Sharing Cities: Europe’s smart city blueprint


As urbanisation continues to rise, so too does the impact of smart cities on how we develop new and retrofit existing infrastructure. In order to enhance the impact and experience of smart solutions, resource sharing is encouraged and in the case of Lisbon, London and Milan, is proving a winning blueprint to achieving greater energy efficiency, e-mobility, smart lighting and urban sharing.

We spoke to Nathan Pierce, Sharing Cities project director, to learn more about how they are achieving their objectives and turning historic cities into smart, futureproofed hubs of sustainability.

In the Sharing Cities project, how and why are cities collaborating to achieve better energy efficiency?

We’re collaborating across different energy and efficiency measures in the three participating lighthouse cities: Lisbon, London and Milan. We’re retrofitting buildings and installing the latest smart technology. In the world of housing we’re collaborating across cities because there are commonalities and differences in the way that each city approaches its housing stock. In Lisbon, for example, it’s more about coolness, in Greenwich it’s more about heating. We’re very lucky to have Teicos, the Italian organisation, helping to design these energy efficiency measures and implement them.

We’re also looking at sustainable energy management systems, which cut across an area. The early signs show we’re up to 10% savings from these, and 10% from the retrofits. That’s 20% savings in energy and that is really exciting for us in terms of our old buildings. It represents significant savings to the municipality and carbon savings for the environment as well. If the business model is good, it’s something that is easily replicable by other cities and municipalities.

Are cities coming up with business models that can be replicated across different European contexts?

Yes, definitely. We have EUROCITIES leading on ‘replication,’ which is basically the principle that we seek out agile solutions and business models that can be adopted in other contexts, in other cities. That is at the heart of what we do in Sharing Cities. It’s also about presenting those solutions in a straightforward way that allows other cities to understand and apply them.

If something is particular to a specific city, like excessive regulations, we’re recognising that and then looking beyond it and finding the commonalities between each city. Take, for example, the amount of energy saved from cladding; that’s pretty much the same in all three cities. The amount of energy saved from installing smart meters is about the same. Where it differs is the amount of money you can get from sending energy back to the grid. In some cities it’s nothing; in others, it’s quite substantial. We relay this information back to the Commission so they can use it to encourage other cities to replicate.

The intermittent nature of renewable energy makes new solutions for grid management necessary. What are the lighthouse cities doing to adapt to this landscape?

We all know that when it comes to fast charging cars in particular, grid capacity is a real problem for some cities. Some cities have a goal to move to a completely electric society by 2040, for some it’s as close as 2025, so grid management becomes a real issue. In Greenwich, on the demand side, Kiwi Power and Digital Greenwich are developing the ‘Greenwich Energy Hero’ project, an app that notifies residents when demand for electricity is high. There are incentives if people react and reduce their electricity use at that moment. Using a sustainable energy management system, Greenwich is also doing energy demand forecasts that are hooked into the solar panels and e-car charging infrastructure, so that they can do smart scheduling and adjust for peaks and dips and maximise consumption from renewable sources.

On the supply side, they are replacing the heating system of a social housing estate. Gas boilers are being replaced with an electrically powered water source heat pump which will use the River Thames to supply heating and hot water to homes on the estate. Solar panels will balance the electrical demand from the pumps.

Can you tell us about the e-mobility solutions being piloted within Sharing Cities that are most promising for replication?

I’m incredibly proud of our e-mobility measures. Cities are doing exceptionally well on these solutions and it is very promising for our mission to replicate our Sharing Cities models in other cities. I was incredibly impressed by Milan’s municipal electric cars. They’ve now nearly got an entirely electric fleet. And the business model is quite sound. It pays itself off over a long period. When I visited Milan in January, it really made me think, why isn’t every council doing this? Every single municipality should be looking at electrifying their fleet.

How can the market work with cities to accelerate the replication process?

The most important step is for municipalities to clearly articulate their needs, including business needs, and the functionality and return on investment they are looking for. Our three fellow cities, Bordeaux, Burgas (Bulgaria) and Warsaw, are off to a great start on this. The marketplace could do with preparing for this kind of demand by being very flexible in what it can offer.

I recommend talking to your surrounding cities if this is something you want to do. In my experience, prices will always come down the more you buy. It’s really simple but very few cities do this.

Sharing is going on within your project, but also across projects. How are you working with other lighthouse projects on, for example, smart lampposts?

We’ve got a really good working relationship with the other 14 lighthouse projects. Sharing Cities continues to be a driver of good collaboration, not only between the projects, but also between the cities involved in those projects. We want to draw not just on the learning in Sharing Cities, but the aggregated lessons of all of the lighthouse projects, because we’re testing similar measures across 80 cities.

You mentioned lampposts… there’s a consortium of five cities working together to explore how we can jointly procure smart lampposts. We’re bringing an application to the European Investment Bank. That’s something concrete and directly linked to this programme. And we’re looking to extend this collaboration to a much wider audience.

Sharing Cities is about generating savings and investment – how will you achieve this, and what kind of business models are you developing?

We want to develop business models that cities can use, understand and replicate. Our Sharing Cities ambition is to generate €500 million of investment from the money that has been spent, leveraging EU investments.

We’re also exploring how we can create a pipeline of opportunities for investor and finance communities. This is not just about putting up a few lampposts with smart tech. Investors want more and they need to be able to visualise the future potential, or as we call it the ‘bundling’ opportunities. This is something we’re keen to explore.

When I first started this job, the €500 million target scared me, but actually it’s become less of a scary number. We’re currently having quite advanced conversations with cities across Europe about redevelopment opportunities. For example, in Warsaw hundreds of millions of euros are going into revitalisation and we are talking to them about our retrofit measures and smart lighting. We’re talking to the Bagnoli district in Naples about a major €1 billion redevelopment. I’m having conversations London-wide across all of the boroughs about the technology we’ve tested. It’s only going to take four or five of those opportunities and you’re already approaching the €500 million mark. SEI

About the author:

NATHAN PIERCE is the head of the Smart London Team based at the Greater London Authority in the UK, responsible for delivering the Mayor’s Smarter London Together Roadmap. He is also the programme director for Sharing Cities, a pan-European programme of work that explores ways in which smart city solutions can be scaled up from city level to national and international level. This will result in the development of new business and investment models for others to benefit from. At the heart of both roles is the development of digital infrastructure and engagement with residents, business and civic organisations. Pierce has thirteen years of public sector experience, primarily working in corporate of policy, strategy and commissioning teams in local government based on matrix/consultancy style working. He is passionate about improving lives for people through making government more responsive and innovative.

This article was originally published in Smart Energy International 2-2019.Read all articles via our digital magazine today.