Copenhagen and Vienna are the top smart cities in Europe
Smart cities provide their inhabitants with a greater quality of life through uninterrupted power service, better quality of potable water, a more reliable natural gas supply, a faster and more efficient public transport as well as more efficient health services and public administration. Smart cities attract companies and young talent, said Ivan Paić from Schneider Electric.
More than 350 million Euros from European funds were recently made available to Croatian cities with more than 50 thousand inhabitants. Should a part of that money be invested into 'smart cities' projects?
Of course, I think it's time to start with a more serious development of smart cities in Croatia. What we have to have in mind is that every city has an equal opportunity to become smart through appropriate advanced solutions, comparatively simply and without enormous energy resources. There are examples all over the world: from the USA and Brazil to Europe and then to China and Australia. During the last four years on my business trips to many different-sized cities around the world, I saw that the smart city trend is developing very fast globally. It's the right moment for our local community and city administrations inform themselves about the opportunities smart cities offer, primarily through uninterrupted power services, raising the quality of potable water, a more reliable natural gas supply, a faster and more efficient public transport as well as more efficient health services and public administration. Besides, smart cities attract companies but also young talent who, in addition, stimulate the creation and usage of innovation in the cities.
Zagreb will have 90 million Euros of European money available. What the Croatian capital could do with that money?
Zagreb contains almost a quarter of the population of Croatia and that's the best confirmation of the fact that 70% of the global population will live in cities by 2050. The sum of 90 million Euros is enough to have a serious start for a smart capital city project. And there is a relatively simple way how to start in that direction. Everything starts with the vision by the local administration oriented towards the citizens and desired long-term advantages.
And what's the next step after the vision?
The second step, the most important one in the process, is the construction of a regular 'smart grid' infrastructure using advanced computing systems to measure the momentary efficiency of utilities distribution systems – electricity, water, natural gas, heating. The basic idea in this step is to use the results of measuring and analyses to detect the locations where – through selective investment into the classic infrastructure, a more modern and efficient equipment and devices – the largest reduction of losses can be achieved and the quality of the supply process raised. The third step is to raise the standard of cooperation at the level of city and city services - private investors - business entities - citizens in order for the analyses done with the advanced smart grid systems, approved by the EU, to be used in opening opportunities to receive more funding from the Cohesion fund and other funds of the EU just for the revitalization of the city infrastructure and implementation of innovations bringing more savings. Communication in order to raise the awareness of the citizens and the general level of knowledge about smart cities is extremely important in each of the steps.
Zagreb as a capital is somehow expected to do everything itself. What about smaller cities with around 50 thousand inhabitants? Pula, for instance, will have around 30 million Euros available.
Size has no impact on the decision whether a city will become smart or not. Everything said for Zagreb can be applied to Pula as well, taking into account the smaller funds available. Of course, the proximity of the Adriatic and the orientation towards tourism open up some other opportunities which are certainly interesting for Pula but for other coastal cities as well. Renewable energy sources are interesting for those areas and have to be included into their vision and their investment plan. City administrations would also need to take care about a regular electricity supply for tourist cruisers docking in their harbours without turning off their diesel power generators and engines. In that way, beside their distinctly positive impact on the growth of tourism income, the cruisers also have a negative impact on environment as they become the sources of pollution in the strictest city centres. There are excellent solutions today replacing the diesel power generators and engines on the cruisers with a direct connection to the city electricity distribution system.
General public reduces the 'smart city' technology topic to the level of smart street lights or similar projects. What potential savings the digitalization of city functions and infrastructure can bring?
It is true that today's chief arguments for the introduction of smart grid solutions mention significant savings for all energy sources. I'd like to broaden the view a little and put it into proper context why it's necessary to think about savings, particularly knowing that the prices of all energy sources in Croatia are still low compared to the more developed countries of the EU. The energy dilemma says that the energy needs will double in the next 40 years and that the CO2 emissions have to halve at the same time in order to make a sustainable development of future generations possible. Taking into account that the available energy resources are limited, it's easy to deduce that we have to find a way today to increase the energy efficiency by huge four times in the next 40 years.
So such projects have to be seen as long-term?
There are naturally no smart grid systems that can achieve results in a short period. On the other hand, the smart grid systems contribute to continual optimization of the operation of distribution systems of all energy sources. When you add smart grid solutions at the level of large energy consumers as well as small household consumers later, optimizing energy consumption permanently, the initial 30% savings of electricity, the 15% reduction in the loss of potable water or the 20% decrease in time spent in public transport – brought about by smart grid solutions in a very short period after implementation – not even the necessary fourfold increase in energy efficiency is not unachievable in a longer time period.
Are there any examples?
Copenhagen was declared the smartest city in Europe in 2014 because it succeeded in lowering CO2 emission to just two tons per capita per year and the ultimate goal is to become CO2 neutral city by 2030. Another example, from our neighbourhood, is Vienna which – thanks to the forming of public-private organisation in order to develop smart city strategy and solution as well as incentivising renewable energy sources – set the aim of having 50% of electricity needed by the city produced by solar plants by 2030. Another interesting example comes from the USA where a computer system for the electricity distribution network management was developed for the local distribution of electricity in North Carolina. It lowered the maximum load for more than 300 MW (about a half of the power of the Krško nuclear plant) and so replaced the planned construction of a fossil fuel plant. We can truly call such a system the first virtual green power plant in the world.