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The role of smart cities in promoting energy transitions

- Do smart city projects make cities more sustainable?

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Marikken W. Wathne & Håvard Haarstad
Marikken W. Wathne & Håvard Haarstad

On March 21, Marikken W. Wathne and Håvard Haarstad from SpaceLab held a presentation on the role of smart cities in promoting energy transitions. A wave of “smart cities” is washing over Europe, with more than half of European cities with over 100,000 residents currently having implemented or proposed smart city initiatives. These initiatives are characterised by a strong focus on technology, innovation and entrepreneurship, but the concept of sustainability seems to be missing as an important driver.

The “Smart City” has a flexible framing and no precise definition. It is usually associated with the implementation of technology in order to solve urban problems with a holistic and interdisciplinary approach to urban planning. This involves smarter and more efficient ways to use energy, to create better public services for the inhabitants and to generate economic and social prosperity in a sustainable way. The use of information and communication technology (ICT) is often referred to as the key enabler for making cities “smart”.

More than half of the world's population are living in cities today, a number believed to increase to about 66 % by 2050. Cities keep getting bigger, and Smart Cities is very much a large city phenomenon.  In Europe, 51 % of cities with over 100 000 inhabitants and more than 90 % of cities with over 500 000 inhabitants are Smart Cities.

In their presentation, Marikken and Håvard presented results from fieldwork carried out in three EU Horizon 2020 Smart Cities: Nottingham, Stockholm and Stavanger, and tried to answer how environmental concerns are integrated into the “smart” solutions.

As an example, the Smart City project in Stavanger was very much about filling the void from the petroleum industry. The need for Stavanger to find new business opportunities and a new niche was combined with the need of improving local transport systems. It built on already existing projects and focused on small improvements or adoption of familiar technologies, rather than innovation through new technological solutions. A similar story was told by an informant in Nottingham when asked why they were doing a smart city project, “We are looking for the next steps. We know what we want to do, we haven’t always got the funding for it, so we are actively looking for funding.”

Read more in Marikken’s and Håvard’s presentation below. Also check out the book “Grønn omstilling – norske veivalg”, edited by Håvard Haarstad and Grete Rusten, kindly given as a gift to the Bergen Energy Lab after the presentation.