Smart cities: the next stage

Written by Roberto Viola on 21 April 2016 in Opinion

Smart cities are already starting to become a reality, but the the next challenge is to make the leap to a big open market based on interoperable solutions and common procurement specifications, writes Roberto Viola.

More than 70 per cent of Europeans live in cities. They want cities where transport is smooth, where day-to-day life is safe, where the air is clean, where they can enjoy a rich cultural and social life and where they can learn, find a job or build their own company. 

Leaders of towns and cities across the world are becoming more aware of their political responsibility to meet the demands of their inhabitants. They can do this by becoming a 'smart city'.

Smart cities are an attractive prospect and already starting to become a reality. Real-time information helps drivers to find a parking place, cutting back on the reported 30 per cent of city traffic which results from vehicles scouting around for a parking place.

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New city-wide infrastructures are emerging, based for example on the traditional lamp post. Smart lamp posts are being installed, which use LEDs and WiFi to cut the energy bill for lighting the city by 50 to 80 per cent and also provide a city-wide wireless service. Think of the new services that could be developed if smart lamp posts also had sensors to detect air quality or road traffic.

Over the past decade; significant European, national and regional support has laid the groundwork for smart cities. The Commission is continuing to provide support by investing in research and innovation and through a partnership approach at European level.

Smart cities are a focus area for Horizon 2020, the EU's research and innovation framework programme. Through EU investment, residents of social housing in cities who took part in a neighbourhood social network saved more than 15 per cent on their energy bill. 

The EU-funded UNPLUGGED project looked into the wireless charging of electric vehicles in public spaces, and the FASTINCHARGE project tested this out in Douai in northern France. An interesting development in the Horizon 2020 2016-2017 work programme is the smart cities Lighthouse initiative.

Here, six cities join together, three in the lead, three following, to transfer knowledge about smart cities, and develop replicable approaches and solutions.

Taking this partnership approach one step further, since 2013, under the leadership of the European Commission, the European innovation partnership on smart cities and communities has allowed thousands of cities, companies and NGOs across Europe to innovate in the combined areas of digital, energy and transport.

These commitments involve more than 3,000 partners from across Europe and create a huge potential for making our cities more attractive and create business opportunities.

Already this year, 100 European cities are cooperating to generate the critical mass to create a market for tested solutions and 100 companies are working with them on innovative smart city solutions. For example, cities and companies have committed to install 10 million smart lamp posts by 2025.

As part of our commitment to improve access to information, advice and investments, in November 2016, under the EU urban agenda, the Commission will launch a special portal for cities.

It will provide a single, transparent, entry point for details on EU policies and funding opportunities for cities including access to finance and technical help from the European investment advisory hub. 

Substantial amounts from regional policy funds have become available to local authorities and other regional partners to invest in infrastructure and innovative services. Many regions have expressed their intention to support smart mobility, smart energy and urban digital transformation.

Smart cities also have much to gain from the EU's plan for the digital single market. Smart cities are built on devices, data and interoperability; they rely on the security and resilience of their digital infrastructures and cannot function without the trust and confidence of their citizens. 

DSM initiatives on the digital transformation of government, standardisation, the Internet of Things, cloud, cyber security, ePrivacy, and the free flow of data, all coming during the course of 2016, will have a direct impact on smart cities.

I would love to see the best smart city technologies and ideas that we have in Europe live in all our streets and houses. Currently we have good but isolated smart city examples. Our challenge is to make the leap to a big open market for smart cities based on interoperable solutions and common procurement specifications.

The European Parliament and the Committee of the Regions have an important role to play and should call upon cities to join up for this purpose and support the European Commission's efforts for cooperation across Europe.

Roberto Viola is Director General of the European Commission's DG CONNECT

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