Home Interviews Helping Cities to GrowSmarter – collaboration is key!

Helping Cities to GrowSmarter – collaboration is key!

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Smart City projects can fail just as easily as they succeed, that is why it is crucial to engage the right partners. But how do you that? A good way to start is to identifying the root cause of the problems in a city, this leads to a good understanding of the issues which in turn helps municipalities make the right decisions on how to overcome them.

GrowSmarter is a complex Smart City project which aims to bring sustainable solutions to economic, social and environmental issues. The project aims to integrate and demonstrate twelve smart solutions to energy, mobility and infrastructure with the help of twenty industrial partners. What sets this project apart is its approach to the sharing of knowledge and experience. In the Three Lighthouse Cities – Stockholm, Cologne and Barcelona – 12 smart city solutions are put to practice and evaluated regularly to become models for the Five Follower Cities, the growing number of Take-Up Cities and also for many other cities.
This is a valuable approach as it offers cities the chance to learn from the practical experience of others and identify sustainable measures that best fit their local context. In these times of rapid urbanisation, GrowSmarter gives cities the chance to integrate smart and sustainable solutions from the beginning –  saving time for a city in its road towards real sustainability.

Ahead of Nordic Smart Cities – The City 2.0 we conducted an exclusive speaker interview with Gustaf Landahl, Head of Department Planning & Environment at the Environment and Health Administration, City of Stockholm and Project Coordinator of GrowSmarter Project, about the role and implementation of Smart City projects.

Since 1995 Gustaf has been Head of Department of Planning & Environment which is responsible for environmental control as well as climate protection and energy efficiency in the city of Stockholm. He has also coordinated large Smart City projects with funding from the European Commission and participated as a speaker at numerous international events.  

What is the role played by Stockholm in the larger European context through Smart City projects?
First, I could say the role Stockholm plays in the larger European context is very much related to the environmental field, energy efficiency and climate issues. The city was awarded the first European Green Capital Award in 2010 by the European Commission and it came after a long period of dedicated work in this field, so the city is well known for its climate and environmental work. The GrowSmarter project was conceived as a way to increase the work on energy efficiency and buildings, but also to implement smart solutions for transport and infrastructure.
I can see that all cities are facing these challenges, they are confronted with a growing population for which they need to make sure there is enough housing for and also to refurbish and adapt the existing housing stock to meet new requirements. The transport situation in many cities is also problematic, there are too many cars in the city, we have to change that to find more effective ways of transporting people with the help of public transport and biking. Another problem is the infrastructure which in many cities is in need of renewal to suit new needs, but is also lacking in reinvestment. This is the case for most technical infrastructures such as waste-handling, heating, electricity and communication.
Through the combination of smart ICT and efficient work in the areas of buildings, transport and infrastructure we think we can achieve a lot, aided by the 12 smart solutions that we have in the project. So the idea is to demonstrate successful smart solutions together with the industrial partners and to make sure that we can be a model for other cities, it is also important that the industrial partners are clearly visible to help other interested cities that want to take up these solutions. On these projects, we believe we can achieve 60% savings on greenhouse gas emissions and we also believe that we can create a lot of new jobs in Europe by doing so, with GrowSmarter alone around 1500 jobs are expected to be created.

What tools have you used to get citizens involved in the decision-making process?
This is an ongoing process. First of all, we have a lot of people living in the affected buildings and they have to be completely refurbished since they haven’t really gone through modernisation since the ’60s or ’70s. On this subject, we the housing companies have ongoing discussions with the tenants on how far to go with the rehabilitation process and they get to choose how far we will go with some details like, should they have a completely new kitchen or do they just want to have new household appliances, these sort of specifics. Basically, it’s very much a dialogue with the tenants. Some of them are a bit afraid of the changes that come along with the project, the process takes a while, but more and more agree and are happy with the project and the results that refurbishment brings. In our Lighthouse Cities, we have events in which we show the people the smart solutions that we are going to introduce to the project so they can try them and see for themselves how the new waste handling system works, how the smart home works and how the charging facilities for electric vehicles work. We pretty much try to involve the tenants in the process of transforming the city. Another key moment is when they move in because it is very important that they understand all the smart solutions which they have access to and that they know how to use them, so we put a lot of work into demonstration at that point as well.

What challenges did you come upon and how did they change the initial direction of GrowSmarter?
The first challenge was to put together the project proposal. One of the key tasks was finding cities which had a similar idea of what they wanted to do. Some were merely focussed on ICT, others on something else. My ambition was to find a group of cities where the needs of the city were the driving force and where different technologies could be of support. To achieve this my staff and I went and met with 20 city representatives and asked them what they wanted to do, what they had in mind and the like and the moment I met with them I could tell if they had any interest in being part of the project. The same applied with the industrial partners. Within the city, I met with three major housing companies and discussed different sites which were due to be refurbished and to choose the ones that best fitted the project.

The next step was preparing for the implementation of the project. Compared to theoretical research, demonstration projects are implemented for real. This means that issues like must be obtained and completed:

  • Building permits and other legal decisions
  • Public procurement of services according to European legislation
  • Negotiations with tenants

All of these phases take time and can change the details of the project. In GrowSmarter we are now through that phase and are quickly implementing more than 60 measures to demonstrate the 12 smart solutions in the three Lighthouse Cities. All that took some time, but all major projects like this one do. For example, say we had sixty different measures within twelve smart solutions, so there are always small details that need to be fine-tuned to make sure they really deliver, but everything is going quite smoothly now.

How and to what extent are projects like yours able to make an impact on developing countries?
There are a lot of things cities in less developed countries can use from the GrowSmarter project. Often they can leapfrog the development and skip mistakes that we have made. In many cities in developing countries urbanisation is moving even quicker, in consequence they are building a lot of new infrastructure and when doing that they can implement smart solutions from the beginning. One example would be the use of biogas vehicle fuel. Many developing countries have great costs for importing expensive fossil fuels. Renewable fuels like biogas can both improve the economy, help create local jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. All cities have waste collection services, the first step is to introduce a way of collecting different waste in different coloured bags that can then be sorted by colour. Organic waste can be used to produce biogas by fermentation. Biogas is a wonderful renewable fuel which can be used for buses, waste collection vehicles etc. That is just one example of what can be built in from the beginning when you introduce a waste collection system in a developing city. The same applies to sewerage systems where the fermentation of the sludge can also be used to produce biogas.

Another example is virtual power plants. In many developing countries the power line infrastructure is insufficient for the increasing loads and the peaks are not met by sufficient production facilities. In GrowSmarter we demonstrate virtual power plants connecting solar panels with the buildings themselves and also changing electrical vehicles and managing the demand side of household appliances. By controlling the system, using ICT, we can both reduce the cost of buying electricity, increase the use of renewables and reduce peak load pressure on the grid. This is cost efficient and would greatly benefit developing countries. There are lots of solutions that can be applied and the reason why we get many take-up cities from developing countries is because they see the value in what we are demonstrating.

What is your experience in bringing together authorities, private investors and the people?
Often the public and private sphere have their own separate tracks. In GrowSmarter, we work in an integrated way with both cities, research partners and industrial partners. They have a clear common goal to help promote the 12 smart solutions. The Lighthouse Cities demonstrate them, the research partners evaluate and the industrial partners can use the demonstration sites. Together with the independent evaluation material and with the help of the Lighthouse Cities demonstrations increase the market share of these solutions thus creating both growth and reducing emissions. By doing so together we can help Europe Grow Smarter.

What do you expect to get out of participating in events like Nordic Smart Cities?
Since the dissemination of smart solutions is very important to get other cities to take up these ideas, as well as partners, participating at events like Nordic Smart Cities is important for me. It’s also important to meet others who are doing similar things and learn from them, from their experiences.