How to build tomorrow’s Smart Cities?

smart cities

Ecological, sustainable and pleasant to live, Smart Cities projects flourish worldwide. Cities are studying, to a greater or lesser extent, projects related to several fields: sustainable development, energy, environment, quality of life, mobility & EV infrastructure, water or start-up. This research involves a multitude of actors and remains complicated to implement: we will not see a fully connected city, at the earliest, in 2020.

Meanwhile, Smart Cities projects are quite fashionable, and each City specializes in a research area. Thus, Nantes in the west of France is the pioneer city in open data, thanks in particular to the launch of an application, “Nantes in my pocket”, allowing access to all kinds of information about the city, in real time. The city of Issy-les-Moulineaux, in the suburb of Paris, for its part, set up the IssyGrid project, the first smart district grid in France, notably thanks to the control of its electricity consumption. This project has given rise to two eco-districts (Fort d’Issy and Bords-de-Seine), where today live about 3500 inhabitants. Eco-responsible thanks in particular to 500 m2 of photovoltaic panels, these quarters are largely delivered from cars. But the Golden Palm is returning to the city of Lyon: a pioneer in smart grids, involved in numerous projects to provide users with new services around the city, while building entire districts according to the rules of energy transition. Many inspiring ideas about what tomorrow’s smart cities might look like!

Issy-les-Moulineaux: between Smart Grid, Smart Buildings and Smart City

Issy Grid is a pilot project that, at the level of a neighborhood, sets up an intelligent electrical network associated with projects related to Smart Buildings, urban mobility or intelligent lighting. This project is supported by the city and a multitude of well-known companies: Alstom, Bouygues Telecom, Bouygues Energies & Services, EDF, ErDF, Microsoft, Schneider, Steria, Total, Bouygues Immobilier and a few start-ups. The project being a pilot, the business model is in this case and for the most part only a cost structure. His goal? Enable the optimization of the energy consumption of inhabitants and businesses of a given area and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by pooling consumption and energy production at the level of a neighborhood. To achieve this, the project consists of two components: increasing the local energy supply and reducing consumption.

This project makes Issy-les-Moulineaux one of the first places where a range of services to energy, mobility and the city are tested in real environment – making the city an “open-air laboratory”, field of experimentation of innovative ecological solutions. Thus, an application makes it possible to monitor its energy consumption in real time and, if necessary, to lower the heating; Booklets describe the environmental issues and the right reflexes, and the apartments are equipped with home automation interfaces to adjust heating and lighting. Data analysis is energy saving, and the use of open data allows companies to use these statistics to identify needs and thus develop new services that are adapted to them. These data remain anonymous and protected. These approaches now extend to the city’s transport – and are intended to cover more and more areas, in order to create a city entirely ‘smart’.

Implementation: what are the brakes?

Today, there is no single, clear business model for a Smart City project. The design of such a project depends on many factors – each city being, in itself, different and presenting its own problems. Indeed, there is no single city model: in the concept of smart city, each invention has to answer a particular problem to the locality concerned. The initiatives put in place are then very targeted: there is no universal and uniform concept of Smart City, but a multitude of specific projects. The only factor common to all these ideas remains the technologies available for their implementation (hardware and software).

To meet the needs of citizens, these technologies must cover three themes essentially constitutive of a Smart City solution. First, the collection of data(hardware), to adapt to the needs expressed. The storage and processing of data is also essential to the analysis of this data as well as to the pooling and optimization of means and technologies: this is the role of big data. Finally, the presentation of the data (UI / UX) is important in order to present high value-added data and make it readable. Thus, different actors can rely on these data to develop a decision-making process.

Similarly, in the era of digital 3.0 and uberization, there are a multitude of solutions and technological players, all offering innovative and diversified solutions. This multiplicity of responses to the ecological and economic challenges of cities can act as a brake on the implementation of new and sustainable solutions, their sustainability and scalability not necessarily being assured in the long term. It is then up to the designers of a project to make the choice of the right technologies, and to find the best adapted to the particularities of the project and the city concerned. To do this, we must rely on key players in the sector who can propose a long-term strategy – a condition for the sustainability and consistency of a Smart City project.

Finally, the challenge of designing a Smart City is the creation of value. To create value, it is necessary to have model and a set of coherent solutions. Open data can then be used to overcome this coherence problem and to optimize the model, by pooling data. This promises an openness of the model to a set of actors and not only to the owner of the data: this pooling will enable its discovery by a multitude of more or less coherent actors and is a first step towards the optimization of the economic model. This optimization must not only improve the efficiency of the project, but also make the Smart City more attractive: this is the aim of such a project – to transform the city to make it more attractive to locals, businesses and tourists. For this, projects must be efficient: if technological advances are in themselves a good thing, they are not an end, but a means of serving the community.

A Smart City yes, but not only for engineers!

If technologies are important and play a major role in the implementation of a Smart City project, it is not as an end, but as a means: they must be able to meet the needs of all players in the Smart City concerned. Citizens, municipalities, businesses: all must be able to find their unique value – condition of the effectiveness of a Smart City. It is necessary to develop simple solutions, accessible and open to all and to center their developments on the UX. This restitution of data then leads to a change towards a coherent and profitable business model, requiring an appropriate change management. In the era of digital 3.0, all must be able to use and understand the tools available.

*) Featured image: Ryan Lackey (cc)

**) This article was written by John Fiske. Expert in Smart Cities/Grids/Buildings – Bid management & Business Development.

John Fiske

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