By Julia Hawkins, Ashden PR and Digital Media Manager
So we know all about smart phones, smart meters and smart grids - what about smart cities? Last Thursday's Base London conference brought techies together with businesses, local authorities and charities to discuss how cities can harness data towards tackling climate change.
We heard about Rio de Janeiro, where IBM has helped develop a centralised 'mission control' which gathers and analyses data from across the city to help control traffic, reduce crime, manage emergency responses - and critically, reduce energy use. Residents can download an app to their smartphone or track city alerts via Facebook and twitter.
We also heard the Los Angeles Deputy Mayor for the Environment talk about how this sprawling city is cutting CO2 emissions and managing natural resource use, and many agreeing that in the UK, the city of Birmingham is poised to be a model for others to follow.
Access data is all very well, but how do we make sure it is used in the 'right' way? How do we create shared visions? How do we avoid Big Brother-ism? Critically - how do we motivate ordinary people to adopt energy-efficient behaviours?
On the latter point, we heard from Chris Large of Global Action Plan (Ashden Award winner 2007), Sally Hancox of Gentoo Green and others, who all agreed that communities perform far better than individuals when it comes to reducing domestic energy consumption - and, critically, that self-interest is the key motivator: 'It's about cash and comfort, not carbon', said one.
With over 90% of us in the UK and 50% of the rest of the world living in urban areas, and evidence that transforming the way businesses and individuals use technology could help reduce CO2 emissions by 15% by 2020, it's clear there are as many opportunities for developing smarter, greener cities as there are challenges.
But the main highlight of my day was watching the conference 'ideas wall' grow. Conference participants were asked to write their ideas on a piece of paper, which artists from Scriberia translated into cartoons on a large white wall. At the end of the day people had to vote for their favourite idea.
A core group of conference participants tweeted throughout the day - you can find them all if you search for #Baselondon, but I've selected some of my favourites below.