Smart city leaders convene in Rotterdam to offer pathways for a climate-neutral future

Smart city leaders convene in Rotterdam to offer pathways for a climate-neutral future

Four of the six cities were selected as part of the EU Cities Mission for Climate Neutral and Smart Cities by 2030

Achieving climate neutrality is no easy feat, but European smart cities Rotterdam (The Netherlands), Glasgow (Scotland) and Umeå (Sweden) have wisdom to share. The cities - alongside partner cities Brno (Czech Republic), Parma (Italy) and Gdańsk (Poland) - convened in Rotterdam to wrap up the H2020 project RUGGEDISED and to share lessons learnt during six years of smart city innovation.

In the heart of Rotterdam’s smart demonstration district Hart van Zuid, partners of the EU funded project gathered at the Ahoy Convention Centre to exchange findings, discuss challenges and reflect on their cities’ journeys from smart city innovators to leading climate neutral pioneers. As a result of their solutions, four of the six cities were selected as part of the EU Cities Mission for Climate Neutral and Smart Cities by 2030.

Hermineke van Bockxmeer, Director of Urban Development for the City of Rotterdam, welcomed about 100 participants to the final RUGGEDISED event, comparing the trajectory of similar European projects to the recently organised Eurovision Song Contest, which took place at the Ahoy Centre in 2021:

“The song contest started with the social goal of bringing people together after the war. Today, the question of how to build a sustainable Europe, is more relevant than ever, and Ahoy has been an accelerator in raising awareness about sustainability.”

Smart city transition

Each of the RUGGEDISED cities has accelerated the transition to a smart, sustainable future. The nature of these smart cities is one of constant adaptation and evolution, as Umeå’s Coordinator, Carina Aschan, points out: “In a smart city everything and everyone is talking to each other all the time.”

Another key ingredient of a leading smart city is cooperation. Parma’s innovative smart city vision for its citizens was supported significantly by collaboration with project peers:

“By joining [RUGGEDISED], the city of Parma took a step forward in terms of the permanent involvement of stakeholders and local companies…thanks to the project activities, through workshops and round tables, local governance has been created that supports all activities…”

Successful collaboration between these cities, and their stakeholders, offers a blueprint for others to follow: not just in terms of the technical design and the implementation of solutions, but also in terms of meeting relevant European environmental and emissions targets.

“The partners that are working together in RUGGEDISED have a special relationship with each other and so many new cooperation projects with new shared solutions have come out of this. It is thanks to RUGGEDISED that we have realised how important it is to keep doing this together,” shares Aschan.

Intelligent solutions

Shared solutions that have emerged over the past couple of years include Glasgow’s smart metre solution for apartment residents, Rotterdam’s Smart Thermal Grid, and Umeå’s smart control equipment installed across its University Campus.

In Glasgow, the Wheatley Group aims to give residents of a high-rise block more control with the installation of smart energy metres in every apartment:

“With this smart energy management system, residents can choose when and how warm they want their spaces to be heated. The success of the solution means it will be mainstreamed in 10,500 homes in Glasgow and surrounding rural areas,” shares Gavin Slater, Head of Sustainability at Glasgow City Council.

Glasgow’s smart metres have been shown to reduce total energy use by up to 30% and have cut back individual energy bills significantly before the energy crisis.

Meanwhile, the City of Rotterdam continues to advance a legacy of energy leadership by implementing an integrated Smart Thermal Grid in the Hart van Zuid neighborhood. The grid uses energy extracted from wastewater, pavements, and more, to fulfill local energy demands. The neighborhood is already experiencing positive impacts as a result of this initiative: the geothermal heat-cold storage reduces energy consumption by 924.000 kWh per year, resulting in a CO2 emission reduction of 70 tonnes per year.

The renovation of existing buildings is another critical part of creating smart, climate-neutral cities. In the University District of Umeå, intelligent building control systems are reducing energy consumption and lowering peak demand: sensors that control air flow, climate and lighting in 130 offices across the Umeå University Campus have been connected to a smart control system. Umeå’s local hospital is testing similar sensors to see how the smart control system could be integrated into existing energy systems, a challenge many European buildings will have to overcome. Initial findings demonstrate that the smart energy system can save up to 10% of energy consumption and shaves energy usage during peak demand by 25%.

Stay smart: the cities’ journeys continue

For cities looking to accelerate their climate-neutral ambitions, smart city solutions are a good place to start. As Glasgow, Rotterdam and Umeå’s solutions demonstrate, approaches to energy management and emissions reduction need to be agile and holistic. Their fellow cities Parma, Brno and Gdańsk’s innovative work also underscores the importance of cross-cutting international partnerships. No matter how effective cities’ work is though, there is one thing that all smart cities need to remember, according to Aschan: “A city will never reach the final stage of being smart: it is an ongoing process.”

Text: Schuyler Cowan

Communications Officer at ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability

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