7 ways that Barcelona is leading the smart city revolution

Barcelona is widely-regarded as a global leader in the transition towards smarter, more sustainable cities. Here, edie rounds up some of the key technologies that have helped the city lower emissions, energy and waste and improve the quality of life for its citizens.

Barcelona has undergone a major shift towards using data to manage assets and resource efficiently in the city, helping the Catalonian capital to firmly position itself at the forefront of the international trend towards a smart-city revolution.


From street lights and parking spaces through to waste disposal and bus transit systems, sensor networks have been deployed across various urban systems in the city to solve major social and environmental issues. 

Seven ways that Barcelona is leading the smart city revolution

Smart street lights

Energy-efficient LED lights have replaced traditional lighting across Barcelona. The lampposts sense when pedestrians are in close proximity; when the streets are empty, lights automatically dim to further conserve energy. Collectively, the improvements have produced 30% energy savings across the urban lighting system. They are equipped with sensors that collect data on air quality, relaying information to city agencies and the public. The lampposts are also part of the city’s WiFi network, providing consistent, free internet access throughout Barcelona.

Park irrigation systems

Barcelona has installed IoT technologies to remotely sense and control park irrigation and water levels in public fountains. Using sensors to monitor rain and humidity, park workers can determine how much irrigation is needed in each area. A system of electrovalves is remotely controlled to deliver necessary water across the city. Established in almost two-thirds of Barcelona’s parks, the programme has helped the city achieve a 25% increase in water conservation, with savings of around £440,000 each year. 

Smart bins

The city has developed plans to integrate sensing for hazardous or offensive waste material. Citizens deposit their household waste into smart bins which use a vacuum and suck the waste into underground storage. This reduces both the smell of the waste waiting to be collected and the noise pollution from the collection vehicles. The city can detect the level of waste that comes from different places, improving collection and reducing the resources and time needed for the service. The incineration of the waste is later used to produced energy for heating systems.

Driverless metro

At more than 30km long and with 23 stations, the automated Line 9 runs through the whole city of Barcelona. Since opening for business in 2011, automation of the city’s metro has marked the way to significantly improved services. It has not only increased the technical safety of the line, but sophisticated control and monitoring systems mean that trains can run more frequently at peak times and better responds to the needs of public mobility.

Smart parking spaces

The city has established a sensor system for drivers that guide them to open car parks. Embedded in the asphalt, the sensors can detect whether or not a vehicle is parked in a given location and notify drivers. Barcelona had issued 4000 permits for parking per day within the first year of implementation, reducing emissions and congestion in the progress. Parking fees can now also be paid online.

Digital bus transit system

Barcelona’s digital bus stops turn waiting for business into an interactive experience, featuring tablet screens at every stop that offer a range of information to commuters, including tourist tips, bus arrival times and tools for navigating the city via public transit. Each station also features free Wi-Fi and USB charging stations to support commuters’ personal devices. These bus stops also provide information on the Bicing bike-share program in Barcelona, providing commuters with another option for getting from point A to point B.

Noise sensors

In Plaza del Sol, where young inhabitants meet friends to hang out, low-cost sensors have been implemented that can detect noise-levels. Though these sensors, residents were able to detect that the noise levels were almost 100 decibels which exceeds the recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Police now move people on at 23:00pm, which had previously cleared when the partygoers left in the early hours, with rubbish lorries rescheduled for the morning.

George Ogleby

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