Making European cities smarter, greener and more efficient

12 Apr 2012

Eva Persy, head of the sustainable development unit, City of Vienna

Sustainability experts from Ireland, Vienna and Madrid converged in Dublin recently to share their insights on making cities smarter and greener.

One of the aims of the convention, organised by Dublin Chamber of Commerce, was to explore how city councils could go about embracing green procurement opportunities and cleaner mobility in order for cities to tackle issues such as carbon emissions and congestion.

On the Irish side, Mark Bennett from Dublin City Council gave a helicopter view of three clean-tech projects in Dublin, which he said were creating a “green economy ecosystem” for test-bedding green technologies and financing green business.

Such initiatives include the Green IFSC initiative, which is aiming to capitalise on Ireland’s financial services history. He spoke about the GreenWay clean-tech cluster that’s aiming to create conditions for a clean-tech cluster in the north of the city, plus Sustainable Energy Communities, a Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland programme that’s aiming to create sustainable energy zones in communities that integrate renewables and become more energy efficient.

Bennett also spoke about Dublinked, a new open data platform between the four Dublin local authorities and NUI Maynooth that is using technology pioneered at IBM.

The network is opening up the city’s data to researchers, scientists and the public so that entrepreneurs can potentially pioneer new applications and digital services.

A smarter and greener IBM

Speaking of IBM, Niall Brady, intelligent building lead researcher at IBM’s Smarter Cities Technology Centre in Dublin, talked about the retrofitting challenges that IBM encountered when it set about converting a 3,500 sq-metre warehouse into that research facility, which is based on the IBM campus in the west of Dublin.

According to Brady, 98pc of future building work will be around retrofitting, so contractors, architects and builders will have to get to grips with a more “holistic view” when refitting buildings to make them more sustainable.

He said it’s also important to make your design team understand what you are trying to achieve when carrying out retrofits.

With the Smarter Cities Centre, Brady said the three main objectives were to create a user-comfortable environment for its 150 researchers who work there, as well as reducing energy and water usage and keeping within budget.

He said one of the biggest challenges that IBM had in Dublin was getting its own internal people to understand what it was trying to achieve with the new design of the building, which uses technologies such as sensors to turn lighting on and off.

Brady said companies and other entities need to be mindful of seeking out the correct fit-for-purpose technologies to suit their retrofitting projects.

“The biggest challenge technically is trying to integrate technologies. It requires lateral thinking to get the technologies working together,” he noted.

A smarter and greener Madrid

Juan Azcárate Luxán from Madrid City Council spoke about Madrid’s approach to achieving sustainable mobility.

With a population of 3.273m people, Luxán spoke about how the city had almost 1.5m public transport users in 2010. As for car users, the city has 1.4m cars, with around 700,000 weaving in and out of Madrid each day.

It means Madrid has been faced with tackling emissions polluting the city’s air.

Luxán also spoke about Madrid’s plan to integrate the management of street parking.

It’s about big data, he said, that looks at the smart integration of ICT to help progress smarter mobility in the city. For instance, El Aire deMadrid is an iPhone app that gives real-time information about Madrid’s air quality and pollution levels, based on the nearest monitoring station to where a phone user is situated.

He also touched on smart solutions for smart people, adding that not everyone in a city like Madrid will have a smartphone so issues like that need to be taken into consideration.

A smarter and greener Vienna

Moving on to Vienna, and Eva Persy, head of the sustainable development unit there, spoke about how Austria’s capital city has 1.6m inhabitants. She said the purchasing budget for the city of Vienna is €5bn.

OekoKaufWien is a green procurement programme that the City of Vienna has been pioneering since 2005 in order to switch over to using green products for the city’s public schools, hospitals, nursing homes and kindergartens.

“It’s complicated to buy green products,” said Persy.

“You have to include who you purchase from and also the people who will be using the products. You have to stick to procurement laws.”

Vienna City Council has created working groups around everything from disinfectants to waste water and organic food, she said.

And what have been the benefits so far of going down the green procurement route? Taking organic food as a case in point, Persy explained that public hospitals in Vienna now use 30pc organic food, while there has been a 30pc take-up of organic food in public schools and a 50pc take-up in public kindergartens.

“We started with the kids. We also cut down on the percentage of meat. It’s good for people’s health and also because meat is so expensive,” she said.

Between 2004 and 2007, introducing energy-saving devices, organic food and water savings all helped Vienna to cut down on 103,000 tonnes of CO2, she added.

“We also introduced water saving gate valves in official buildings, public schools and kindergartens. We achieved a cost reduction of about €1.5m a year.”

The OekoKaufWien programme, which started in 1998, also has the involvement of 900 businesses to help them become more sustainable.

Since then, these businesses have achieved €82m in savings between them after adopting greener strategies.

Persy spoke about how Dublin is a smart city. “You invite people from other cities to share their strategies. That is smart,” she said.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic