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Open AccessCommentary

“Smart Is Not Smart Enough!” Anticipating Critical Raw Material Use in Smart City Concepts: The Example of Smart Grids

by 1,2,* and 1,3
1
Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research GmbH—UFZ, 04318 Leipzig, Germany
2
Institute of Mineral and Waste Processing, Waste Disposal and Geomechanics, Department of Mineral and Waste Processing, Clausthal University of Technology, 38678 Clausthal-Zellerfeld, Germany
3
Real Estate Development, Urban Development, Smart Cities, University of Applied Sciences for Engineering and Economics, HTW Berlin, 10318 Berlin, Germany
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2019, 11(16), 4422; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11164422
Received: 30 June 2019 / Revised: 31 July 2019 / Accepted: 8 August 2019 / Published: 16 August 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Urban Transformations Towards Sustainability)
Globally emerging smart city concepts aim to make resource production and allocation in urban areas more efficient, and thus more sustainable through new sociotechnical innovations such as smart grids, smart meters, or solar panels. While recent critiques of smart cities have focused on data security, surveillance, or the influence of corporations on urban development, especially with regard to intelligent communication technologies (ICT), issues related to the material basis of smart city technologies and the interlinked resource problems have largely been ignored in the scholarly literature and in urban planning. Such problems pertain to the provision and recovery of critical raw materials (CRM) from anthropogenic sources like scrap metal repositories, which have been intensely studied during the last few years. To address this gap in the urban planning literature, we link urban planning literatures on smart cities with literatures on CRM mining and recovery from scrap metals. We find that underestimating problems related to resource provision and recovery might lead to management and governance challenges in emerging smart cities, which also entail ethical issues. To illustrate these problems, we refer to the smart city energy domain and explore the smart city-CRM-energy nexus from the perspectives of the respective literatures. We show that CRMs are an important foundation for smart city energy applications such as energy production, energy distribution, and energy allocation. Given current trends in smart city emergence, smart city concepts may potentially foster primary extraction of CRMs, which is linked to considerable environmental and health issues. While the problems associated with primary mining have been well-explored in the literature, we also seek to shed light on the potential substitution and recovery of CRMs from anthropogenic raw material deposits as represented by installed digital smart city infrastructures. Our central finding is that the current smart city literature and contemporary urban planning do not address these issues. This leads to the paradox that smart city concepts are supporting the CRM dependencies that they should actually be seeking to overcome. Discussion on this emerging issue between academics and practitioners has nevertheless not taken place. We address these issues and make recommendations. View Full-Text
Keywords: critical raw materials; smart city; smart grids; urban transition critical raw materials; smart city; smart grids; urban transition
MDPI and ACS Style

David, M.; Koch, F. “Smart Is Not Smart Enough!” Anticipating Critical Raw Material Use in Smart City Concepts: The Example of Smart Grids. Sustainability 2019, 11, 4422.

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