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Cities can talk: Agile Cities for Sustainability

18 June 2012
Cities can talk: Agile Cities for Sustainability

By Molly Webb, Head of Smart Technologies, The Climate Group.

June 18, 2012

Today, in Rio +20, during the event to mark the launch of the Clean Revolution campaign, we announced we will take forward our work in cities with social enterprises Living Labs Global and CityMart, city association Metropolis, and the UK's Technology Strategy Board. Through the ‘Agile Cities’ Program we will co-design guidance for ‘pre-procurement’ when cities are looking for innovation and seeking global market intelligence.

This partnership builds on the experience of matchmaking city challenges to solutions. 

Why is The Climate Group working in the area of city innovation?

We know that urban issues are paramount today -- over half the world’s inhabitants are city-dwellers. Every choice made about service delivery of energy, transport, waste and water along with every citizen decision about how to live our lives is adding up slowly to collective impact that has long-term consequences. It is therefore in cities where we will succeed or fail in tackling climate change.

Decisions we take in the short term at the city level have huge implications. Choices to replace infrastructure or technologies with new, more efficient alternatives or to find new ways of delivering the same services in a lower-carbon way – such as car sharing or energy-generating surfaces -- are being made daily in some 557,000 local authorities all over the world.

And there is also a clear business opportunity. New solutions – in particular those which utilize the fast growing utility of information and communications technologies – can make a huge impact on a city’s emissions, while also benefiting quality of life and economic development (see our Information Marketplaces report for more on smart city opportunities). As Barbara Kux, Member of the Managing Board of Siemens AG and Chief Sustainability Officer noted in our Transformative Solutions panel in Rio yesterday, “In 2011 we saw revenues from low carbon technologies of 30 billion euro, that’s 40% of our total revenue.” Colin Calder, CEO of PassivSystems similarly can demonstrate that their smart energy management products have already delivered 20-40% energy savings in UK homes.

We can point to at least 21 city leaders who are ready to participate in the market for new solutions: in November of last year they each announced an urban challenge and that, as part of the Living Labs Global Award process, they were open for business to find a solution. On May 2nd, in the lead up to Rio +20 these cities converged in Rio de Janeiro to award winning entrepreneurs and businesses the chance to trial a solution in their city.

From networked lighting in San Francisco that can be used only when needed to open government in Capetown that will help deliver economic and environmental outcomes, the challenges set by cities were as diverse as the places they represent. But they had one thing in common; the cities were all ready to embark on a process of re-thinking how they meet urban challenges, using better data and connectivity.

Some common themes were mobility and transport, open government and participatory civic processes, better data for decision-making, and health care. Whether or not the challenges were explicitly about sustainability (like Glasgow’s, who were looking for low carbon and smart grid solutions for environmental and economic benefits), The Climate Group judged each and every entry based on its ability to deliver the innovation in the most climate-friendly manner.

But many of the challenges, if tackled, would directly also save energy. Mexico City announced it needed to alleviate commuter pain and make transport more efficient, as citizens navigate 1400 buses, 300 trolley buses and 100,000 taxis in their city. Lavasa, a relatively new city in India, wanted to re-think private transport altogether. And more indirectly, Rio de Janeiro wanted a ‘Knowledge Square’ to help engage citizens in urban social and technological reform, a process that would allow citizens to raise environmental issues alongside other urban issues.

The winners – and the finalists – were up to the task. Having read 500+ entries, I was amazed by the global marketplace I saw unfolding with every showcased solution. Companies that are providing socially networked transport, smart grid, smarter waste solutions, road maintenance, power-generating floors, all manner of intelligent transportation and parking were just a few. Check out more of the solutions on CityMart.

Some highlights from the winners and runners up:

  • Skybus won Lavasa’s challenge to re-think private transport. The Skybus SaaS platform allocates mobile requests to vehicle routes, which “adapt dynamically to take every passenger directly from origin to destination, quickly, comfortably and without transfers.”
  • Endesa won Glasgow’s challenge specifically with their Smart City Malaga project, which integrates 17,000 smart meters with charging points, LED streetlights and a control centre
  • Clever Devices, the winner in Mexico City, manages intelligent transport systems for city managers to drive down emissions, and fuel consumption.
  • Paradox Engineering will provide San Francisco with networked streetlamps as a starting point for a full smart city infrastructure
  • ConnecThings swept 4 of the city categories. NFC tags (enabling the QR codes on your mobile phone) allow citizens to interact with their surroundings in real time, and enable tourists or citizens to better engage with their city.

Some of the runners-up could also have big immediate or potential energy savings: WhipCar, POWERLeap, Philips Connected (Public) lighting, LiquidSpace, Oracle’s Green City Management solution, and BellaDati.

As Alex Zehnder of Paradox Engineering reminded us in his presentation at the Summit, ‘Cities can talk’ – through new approaches to networking machines and ‘things’ like buildings or waste bins in the city. 

Now, with the Agile Cities partnership, we’re connecting cities, innovation leaders in business and society and civic organisations to promote an open standard for a more effective marketplace among cities, to bring more cities into the practice of innovation for sustainability.

Learn more about a second partnership we announced this week, ISEP, which is focused specifically on ICT-enabled energy solutions but which will draw on our cities and solutions work.

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