To kick off our week of articles looking at Smart Cities, Kayla Matthews takes a look at an inevitable side-effect of ever-increasing computing power that’ll be used in Smart Cities – heat production.

People in the greater Toronto area are abuzz about plans for Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of a Google parent company called Alphabet Labs, to develop a 12-acre section of land by Toronto’s waterfront. The project, dubbed Sidewalk Toronto, aims to turn the area into an extremely tech-equipped city where everything from public transit times to garbage collection schedules is data-driven and flexible, based on resident demand.

Sidewalk Toronto and other tech cities sound inspiring at first, and many forward-thinking people dream about living in one of them. However, there’s a very important, often-overlooked factor: temperature concerns.

Much of the technology planned for Sidewalk Toronto — as well as other smart cities — centres on computers. Naturally, computers generate heat. Processors and graphics cards make computers get hotter, and components such as the hard and optical disk drives can, too.

Those realities, combined with the ever-present problem of climate change adversely affecting weather patterns, mean we have to start planning now to keep temperatures cool enough in smart cities and other places that are highly dependent on tech, so the people living in them don’t get overheated.

Fortunately, there are several things scientists and engineers could do to keep temperatures down. Some of them are as technologically advanced as the smart cities themselves.

Building Data Centers With Integrated Cooling Components

People who work in data centres or build them understand there are numerous strategies to maintain temperatures at a level that keeps delicate equipment safe and operating normally. For starters, painting the exterior of the building white instead of black increases light reflection abilities, meaning light from the sun doesn’t get absorbed into the structure.

Another perk of all-white data centres is that they have lower electricity requirements. Statistics say simply painting a data centre white could reduce its energy requirements by as much as 25 to 30 percent.

Also, promoting airflow in a data centre helps keep it cool. There are methods that prevent hot and cold air from mixing, which keeps the temperature more consistent. Furthermore, the use of recessed power distribution units allows operators to keep tabs on temperatures and intervene when necessary.

Using Holistic Building Control Systems to Monitor Conditions and Raise Awareness

Keeping cities cool will also involve knowing when conditions become too hot and making changes as necessary. A contractor called Peoples Electric Company offers the Unity connected building intelligence system, which offers a single interface for all lighting and HVAC components in the building.

Sensors inside the building’s fixtures give up-to-the-minute data about temperature, among other things. It’s also possible to automatically dim the lighting or activate window shades, both of which could temporarily make the premises cooler when it becomes too hot. A warning system could also theoretically activate to tell citizens that conditions are unhealthily warm, letting them seek cooler places before it’s too late.

A major problem related to business construction is that many building teams don’t realize there are issues with the structure until it’s too late. With the help of Unity technology or something similar, it’d be much easier to notice that challenges exist, or conversely, evaluate whether something installed to help the heat problem has worked.

Planting Trees Responsibly

A significant amount of data indicates urban areas with large amounts of shading provided by trees are cooler than cities that lack green space. A study from The Nature Conservancy notes a $100 million annual investment in trees could provide 77 million people with cooler air and result in lower air pollution levels for 68 million residents.

However, the solution to making a stifling connected city more bearable isn’t as simple as merely planting trees. Certain tree species are more effective than others when it comes to reducing pollution or making spaces cooler. Also, trees that are too tall block airflow if used along narrow streets. In those settings, it’s more appropriate to use so-called “living walls” covered with greenery.

Experts also say it’s important to plant trees that don’t attract mosquitoes or other pests. If urban planners aren’t careful about the varieties they use, the inhabitants of a smart city could deal with infestations that are so severe, high heat levels seem like only a mild concern.

In some cities across the world, keeping the area cooler is a collaborative effort. For example, Viennese citizens often maintain gardens on their rooftop. When each household does its part to increase greenery, the whole city benefits.

Keeping the Future in Mind During Construction

Although there are various ways to alter existing buildings and make them actively cool the surrounding area, it’ll be necessary for planners in smart cities to have a long-term mindset that incorporates transformative housing, rather than structures that get rebuilt as needed. Data from a report released by Global Infrastructure Basel says 75 percent of the structures that will exist in 2050 haven’t even been built yet.

Besides considering factors like cooling roofs and materials that reflect the sun’s rays, planning officials should also be aware the orientation of buildings matters. If structures are too tall or packed too closely together, they could block breezes and trap heat. This issue is partially associated with global warming but could become even worse if the people involved in smart cities don’t try to work with the environment, instead of against it.

If the layout of a group of buildings holds heat, even the most high-tech materials and innovative ideas won’t cool things down. That’s why the people who build or improve structures in connected cities must be mindful that the things they create now may not exist in several decades.

Indeed, it’s necessary to fabricate buildings that cater to current residents and keep them as cool as possible. Beyond that, contractors must also realize a future-oriented mindset is crucial, as our growing reliance on technology and the increasing problems with climate change are both making our cities hotter.

This coverage of why smart cities could get so toasty and what engineers and planners can do to cool things down illustrates it’s not sufficient to take a “wait-and-see” approach.

Instead, people involved in setting up these highly advanced places for people to live must be diligent in relying on techniques that encourage and maintain livable temperatures.