. This in turn limits water leakages and losses, minimising cost and energy.

To date, Demand Driven Distribution has helped countless cities address this issue, such as tackling extensive leakage issues for a water authority in Malaysia while ensuring minimal disruption to citizens. It has also helped reduce water loss for the city of Ploiesti, Romania, by 150,000 m3 water per year.

Solar power is another technology becoming more popular in cities as well, and Grundfos has been a pioneer in solar-powered pumping technology initially developed for remote areas where electricity may not be available or unstable for irrigation and drinking water pumps. More countries are now offering subsidies and provisions for consumers willing to invest in solar energy for their domestic needs.

The goal of developing smart, sustainable cities should be the key driver for industry players like us to pioneer innovative products and processes, providing sustainable solutions for global challenges.


The way forward

As we have witnessed, innovation and digitalisation are well underway in driving smart cities. The next exciting step is to ensure a future generation that continues to work on smart cities, with universities playing a pivotal role.

The smart city vision already matches the aspirations of the next generation who are looking to have an even more positive impact than the generations before them.

Whatever the solution, we need more industry players to reach out to educational institutions to bridge the gap between university research and industry, by inspiring urban innovation. Grundfos is ensuring this by collaborating with local institutions such as Nanyang Technological University on researching and test-bedding innovative solutions in smart water treatment and building energy efficiency fields.

Without question, the future is already here. As smart cities around the world become a reality, and Singapore gears up to become the world’s first Smart Nation, it is imperative for city leaders, businesses and universities to work in close collaboration in a race to provide for more with less, or risk being left behind.


Mr Okay Barutçu is Regional Managing Director for Asia Pacific at leading pump manufacturer Grundfos.


United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2016). The World’s Cities in 2016 – Data Booklet

Asian Development Bank, 2012, Green Cities

J. Lelieveld, J. S. Evans, M. Fnais, D. Giannadaki and A. Pozzer, September 2016, The contribution of outdoor air pollution sources to premature mortality on a global scale

Water Resources Institute, Ranking the World’s Most Water-Stressed Countries in 2040 (2015)


This piece was published in Water & Wastewater Asia’s November/December 2017 issue.