In 2050, two thirds of the world population will live in towns, consuming over 70% of energy and emitting just as much greenhouse gases. As city populations grow, the demand for services but also pressure on resources will increase. This demand puts a strain on energy, water, waste, mobility and any other services that would be essential to a city’s prosperity and sustainability. How can innovative technologies and digitalisation help?

 evocation of the concept of smart city

A smart city is a place where traditional networks and services are made more efficient with the use of digital and telecommunication technologies for the benefit of its inhabitants and business.

A smart city goes beyond the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) for better resource use and less emissions. It means striving for sustainability through smarter urban transport networks, upgraded water supply and waste disposal facilities, and more efficient ways to light and heat buildings.

It also means a more interactive and responsive city’s administration, safer public spaces and meeting the needs of an ageing population.

Achieve an interoperable smart city ecosystem

The European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cites and Communities, the Digital Transition Partnership of the Urban Agenda for the EU, H2020 projects, the Digital Cities challenge initiative, together with the work done via the Green Digital Charter have contributed to addressing city related challenges. The Community of Practice brings together part of the overall conversations.

However, these solutions remain fragmented and as a result, their impact remains limited. Therefore, there is a need to scale up energy-efficient, carbon-neutral smart city solutions by integrating the different work streams.

The ‘Join, Boost, Sustain’ movement, aims to support the scaling up of open, interoperable, cross-sector and cross-border digital platforms and digital solutions across the EU. The initiative, driven by EUROCITIES, European Network of Living Labs (ENoLL) and Open & Agile Smart Cities (OASC), representing cities and communities as well as the 2019 Finish Presidency of the EU was formalised in a declaration, demonstrating the commitment of mayors, presidents of regions as well as national ministers to pursuing a ‘European Way’ of scaling digital solutions. A multi-level governance steering board will be set up in the first quarter of 2020 to progress on the commitments of the declaration.

Maximise efficiency and flexibility: Interoperability and Standardisation

The European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities and Communities (EIP SCC) could constitute a significant first block for a future European policy on cities since its launch in 2012. The EIP SCC has successfully contributed to bringing stakeholders together in six action clusters and to generating a seven-year series of calls for Smart Cities Lighthouse projects under the Horizon 2020 Framework Programme (H2020).

Our work focused on the Integrated Infrastructures and Processes Action Cluster (Urban Data Platforms and Smart Lampposts) and the Action Cluster on Citizen Focus:

  • A demand-side group of 110 cities bound by a Letter of Intent delivered city requirements for Urban Software Platforms, a guide to facilitate buy-in from city decision makers and a management framework to help cities with the implementation. A 93-industry group, bound by a Memorandum of Understanding, delivered reference architecture & design principles (standard DIN 91357) to enable portable urban services avoid vendor lock-in, as well as comprehensive documentation on relevant standards.
  • Thanks to cooperation amongst all actors, a smart "humble" lamppost standard (DIN 91347) and a Guide for city leaders to facilitate buy-in from city decision makers to deliver far more than just light (LED) were delivered.
  • Moreover, we supported and facilitated the development of an Internet of Things reference interoperability language and ETSI/OneM2M standard SAREF (Smart Appliances Reference ontology) that allows for different devices (e.g. at home, office) to exchange information with any energy management system and the smart grid for a more efficient and flexible energy use.

Building Consensus

We achieved very good results in the in the area of smart grids, energy efficiency, and the digitalisation of the water sector.

Under the Smart Grids Task Force (co-chaired by DG CNECT and DG ENER), we explored the potential for and scope of a possible common format for energy data interchange at EU level, as a basis for an interoperability framework.

As regards energy efficiency, we helped define the smart readiness indicator for buildings, which aims at measuring the buildings’ capacity to use digital technologies and electronic systems to optimise operation and interact with the grid.

Under H2020 we several projects on ICT and water efficiency. The result was an action plan that spelled out the activities, challenges, time-line, and tools for implementation suggesting the creation of the Digital Single Market for Water Services.

Connecting Europe

  • The WiFi4EU initiative was launched to address possible connectivity issues in villages or remote areas and allow certain communities to take advantage of the opportunities put forward by digital transformation, offering vouchers for municipalities to set up Wi-Fi hotspots in public spaces.
  • The Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) is a composite index that bring together relevant indicators on Europe’s digital performance and tracks the evolution of EU Member States in terms of digital competitiveness. In order to have a better understanding of how digital transformation is taking shape at local and regional levels, and following the request of various stakeholders, our aim is to develop local indicators, building on and in coordination with ongoing relevant initiatives. Thus we can monitor and prove the added value of digital solutions and innovation at the EU level, measured in a consistent and comparable manner across EU, using a set of meaningful indicators. These indicators show the progress made in achieving Digital Single Market roll-out at local/regional level with the involvement of local and regional authorities. 

The Future: Towards climate neutral and smart cities

Under the newly proposed programme Horizon Europe, the Commission has initiated a mission on ‘Climate neutral and smart cities’, whereby support will consist of helping cities become more resilient and smarter by empowering citizens in digital social innovation and in policy making and blending together best practices with technology components (large-scale, cross-border, standardised solutions and digital infrastructure).

The European Commission proposal for the Digital Europe Programme includes among its activities the large-scale deployment of interoperable solutions for cities and communities that will have tested satisfactorily under H2020.