Thousands of sensors are making this famous city smarter

Situated on the north coast of Spain, the bustling port of Santander is perhaps most famous for being the original home of Banco Santander, one of the world's biggest banks.

As well as being the birthplace for a banking giant, the city is also jostling to be one of the world's most innovative and technologically agile cities by harnessing the so-called internet of things.

To achieve this, thousands of smart sensors have been dotted around the city's streets, enabling a range of data to be analysed.

"The internet of things unites all the data coming from sensors, along with the data the city already has and data provided by citizens," Joaquin Gonzalez, director of Telefonica in Cantabria, told CNBC's Sustainable Energy.

"With this knowledge we can make decisions, decisions which help us along the path towards a more productive city," Gonzalez added.

Key features of Santander's 'smart' city include devices installed at streetlights and facades to monitor temperature, noise and emissions.

What's more, around 400 parking sensors are used to detect and alert drivers to free parking spaces. "This application has reduced the time to find an available lot in particular areas in the city," Luis Munoz, head of the SmartSantander team and a professor of engineering at the University of Cantabria, said.

In other cities across Europe, technology and innovation is being used to transform the environments people live in.

In the Netherlands, for example, researchers at the Eindhoven University of Technology have developed large colorful noise barriers for highways that also generate solar energy, while London-based Pavegen have designed and built flooring that converts the kinetic energy we produce when walking into clean, renewable electricity.

Back in Spain, Telefonica's Joaquin Gonzalez is confident that technology and the internet of things are going to transform the urban environment.

"It is going to be of huge importance, because the services that the data provides to the citizens – particularly with more and more people living in cities – have to be more sustainable services," he said. "So with each passing year, the data is of great importance."