Steinbeis experts support the European Climate Initiative (EUKI)
The “smart city” concept offers a vision of urban life in the future. Based on this concept, an increasing number of cities are now developing and testing “smart” solutions, which they later plan to implement on a broader scale. As part of a project called the Baltic Dialogue Platform on Smart Cities for Climate Protection, Technology Management Northeast, the Steinbeis Research Center, has also been helping identify solutions for the cities of the future.
The long-term goal of the EU is to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. This entails achieving net zero carbon emissions (UNFCCC 2020) and will involve a number of big changes for cities, since they are major contributors to climate change. Currently, they emit around 70% of global greenhouse gases due to their energy consumption. To develop and promote climate-friendly and smart cities, but also to hit the EU’s climate targets, it will be crucial to share know-how, exchange examples of good practice, and expand capacity in order to transform the sustainability of municipal infrastructures against a backdrop of digital transformation. To this end, a German-Baltic Dialogue Platform was established in 2020, supported by the European Climate Initiative (EUKI). The overall objective of the EUKI is to promote climate cooperation within the European Union (EU) in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Five partners from four countries participated in the Baltic Dialogue Platform on Smart Cities for Climate Protection project: Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) from Lithuania, the Riga Energy Agency (REA) from Latvia, the Tartu Regional Energy Agency (TREA) from Estonia, adelphi (which was responsible for project management), and Technology Management Northeast, the Steinbeis Research Center from Germany. Several rounds of open discussion were organized for the more than 345 participants and roughly 50 speakers to examine a number of key topics relating to smart city developments aimed at supporting climate protection. A Steinbeis team led by Frank Graage moderated the entire program of dialog sessions, also arranging lines of contact with other stakeholders.
Four recommendations for a climate-friendly smart city
The findings are pulled together in four recommendations. These are primarily aimed at municipal authorities that are yet to introduce measures supporting climate-friendly smart cities and are interested in implementing climate protection and smart city concepts in their own city. The recommendations are:
- Integration of the smart city concept in sustainable urban development and the climate protection measures of cities
The smart city concept should be compatible with urban development goals, the Paris Climate Goals and the Sustainable Development Goals. Cities should set ambitious climate change targets and tackle the main sources of greenhouse gases, such as transportation, heating, and power generation. Ideally, reducing greenhouse gases should not only focus on how emissions are produced, e.g. emissions within a city, but also take into account any emissions that are generated elsewhere in order for a city to consume resources. It is important to minimize impacts on the climate now and not postpone action, as this is the only way to make our cities climate-friendly.
- Emphasis on climate change mitigation: determination of appropriate processes in cities and integration of climate protection within all phases of smart city development
Climate protection necessitates effective processes and should be an integral part of all phases of smart city development – during planning, project implementation, and repeat projects.
The planning phase typically involves developing visions, future scenarios, strategies, and action plans. It is crucial to analyze a city’s environmental and climate footprint and understand where it currently stands when it comes to becoming a smart city. By the end of the planning phase, a dedicated smart city strategic action plan should be in place taking future developments into account.
Throughout the project cycle, projects will be aligned with climate and urban sustainability goals and the resulting action plan. Projects should undergo climate assessments during the planning phase:
- Do solutions contribute to achieving the defined goals?
- Could there be potentially positive climate effects?
- Do solutions match other infrastructures in the city, and are they integrated into these infrastructures?
- Are there comparable solutions with smaller or similar environmental footprints, or a similar impact on the city?
Two of the most important measures when it comes to gauging progress versus action plans and, if necessary, making adjustments, are continuous monitoring of smart city projects and conducting evaluations. Ideally, a citywide monitoring and evaluation system should be put in place in such a way that it integrates key climate and environmental indicators. For example, evaluations can track electricity consumption, heating energy, or fuel required for transportation.
- Environmental protection on a digital level – making climate change data freely available and procurement of sustainable digital technology
Digitech is an essential element of many smart city solutions. In most cases, solutions are based on specially programmed software, sometimes from open sources – such as car-sharing apps or platforms that allow inhabitants to submit their own ideas for making the city more sustainable.
To offer such digital options, information needs to be absorbed and processed and this information should also be made freely available.
This is based on the principle of open data, which emphasizes the public availability of and free access to important information. It is not enough to simply publish data on public websites, however. Instead, making proper use of open data entails improving digital literacy and interacting with potential users.
A key goal of smart solutions is enhanced efficiency, especially in the areas of transportation and energy. However, research on the climate impact of digital solutions shows that there are so-called rebound effects and that stress shifts to different areas. If ignored, these can counteract such efficiencies.
- Development of a city-wide network – involvement of all key stakeholders in the development of a climate-friendly smart city
To expand the information and communication infrastructure required to use digital technologies and in order to produce and test hardware and software, municipal authorities rely on a variety of approaches to public-private partnerships. Identifying new partnership models involving other stakeholders – such as service providers, partners with certain know-how, members of the public, or contractors – provides a framework for authorities to develop new services that test the boundaries between the public and private sectors. This is important, because climate-friendly urban development needs to ensure everyone is involved.
Plans for Germany and the Baltic Region
The results, plus experiences with the Baltic Dialogue Platform on Smart Cities for Climate Protection, have laid a foundation for moving to the next level of exchange between different stakeholders. The plan now is to offer educational concepts and options for training municipal experts and smart city stakeholders, who should then bridge the gap between theory and practice. They should play a lynch-pin role between pioneers in this area and interested city representatives.
For further information on the open discussion and instructional guides, visit the project website:
Frank Graage (author)
Steinbeis Research Center Technology Management North East (Rostock)