The province of Chonburi, in Thailand, is home to the country’s largest industrial city, a city that is aiming to become smart and to achieve self-sufficiency in energy by using exclusively renewable sources. In practical terms the city of Amata plans to launch a project to construct a Smart Grid system and a new thermoelectric plant, and with this aim in mind on 8 July signed a letter of intent with the Japanese Yokohama Urban Solution Alliance. This is just one of the agreements signed between a number of cities at the inaugural meeting of the Asean Smart Cities Network (ASCN), a network formed last April between members of ASEAN (South East Asiatic Nations) with the precise objective of creating synergies for the intelligent management of energy on an urban scale. Membership of the network now totals 26 cities, and the first testing ground for their collaboration was in the context of an even more important initiative: the Global Cities Summit 2018.
Now in its sixth edition, this year’s Global Cities Summit - held in Singapore - was entirely dedicated to the theme of “Liveable and Sustainable Cities”. There were two key events: the Mayors’ Forum, attended by the first citizens of 117 cities around the world, and the Young Leaders’ Symposium, with approximately 90 participants from 40 locations, all united by one conviction: «advances in technology, like digitalization, big data and artificial intelligence, can enable us to re-imagine and rebuild our cities, improving their liveability and sustainability», in the words of the Singaporean Minister for National Development, Lawrence Wong.
After all, digital transformation and the social-economic revolution of cities can no longer be seen as frills or forms of Utopia, but as necessities. By 2030 over two-thirds of the human population will live in urban areas, while by 2050 all the world’s cities will house 2.5 billion new residents and 80% of the world's energy will go to meet the needs of the large global conurbations. Total global investment in the smart cities market should exceed 2,500 billion dollars by 2025, according to a recent study by Grand View Research.
The Eden Strategy Institute in Singapore has identified the world's fifty main smart cities in terms of organization, leadership, budget and the provision of financial incentives. The top 10 are London, Singapore, Seoul, New York, Helsinki, Montreal, Boston, Melbourne, Barcelona and Shanghai. According to the research institute, competition between the federal government and city authorities has had a positive effect in American cities, whereas European cities have been particularly effective in involving their citizens in the smart city development process, including consultations and budgets.
It is no accident that one European city, Barcelona, is gearing up to host one of the most important international smart city events: the Smart City Expo World Congress (SCEWC). From 13 to 15 November, delegations from over 700 cities and 700 exhibitors will contribute to the event. Because, it is always worth remembering, administrations and companies alike have to play their part, working together in order to make cities better places to live in. Because it is precisely in this way that the revolution has to begin.
«Cities will play a key role in the energy transition and can guide it towards a more sustainable future», said Simone Mori, European affairs manager at Gruppo Enel, at the first smart cities conference hosted by the Italian Embassy in Berlin. «The development of intelligent energy infrastructures, including renewable energy and battery-based storage in buildings, fibre-optic networks and smart meters, intelligent public lighting and electric vehicles, is a key step in this direction». And Italy? It has a long way to go. But it can draw inspiration from the positive experience of some small and medium-sized cities and the outstanding example of Milan. A snapshot of the situation in Milan was provided in a recent booklet produced by Assolombarda, in collaboration with EY, which compares the city with the four capitals of Europe’s most productive manufacturing regions: Barcelona, Lyon, Munich and Stuttgart. On the basis of 112 indicators measuring the technologies, services, strategies and quality of life of these areas, Milan more than holds its own. It is the best performer in terms of integration in infrastructure management and the optimization of networks through multi-utilities. It is also well rated in terms of its “smart” services and applications and mobility, for which Barcelona is nonetheless ranked first. The only blemish is the environment in terms of the provision of green areas and air quality.