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Smart Cities and Communities Initiative

October 28, 2011

The first time I heard about “smart cities” in the context of Community initiatives I thought that was not a brilliant idea. Following the European discourse on urban issues for some years I was used to the introduction of new definitions marking more or less new ways of tackling urban and territorial issues. Urban Aquis, Compact City, Sustainable Communities, Baukultur, European City, Territorial Cohesion are new terms addressing the same issues in different but coherent ways. I felt the introduction of the “Smart City” as a jarring note, a late follower of a well established trend in the world of industry (automotive, telecommunication, energy supply, appliances etc) not really fitting to urban policies.  That for the simple reason that analogies and comparisons between industrial products and architectural works and urban patterns are mostly misleading.

Despite my personal concerns Smart City is today a commonly used definition and to be realistic we have to deal with the initiatives that have emerged. Cedric Verdeaux attended the launch conference of the Smart Cities and Communities Initiative on behalf of the Architects’ Council of Europe and wrote the detailed report that follows. For sure this is much more interesting than my personal opinions.

Introduction.Three European Commissioners were attending on the 21th of June 2011 the launch of the « Smart Cities and Communities Initiative » (SCCI). For Philip Lowe, Director-General in DG Energy, this shows the ambition of this initiative. The European Commissioner for Energy, Günther Oettinger, reminds the fact that the citizen has to be the center for every policy about environment and energy efficiency. For that purpose, the conception of the future cities has to be changed. The renovation can’t only be pleasant to see, but also smart in the field of preservation of energy and to achieve this target every possibility has to be used whether it is public-private partnerships (PPP), taxation, public procurement, industry and research.

About the SCCI initiative itself, Commissioner Oettinger announced that a maximum of 10 or 12 projects will be picked up in the first call. Each project must have an influence for 800 000 inhabitants during an experimental phase for a duration of 2 years. Those projects will enable to develop practical experience and will have to convince, from 2014-2015, more extensive and bigger projects to be financed. Between 75 and 90 million euros are allocated for the first call.

I. Morning Session : Think integration and innovation : The EU’s new Smart Cities and Communities Initiative

The first panel “The Economics of Smart Cities & Communities” gathered the representatives of businesses and local authority in order to share their experiences and their approaches about smart cities.  The president of IBM-Europe, Harry van Doremalen, reminds that traffic is a recurrent issue in the cities: every day millions of people move inside with recurrent difficulties. Jochen Kreusel, Head Smart Grids of ABB, adds that the electricity network is a crucial issue for the future of cities whereas Werner Brinker, CEO of EWE, regrets the too expensive cost of renewable energy, the lack on investment in research and the lack of storage capacity, in particularly for electricity.

An important point shared by everyone is the growing importance of the ICT (Information and communications technology). IBM has introduced its solutions for a smarter city based on « cloud computing ». IBM and the city of Stockholm are partners in the development of a system of traffic control with 80 units in the city. The inhabitants of the city decided for the implementation of this system by referendum. IBM points out a decrease of traffic by 18%  and significant improvement of public transport. For Werner Brinker, the ICT are a key element to improve durability. In particular it allows to consider information such as sunshine rate, consumption per hour etc… to improve the energy efficiency of buildings. To increase the impact of these technologies legislations should not be focused on new buildings but on retrofitting of existing buildings. Finally, Michel Destot, from the city council of Grenoble, underlines that technology should be more transparent for citizens in order to make it more efficient. A tool that may improve sustainability but is not well understood will not be well used and become ineffective.

The second panel, “How to involve citizens in making cities smarter?” was focused on the central role of the city dweller. Duncan Botting, Director of Innovation of Balbour Beatty reminded that the citizen is the one who has to accept innovation and that it is important to think about how they will do it. It is important to encourage, motivate and promote a better communication with and among citizens. Marta Vincenzi, Mayor of Genoa, insists on the necessity to include citizens in the implementation of Smarter Cities and Communities Initiative, as it was made in the city of Genoa during the participation in the URBAN Program.

About the information of citizens, MEP Adriana Ticau (Romania, S&D) observed that this area could be improved. She reminds that the Commission gave to the Committee of standardization the mission to implement smart indicators. As rapporteur in the case of energy efficiency of buildings and shadow rapporteur about the smart systems (in particularly the system of integrated transport), Adriana Ticau would like to see the implementation of a certificate who attests better protection of the environment.

Finally, Heidi Ranscombe, Consumer Focus UK, adds that common and comparable indicators were missing in Europe about the durability and the energy efficiency of industrial products. Moreover, most available indicators are not «smart» enough because they don’t explain in a simple and tangible way the issues adressed. The indicators have to be capable to give good and clear advice (for example, the scales from A to F for the consumption of energy).

II. EU-activities for Smart Cities and Communities

This session was open by Marie Donnelly, Director in DG Energy. She introduced the conclusions of the public consultation that has been carried out and the next steps. Among the 300 answers that have been recorded, one of the key elements was the fact that 25 percent of the answers came from businesses. In general terms, there is a big consensus about the selected priorities: buildings, public transports and energy. The consultation also raised the priority to implement quantitative indicators and, finally, public procurements are seen as a driver for innovation.

Marie Donnely reminded that cities are in the driving forces in Europe and they consume the majority of energy. The SCCI is considered as complementary of the Renewable Energy Strategy, the Energy Efficiency Action Plane and the Infrastructure Package. The philosophy of the initiative is to identify the common challenges and develop solutions that can be replicable for all cities (idea of «bundle demand from cities»). This initiative must also include businesses and banks and create some markets. If the cities are «smarter», they will attract more capital and enterprises. The experiences of CONCERTO, the Covenant of Mayor and CIVITAS must also be used. The Director of DG Energy reminds that 10 projects at most will be selected in the first call of the SCCI and at least  three cities must participate in each project. About the initiative’s calendar, the period of candidacy will close on the 1st of December. A more accurate calendar has been published on the 19th of July. The projects are included in FP7 which will end in 2012. It is important that the projects are implemented very quickly.

The rest of the session was dedicated to the spectrum of the EU activities in the field of research and innovation about durability. Alessandro Damiani, DG RTD, reminded the Green Book concerning urban mobility and White Book about transport.  The EU has already made some efforts to develop an orientation and guidelines for the next years, since the 6th FP. There is already a reflection about the urban infrastructures seen in the European project of the «bus of future».  There is political orientation and financial tools. For Mr Damiani, it turns to solutions now.

Colette Maloney, from DG INFSO, spoke about the ICT in the durable cities. She reminded that the technological tools have a lifetime and that people forget that they become obsolescent. This information must be included when a building is designed and built. Regarding the contribution of the ICT for a smart city, she thinks that it could be included in the logistic in the transport like the distribution of energy. The smart indicators are an important element. Dematerialization and ecological footprint of the ICT must also be taken into account.

The following presentation aimed to share the lessons of the Covenant of Mayors. It was presented by Paolo Bertoldi from the Joint Research Center Ispra. Its mission is to prepare and implement action plans, in particularly in the sector of environment. The goal is to integrate every sector of urban energy plans. The Sustainable Energy Actions Plan (SEAP) must reduce CO2 emission by 20% before 2020 for the partner cities. The procedure has just been launched and 650 action plans have been received. The Covenant of Mayors is a tool which works very well.

The last intervention was the one of Mr Ralf Goldmann from the European Investment Bank (EIB). He reminded that l’EIB is attached to its founder principles of convergence and cohesion between the countries and that is also the case in the field of environment. The EIB gives a technical assistance and traditional loans. The JESSICA project of the EIB invests in urban projects. Mr Goldmann also announced the creation of an investment fund «European Energy Efficiency Fund» (EEE-F) of 265 millions euros that will be focused on durability projects.

III. Partnerships for Smart Cities and Communities: Stakeholders’ views

The last session allowed the contribution of cities and businesses. The cities of Copenhagen, Bottrop, Rotterdam and Lyon shared their experiences. Claus Björn Billehöj, for the city of Copenhagen, declared that the city wants to be neutral in terms of energy consumption by 2025. The philosophy is that, working for the climate is working for the growth. Among the works, 98% of Copenhagen is connected to the district heating and a district is currently testing a system of district cooling (in the goal of not using the air-conditioning anymore). This concept interests other cities like Toronto, and Copenhagen is able to sell its know-how to other cities. The city of Bottrop wants to reduce by 50% its CO2 emission by 2020. For that purpose, they want to renovate many buildings. They received funding from the Land Ruhr, after a competition about the improvement of the environmental performance of the cities. Paula Verhoeven, from the city of Rotterdam, has the same ambition than the city of Bottrop but with a deadline in 2025.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 8, 2011 1:57 pm

    Hello Cedric, again many thanks for the useful report., Antonio


  1. Anatomy of a smart city | Nice deeds, by nice people
  2. Smart Cities and Communities Initiative « Blog Professionnel de Cédric Verdeaux

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