- From the home to the streets
- How smart is a Smart City
- Germany has 3 of the Top Ten “Innovation Cities” in Europe
- The smart journey so far
- Where next for Berlin?
What began with the concept of the smart home (programmable, self-learning and networked home appliances and systems), then embraced the idea of smart grids (the application of digital processing and networked communications to power grids) has now evolved into the age of the smart city (the integration of urban infrastructure and systems with information and communication technologies). Different cities are taking a variety of approaches and some are further along the path to smartness than others, but, like its international peers, Berlin has set out a roadmap to becoming a truly smart city. Read on to find out more:
From the home to the city’s streets
Although smart technologies have yet to become anywhere near ubiquitous, they are now as common in German homes as conservatories. According to an InterHyp study published in January 2016, 6% of German homes are already fitted with smart sensors, metres and appliances. For 32% of the German population, no dream home would be complete without smart technologies. So, although these are still emerging technologies, it’s well worth not only looking ahead, but also looking outside the home to assess how smart technologies are going to shape our lives in the future.
It’s a fairly large step from an intelligent fridge to an intelligent traffic system. While the fridge might keep track of the amount of milk or butter you use, monitor best before dates and even suggest recipes based on the ingredients you have available, it doesn’t have to process data on millions of moving vehicles, react in real time to developing situations or forecast potential outcomes across a wide geographical area. The fridge isn’t responsible for the well-being of millions of citizens, or for bearing the economic consequences of something going drastically wrong and a city descending into gridlock. Nevertheless, the basic principles are the same: A network of devices is created, data is processed and an “intelligent” system responds in real time.
How smart is a Smart City
The goal of smart city technologies is to reduce traffic, save energy and resources, improve urban life and improve public safety, whilst also increasing the involvement of citizens, local universities and businesses. There have already been a number of successful initiatives in cities around the world:
- street lighting that responds to pedestrians,
- systems to monitor the availability of parking spaces and relay this information to drivers,
- systems to analyse historical crime data to best determine deployment of law enforcement officers,
- systems to keep track of how much water is needed in a city’s parks and open spaces, and
- enhanced civic democratic engagement via digital collaboration apps.
Germany has 3 of the Top Ten “Innovation Cities” in Europe
The global innovation agency 2thinknow started publishing it’s “Innovation Cities Index” in 2007. Germany has consistently had three (or even four) cities in the European Top Ten, although Leipzig has fallen down the rankings over the last five or so years, whereas Berlin has risen from tenth place in Europe (2011’s ranking) to sixth in 2015. According to the latest ranking, Germany’s most innovative cities are Munich, Berlin and Stuttgart, followed by Hamburg, Leipzig and Frankfurt. 2thinknow’s index ranks 500 global cities based on an analysis of 162 individual indicators. The most innovative cities in Europe are London, Vienna, Amsterdam and Paris.
The smart journey so far
Berlin’s TU (Technical University) set up an urban lab in 2013 in order to provide a scientific basis to underline the benefits of smart technologies in urban environments. The lab’s remit goes beyond technical innovation and experimentation, with the scientists also tasked to evaluate the social, political and health implications of rolling out smart technologies across Berlin. The TU has established a multi-disciplinary braintrust, involving as broad a spectrum of faculties as possible to develop the solutions that will enable Berlin to become carbon neutral by 2050.
The city’s official working group, the Smart City Berlin Network, includes over 100 companies and numerous Berlin-based science and research organisations. The network is committed to establishing Berlin as a global innovation leader, as well as driving the development and implementation of smart city technologies within Germany’s capital city.
You only have to take a look at the major developments over the last couple of years to see the early fruits of these first steps:
Smart urban planning: There is a clear commitment to promoting and developing technology clusters and logistics hubs at clearly defined sites in and around Berlin, e.g. Technologiepark Berlin-Adlershof, Urban Tech Republik (once Tegel airport closes), Campus Berlin-Buch and the CleanTech Business Park in Berlin-Marzahn.
BeMobility: There are already more than 2,000 electric cars on the city’s streets and investment in infrastructure to support a vast increase in this number is well underway under the BeMobility banner, with charging stations, permission for electric cars to travel in designated bus lanes and the involvement of the city’s hotels in the Sleep and Charge initiative.
Smart energy: Berlin has positioned itself as a leader in the development of smart grids, storage concepts and innovative solutions so that the city’s energy supply can be synchronized with consumer and business demand. There are also numerous projects designed to integrate renewable energy sources intelligently into the city’s supply grid.
Smart administration: With projects such as mein.berlin.de, One-Stop-City and goBerlin, the city’s authorities are making it easier than ever for citizens to participate in the way their city is run. From digital planning consultation to online appointment scheduling, from electronic tendering processes to app-based communication and complaints management, Berlin has a range of projects either in operation or in the pipeline.
Smart waste management: The waste management company Alba developed a system for collecting food waste from all of the restaurants at Potsdamer Platz. Water is extracted, reducing the volume of the waste by more than 60%, before the remaining waste is transferred to a nearby biogas plant. And all of this takes place 15 metres under the feet of unsuspecting pedestrians at one of the city’s busiest tourist and shopping destinations.
Where next for Berlin?
Open data will play a central role in Berlin’s future as a truly Smart City—real time data from an array of weather, traffic and smart grid sensors that can be aggregated with data from social networks, the internet and a variety of other sources. After all, a Smart City is not just one that implements a raft of new technologies, it is a city that makes more intelligent and efficient use of the systems and data already at its disposal. As Nicolas Zimmer, Chair of the Technologiestiftung Berlin (Technology Foundation Berlin), said: “Smart isn’t just a question of revolutionary technological innovation, it’s also about using existing technologies more intelligently—seeing how things complement each other and can be integrated into new processes.”
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