Smart cities … enabled by ICT

‘Smart city’ is a buzzword, a term that is still quite a fuzzy concept and is used in a variety of ways. Definitions range from the simple city that “has digital technology embedded across all city functions” (Smart Cities Council) to the more detailed city that “brings together technology, government and society to enable the following characteristics: smart cities, a smart economy, smart mobility, a smart environment, smart people, smart living, smart governance” (IEEE Smart Cities). We asked Guus Derks of the Netherlands Enterprise Agency for his take on smart cities. “In looking at smart cities, we at the Netherlands Enterprise Agency have defined societal challenges. The main work areas are critical infrastructure, digitisation and standardisation. Within these work areas there are sectors that are of interest. These are Energy, Logistics, Water, Waste, Health and ICT. ICT is a separate sector due to the definition of the European committee. Personally, I see it as an enabler for the other topics and defining it as a separate sector introduces the risk that the other sectors are looking at the ICT sector instead of investing themselves. As mentioned, one of the sectors is logistics, quite a broad term that covers things like e-mobility and public transport, but also food logistics. Water includes water management and drinking water. Given the technological advances and the advent of digitisation we have witnessed in recent years, new business models are being created and new opportunities for innovation for and in the environment are being explored. And it is the technology and innovation that can make our cities smart. We also have to remember that law and legislation will have to be constantly updated to keep pace with these developments. The way people live, work (at home) and use these cities, the quality of life and healthcare – these are also aspects that play a role.” Is the smart city concept different from modern/ sustainable urban development? “There seem to be a whole lot of names or definitions for a smart city, from green city to urban sustainable delta. All have a slightly different focus or emphasise a particular aspect but they all share the same goal, which is to make an urban environment which is nice Guus Derks February 2015 – no. 20 23 Viewpoint Guus Derks to live in and which uses the technology to improve the quality of life and living. And indeed smart city concepts can even be applied to rural environments. After all, there are plenty of rural villages that can use the same kind of technology and innovation. If you look at electricity and the emergence of microgrids combined with the creation of local markets, for a few hundred houses green energy, such as solar or wind power, could be a very sustainable option for storage and consumption. All it needs is a little bit of skill in the application of the technologies.” What are the major smart city developments occurring in Europe today? “One of the major transitions taking place is the shift away from fossil fuels to reduce the CO2 footprint. This can be seen in terms of both industry and traffic, especially with the growth of more environmentally-friendly fuel alternatives and of e-mobility. And in this sense, the type of infrastructure becomes very important. It has to become ‘smart’ too in order to prevent overload or undercapacity. In terms of logistics and traffic management, cities are having to come up with smart solutions to enable the distribution and flow of goods and people in the face of the increasing density of both. But energy is the big driver. Decentralisation of supply and matching supply and demand in smart cities is a complex issue because a smart city is essentially a system of systems. We have to redefine those systems and, with that, redefine the business models. Because innovation in one spot can mean revenue in another. The challenge is to bring the investment en revenues together. “Let me give you an example. In the east of Amsterdam there is a housing project where the sinks in the kitchens have been equipped with grinders to dispose of organic waste, which then comes into the sewer system and gets transported to the water company, which actually doesn’t want any more garbage in the sewer system. So why not use the organic waste to create a biogas and transport it to an energy company that will use it to create heat and energy that can then be transported back to the city? But since it is the water company that removes the waste and the energy company that utilises it, the question arises as to who invests in the grinders. Somehow you have to split up the profits in a fair way. Everyone involved along the chain has to become a kind of shareholder in a new business model. And that is where the problem tends to lie; it’s not the technology that is the problem.” How can Europe take the lead? “In Europe we are good at working out what puzzle you need and designing the pieces for that puzzle. And each city presents a different challenge, or puzzle, if you like, and so you have to design the pieces that will create a particular puzzle. This is something we are very good at in Europe. If we look at the initiative in which we (Netherlands Enterprise Agency) have been involved in Bandung, in Indonesia, we are setting up an office there that can work with the local authorities and companies to define and create the puzzle so that we can establish the pieces of the puzzle that are not locally available, whether that’s knowledge, expertise of a specific technology, and bring them in. One of the things we are doing right now is setting up new business models as well as relationships with local government and companies to open doors and creating shortcuts for companies or consortia that want to go there. The primary focus of the Netherlands Enterprise Agency’s PIB (Partners in International Business) programme is to create business opportunities and be part of the exploitation in the long run.” Where do you expect to see smart cities in 20-25 years’ time? “I don’t expect any kind of end point to have been reached. It’s an ongoing process. We will have new technology that is currently not available. I see e-mobility and automated mobility (the Google car idea) becoming more prevalent and I think we will be more effective at harvesting energy from nature. The environment will become cleaner and consumers of energy will also be producers of energy – just think of all the houses with solar panels on their roofs. And instead of selling the energy back to the energy company, they could sell the daytime energy the panels produce but which they don’t use – because they are at work during the day, for instance – to a local school or community home that needs it.” A local market will be created and in this market, matching supply and demand, ICT can act as a manager, controller or broker. This decentralised and growing market will give opportunities to SMEs to develop special programmes, for example, to adjust energy consumption to preferences – for cheap or green energy. There will be plenty of opportunity to innovate. But in this new market cooperation will be essential to create standards and subsequently market volume. ICT will not just have an impact on these new urban environments but, as Derks points out, “ICT will enable the necessary innovation. Yes, I would say that ICT will actually be the enabler for smart cities.”


Published in the ITEA magazine (page 22-23)

About the author
Guus works for the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, where he is the coordinator for Smart Cities. He is a father of 3; 2 girls and a boy. Also he likes to think of concepts and program them himself.
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