A Tale of Two Smart Cities

Urbanization and climate change are creating mounting challenges for cities around the world. Smart city projects across Germany are developing and testing new solutions and sustainable models for the cities of tomorrow.

November, 2018

With 55 percent of the world’s population now residing in built-up areas, humanity has become an urban species. In just over 30 years, another 2.5bn people will reside in cities. Across Germany, smart city projects have been launched that employ urban tech, ICT and the Internet of Things to address the social, economic and environmental challenges caused by growing urbanization. The projects are often run in collaboration with the private sector, universities and local utilities and aim to develop solutions for the cities of the 21st century.

“We need to change our approach toward everything from transportation and energy to climate resilience and resource efficiency if our conurbations are to continue to function and provide citizens a good quality of life,” says Rob Compton of GTAI, who helps companies offering urban solutions to expand to Germany. “We’re seeing international investment coming from the ICT, e-mobility, logistics, green construction and environmental technology sectors especially.”

Compton says German smart cities provide an ideal model for urban planners worldwide because many of the country’s cities and towns have a broad range of buildings and infrastructures and are not especially large. “Half of the world’s urban population resides in cities with fewer than 500,000 inhabitants, which means the smart living labs here are perfect for developing solutions that can be replicated around the world,” he explains.

The Tetrahedron is a viewing platform which stands over the Beckstrasse slagheap in Bottrop, North Rhine-Westphalia. Part of the Route of Industrial Heritage, it offers a panoramic view of the Ruhr area. © Gaasterland/laif

Digital Cities

What’s in the Smart City tool kit?

There are few aspects of urban living which will not be transformed in the smart cities of the future…

Smart city approaches encompass technical, digital and social innovations that aim to make cities more efficient, ecological and resilient in the face of urbanization, shifting demographics and climate change. The smart city tool kit includes digital approaches based on big data, the Internet of Things including sensors, the ubiquity of the smartphone and “analogue” concepts such as intelligent city planning and social initiatives.

Modernizing Munich

Nevertheless, one of the largest smart city projects is being carried out in Munich, which by 2035 is expected to see its population rise by about 300,000 to reach 1.85m. Bernhard Klassen, project leader of the E.U.-funded project “Smarter Together Munich” in the City of Munich, outlines the scope of the project: “We’re working in two neighborhoods that have around 30,000 residents and buildings from the 60s and 70s as well as new construction. This diversity makes the area ideal for testing new ideas,” he says.

The project aims to refurbish around 600 residential apartments to make them more energy-efficient. In addition, the project is providing funding to modernize building envelopes and heating systems, as well as for new solar-thermal and PV systems.

“The PV systems can send surplus generation to a central virtual power plant with battery storage, which helps improve grid stability. The district heating network, which is fed from a local geothermal plant, is being fitted with ten innovative heat substations to ensure low return temperatures to the grid, which greatly improves efficiency,” Klassen notes.

Specially designed smart LED lampposts with extra space inside for additional equipment have been erected. Environmental monitoring, parking management, adaptive lighting, free Wi-Fi, traffic control and adaptive lighting are just some of the ideas being tested. “We’re keen for companies to get involved through the regular calls for tender,” says Klassen.

Transportation

E-mobility powers ahead in Munich

From EV charging stations to electric tricycles, there are green solutions for all.

Eight new e-mobility stations will be installed in Munich to complement existing public transportation. The stations bring together the city’s car sharing scheme including ten extra electric cars, the existing public bike rental system, electric bicycles and electric freight trikes, EV charging stations and a central information display. Two of the stations will feature district sharing boxes, which resemble the luggage lockers at train stations. Companies can use them as central delivery points, reducing the volume of delivery traffic. Local shops can also deliver to the boxes, some of which are refrigerated. This means residents can pick up regional produce that is delivered while they are at work, thus benefiting the local economy. The first station opened in July 2018.

Small and smart: Bottrop

At the other end of the scale, Bottrop, with a population of just 117,000, is one of Germany’s smaller cities. In 2010, Bottrop was selected by the InnovationCity Ruhr competition as a “typical town” to become a role model for the renovation of the entire Ruhr region, the largest conurbation in Germany with more than five million inhabitants. The initiative comprises 300 projects in a neighborhood of 70,000 citizens.

“The Ruhr region has long been home to heavy industry such as iron and steel foundries and coal mining,” says Rüdiger Schumann from Innovation City Management, which runs the project. “However, the industrial landscape has changed and now Bottrop is pursuing a rigorous program of urban redevelopment that respects its industrial heritage,” he continues.

“Many of the buildings in the project area were built between the 1950s and 70s, so we’ve had a strong focus on energy-efficient building renovation. Other central elements are energy storage and new renewable generation capacity, e-mobility and new ways to reduce freight and passenger traffic, as well as to create an attractive cityscape and develop climate-resilient land use.”

The project has seen 1,000 buildings undergo energy-efficient renovation and the installation of a heat network and 100 cogeneration plants. Green façades and living roofs are being created to assess their ability to reduce the heat island effect, where urban areas are significantly warmer than surrounding rural areas. “Model City Bottrop has proved a great success in so many ways,” says Schumann. “It has now been rolled out to 20 further areas and that’s something we’re very proud of.”

“Perhaps most importantly, civic engagement has been at the heart of both projects,” Compton notes. Germany’s living labs are being watched closely and will help shape the future of cities around the world.