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Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda
How ICT can make Cities Smarter
Smart Cities & Communities Communication launch event
Brussels, 10 July 2012
What do we mean by a "SMART city"? And, in contrast, what would we mean by a "DUMB" city?
By the definition of the Partnership we are launching today, most cities are probably "dumb". Or, at least, they aspire to be a bit smarter.
The dumb city is one where we produce and throw away too much, have too much traffic, waste too much energy, and ignore the power and intelligence of too many citizens. Sound familiar?
But: SMART is different. It's about using ICT to capture, spread and process information: to deliver urban services that are better and more integrated.
It's about cutting waste, cutting unnecessary emissions and cutting the use of scarce resources.
It's about tapping into the potential of our people: empowering them to organise their own communities, and improve their own environment.
And, usually, we find SMART at the interface: it is where sectors converge that we can see huge innovation and huge environmental benefits.
SMART sounds simple. But it is not. It is unlikely to happen by itself: not quickly, anyway.
Housing and transport stock is slow to replenish. Few administrations can afford to take big risks. If they do invest, they want it to be adaptable and future-proofed — not to get "locked in" to one solution.
Plus, in sectors like ICT, transport, energy, healthcare, and waste management, we see strong vested interests, and a resistance to breaking down barriers.
How do we respond? I want to focus on those instruments that are most effective. To look at where the most innovation can happen; and where the EU can add most value.
So our European Innovation Partnership will focus on technology, and on the intersection of the three sectors: ICT, energy and transport.
Because that's where technology is ripe to deliver.
There are many innovations waiting to be deployed. Like energy-positive buildings. Like systems that predict or respond instantly to energy demand. Like trams that draw energy from the grid when they accelerate – and give it back when they brake.
And there are others still further ahead. Like tiny sensors that harvest energy from the environment and smarten up our clothes, our cars, streets and the wider world around us. This is no science fiction; it's one of the flagship pilots in our Future and Emerging Technologies programme.
Already all three sectors are changing rapidly, and the boundaries between them blurring. It is right there in the middle, where those sectors overlap, that there's the most scope for market innovation, for effective intervention, and for boosting industrial leadership.
Just think what these sectors can gain from each other. What can be achieved at that intersection, if they work together. Here are three examples.
First, they can use each others' infrastructure. For example, there's a huge cost saving from sharing or re-using passive infrastructure, like ducts.
Second, better information and communication can help all sectors. Links and sensor networks providing data across the energy and transport networks.
Information to make energy use more efficient. To better integrate all sources into the grid: including the solar panel on your roof. And to cut traffic through better logistics and mobility.
Overall, better information means more choice, more convenience, and less waste: for citizens, businesses and public services.
Third, the sectors can learn from each others' skills and know-how. The ICT sector has much experience in billing, developing applications, and providing sophisticated services in a liberalised market. They have much to share.
All in all, this cooperation can deliver for consumers: and for the environment.
I realise this requires change. It may mean joint service offers, going beyond established boundaries.
It may mean challenging existing monopolies – something which, I'm sure you know, I've always been ready to do.
Plus, there are questions like: are the networks are robust enough? How to share costs? Or, who owns the data?
But I'm convinced that, whatever the challenges, the benefits from these synergies are stronger. This can be a win-win situation.
I've seen what ICT can deliver in other areas. In virtually every sector you care to name, it can deliver a huge productivity boost, more efficient services, and new products and business models.
And I've also seen what a real European Innovation Partnership, an EIP, can deliver. Our EIP in active and healthy ageing really looks like it might produce breakthroughs for sustainable and integrated health and social care.
All together, that EIP has had 300 hard commitments, representing 1,000 regions and municipalities, and directly benefiting 4 million people.
That's what Innovation Partnerships can do.
And they can do it for Smart Cities too. To stimulate and catalyse new innovations; to learn from the ideas that worked; to ensure coherence between existing initiatives; and to implement the right supporting policies, from procurement, to single market rules, to open public sector data.
The best part is that this is not imposed on local innovators: it empowers them. With a European platform to commit, share and learn together.
But there are a few basic conditions. Here are some.
First, we need interoperability to help competition and new ideas.
For large-scale take-up, new solutions have to enter markets. We should help them: through low entry barriers, a common language, and adaptable solutions.
Second, we must make the most of data. For example, the data we already have from smart meters. If third parties can access it – transparently and openly, without breaching privacy – that will be a great start. To fuel new innovations and help tailor new systems for end users.
Third, the ICT sector must further work to reduce its own environmental footprint.
Some say ICT is already responsible for 8 to 10% of electricity consumption; and increasing fast.
As a start, the sector should continue to try and measure this footprint, through transparent common standards.
And fourth, absolutely essential to smart cities, are fast broadband networks for all.
Around the world they are taking smart cities very seriously: look at China or Korea. And so they are also taking broadband seriously: the Chinese are installing 35 million new fibre connections this year alone.
Here in Europe, too, it's time we recognised that investing in these networks is investing in the future.
But most of all, to make change happen, we need to cooperate and work together.
Including within the Commission: by aligning EU funding and policies. Because we realise this can deliver for all of us, and for Europe.
But it needs your help and support, too. And it also needs your close cooperation as stakeholders. Getting over the barriers to Smart City innovation won't be easy — but it will be essential.
So I hope all of you will engage as much as you can in the new Partnership. Contribute your ideas – learn from others – and support all those who need better services and better cities.