According to Rakesh Kaul, Partner at PwC, “a smart city is an implementation of an advanced and modern urbanization vision”.
So, smart cities are structured to allow operational efficiencies, maximize
environmental sustainability efforts and deal with citizen services such as:
- citizen identities management and
- payment system between people and
- environment and space;
- energy and waste;
- land management;
- clean habitat;
In this economic, social, technological and
political context, these shifts are
reshaping the world and new challenges arise for countries and particularly
for cities. As governments are seeking to incorporate innovations within their smart
cities, blockchain can offer something
So, blockchain’s role is quickly increasing
because it brings decentralization,
erases intermediaries, brings security
among the systems and interoperability
among users. To be clear, blockchain is a trusted distributed ledger
system across a network of users. It is a system, where the parties cooperate
to ease the transaction process, make it more anonymous and yet more secure.
According to Tom Zilavy,
IBM Blockchain and Cloud solutions,
blockchain can be utilized for smart cities in different ways: first of
all, blockchain can push citizens to smart
choices motivating their behavior: for example, thanks to a smart contract, public authority will
be able to automatically give you a reward
for a conscious good behavior such
as using public transport in your city; then, blockchain could increase effectivity offering the possibility
to have all the information in one database with participants having predefined
permissions to view or change (transact) the information they need (in the case
of a smart trash bin); finally, blockchain can make energetics efficient: for example, citizens
with solar panels on their houses could, thanks to smart contracts,
automatically trade their unused electricity with their neighbours and others
that are connected to the grid. These transactions would be executed
automatically, with the help of smart contracts and therefore effectiveness
would be achieved.
City worldwide are implementing blockchain
projects: Estonia has catapulted itself on the global stage as a
digital nation by proactively supporting blockchain
startups and embracing blockchain in its own operations. In this context, Tallin hosts, for example, e-residency program that allows anyone
to incorporate a digital enterprise in Estonia, without ever having set foot
there; the Estonian Cryptocurrency
Association, a nonprofit in Tallinn, has taken up the charge to help
promote the ecosystem locally and globally. In Singapore, Smart Nation
strategy seeks to transform former fishing villages into living laboratory
of innovation, and that type of proactive thinking is one reason it’s 2018 year’s world leader in blockchain. Singapore GovTech office is exploring a handful of
blockchain use cases, while the Monetary Authority of Singapore has pioneered a
decentralized inter-bank payment and settlements solution. Finally, the city of Austin in Texas is currently piloting a program in
which its 2,000 homeless residents will be given a unique identifier that’s
safely and securely recorded on the blockchain
Blockchain brings a lot of pros but there are a
great number of challenges still open. There is lack of coherent regulation, many players want to centralize blockchain and there is a need to increase performance, interoperability and reduce complexity and cost.
In recent years, climate technologies have been deployed on an unprecedented scale around the globe. In particular, renewable energy technologies are grown in importance at the expense of fossil fuel, especially in Europe. In that scenario, the Paris Climate Change Agreement states the importance to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius and spreading the use of climate technologies on a much greater scale. Therefore, addressing the problem where more than 70 per cent of global gas emission are produced, namely the cities, is the priority.
In recent years, all around the world, decision-makers, urban practitioners, social innovators and academics have planned, implemented and assessed several solutions in urban context. With the aim of accounting and empowering cities, and collectivizing urban innovation across the globe, different conferences have been taking place.
In May 2017, UNFCCC Technology Executive Committee organized Bonn Climate Change Conference to reinforce the importance of innovation and inspire countries (especially the developing ones), organizations to enhance their climate efforts. The key factor is to shift from an incremental approach to one that effects transformational change; but it is also crucial that every country and city should have the freedom of choice how to implement this change: one-size-fits-all approach is definitely wrong.
Last March, Cities and Climate Change Science Conference was the first summit organized with the aim of bringing together urban representatives to address climate change. Here, key stakeholder (ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, C40, Cities Alliance, Future Earth, Sustainable Development Solutions Network, United Cities and Local Governments, UN Environment, UN Habitat, World Climate Research Programme) debated around the importance of specifically address urban level action, the impact and vulnerabilities from urban emissions the transition to low carbon, resilient cities and the creation of an enabling environment for transformative climate action. At the end of the conference, participants have understood that best practices in urban climate change management must adopt similar pathways, such as
- the integration of climate mitigation and adaptation initiatives;
- the linking of disaster and adaptation planning;
- generation of climate action plans in partnership with non-governmental stakeholders;
- attention to the needs of the disadvantaged and most vulnerable;
- the advancement of good governance, partnership networks, and solutions to gaps in financing.
Last September, City Climate Leadership Awards by the C40 City Climate Leadership Group (C40) and Siemens have awarded cities in different categories such as urban transportation; carbon measurement & planning; energy efficient built environment; air quality; green energy; adaptation & resilience; sustainable communities; waste management; intelligent city infrastructure; finance & economic development. In terms of climate change, it is important to remember the city of Copenhagen has planned ambitious targets and has detailed strategies to achieve a significant reduction in building emissions (75% of the total) with the aim of becoming the world’s first carbon-neutral capital city by 2025, following the example of another Danish city, Sønderborg. Here, from 2007, local politicians have worked directly with residents to become completely zero-carbon by 2029 thanks to the adoption of onshore and offshore wind farms, residential solar PVs, and the use of biogas for industry and transport.
In conclusion, conferences such as ones described before, help in establishing partnerships and in identifying business opportunities, and promoting awareness and critical reflection among inhabitants of different cities. In this respect, we are keen to see the impact of Smart City Expo World Congress 2018 that is taking place in Barcelona in these days. According to the official website, five main topics will be addressed: Digital Transformation, Urban Environment, Mobility, Governance & Finance, and Inclusive & Sharing Cities. The conference is focused on working towards creating efficient, inclusive and sustainable cities, especially thanks to the Towards Zero Waste project that aims to use fewer materials, reuse and recycling of products, and produce no food waste.
Nowadays, more and more urban experts are questioning the utopian future of smart, intelligent and data-driven cities. As reported by The New York Times editorial board, issues like the role of technology in everyday life, the influence of tech companies and the correct direction of public policy on this matter are certainly still open.
There are many approaches to consider when debating on how democratic a smart city can be. According to Bianca Wylier, senior fellow of the Center for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), there are five approaches that can address smart city challenges starting from the Sidewalk Toronto experience:
- Open Procurement and Contracting
- Intensive Public Education and Consultation
- Civic Data Governance as a Government Responsibility
- Smart Cities as a Political issue, not a Technology Issue
- Agile Policy-making Process
First of all, the first approach says that it is necessary to speak to residents early and often about what they want and need. Secondly, public authorities may not proceed without public buy-in or may make a secretive deal with corporations involved in the project.
The first approach teaches us that many of these projects will be built and operated by the private sector for governments. As Mark Wilson, former chair of the board of Waterfront Toronto and current Waterfront Toronto digital strategy advisory panel member says, the democratic control of the processes can only be achieved with an educated public.
The second approach suggests that governments need to spend resources for awareness building around data and technology. It is necessary that people understand data and how it can be used. In Toronto, for example, urban innovators have decided to focus on urban issues such as mobility and housing. In Brazil, public authorities conducted an intensive public process to create the Brazilian Internet Bill of Rights, and Taiwan created expansive ways to consult on technology issues both online and in person.
The third one is about data management. In that sector, it is vital to understand that different type of data and context require different type of conservations around how the data might be used by government, how it might be commercialized, and how it might be made open, shared, or kept closed. There are a lot differences between personally identifiable information, aggregate and anonymized human behavioral data or environmental and geospatial data or infrastructural data. In this field, the European GDPR has been built to give individuals more power to define how their data is used.
Moving on to the fourth approach, it is clear that the smart city model has not been always a successful paradigm. Just think of the Songdo International Business District in South Korea, the Epcot Center in Florida and Masdar City in Abu Dhabi. New approaches to technology management are needed to deal with the problem that smart cities are not only a technology issue but a political issue. For example, it is more and more important to use participatory models that engage residents in decision-making and data stewardship. Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona, has instituted a set of policies to guarantee not only open technology systems as a procurement requirement, but also resident control of data and technology-driven civic participation. Francesca Bria, the chief technology officer for the city of Barcelona explains that the core issue is reaching a New Deal on data, based on a rights-based, people-centric framework.
Finally, the fifth approach, based on an agile policy-making process, explains that existing legislation is unsuitable in that situation because legal frameworks that govern data and technology were created prior to internet broadcasting, so it is crucial to update laws to protect privacy and security. But it is also important that changes happen incrementally to avoid bad legislation. So, agile policy creation is something all governments will need to start getting comfortable with.
For example, digital master plans to direct technology policy can support a city’s general strategic planning efforts. Software code (very different from traditional physical infrastructure) can be replicated and shared around the world and developing a model of ownership and licensing (something like Creative Commons licenses) would enable the sharing of technology under flexible terms. Last but not least, it is important to mention creating data standards to support shared digital infrastructure and interoperability and co-city protocols.
Coming back to the NYT article mentioned before, it is time for a new paradigm in internet and data management if we want to help technologists and policymakers to strive for secure elections, to reimagine our business models, to defend citizens and to protect us from extremists around the world.
Last February, European Commission has published a new paper, the Science, Research and Innovation Performance of the EU (SRIP) Report that follows up how Europe could harness dynamic innovation to ensure more robust economies and inclusive, sustainable societies.
Based on indicator-based macroeconomic analysis and deep analytical research on important policy topics, the Report analyses Europe’s performance in science, research and innovation and the driving factors behind that performance. The main outcome of the report is to show that Europe can lead the next wave of breakthrough innovation in fields where digital technology meets the physical world, such as digital manufacturing, genomics, artificial intelligence and the internet of things (IoT).
Previous edition of the Report, published in 2016, has provided several findings: first, the need to strongly improve the track record in getting research results to market and technologies developed in Europe; second, although Europe generates more scientific output than any other region in the world, Member States fall behind on the very best science. Third, Europe punches below its weight in international science cooperation and science diplomacy.
The 2018 Report actually presents different findings. First of all, although Europe is the leading economy in terms of public investment in R&D and the number of researchers (Europe has 7% of the world population, 20% of global R&D and 1/3 of all high-quality scientific publications), it lags behind the United States, Japan South Korea and even China in private and overall R&D investment levels. This gap has been increased in recent years and, as a partial consequence, there were a lower level of investments among European stakeholders compared to the United States.
Another point is Europe’s limited ability to convert its strong scientific base into technological development. For example, even in most performing European areas, there are a lack of patents in big data or IoT compared to other economies. On top of all that, there is a structural problem in labor and goods market: more stringent conditions for enterprises than in the other advanced economies and the lack of competition limits reach innovation-led entrepreneurship. In this regard, the OECD estimates that around 16% to 19% of all available capital is sunk into unproductive companies in Italy and Spain.
These aspects affect also the ability to foster transformational entrepreneurship from small-sized companies to global giants: in 2017, there were zero number of EU companies in the global top-15 companies by market capitalization. Therefore, despite a good result in more traditional entrepreneurship indicators Europe suffers a gap in the number and relative importance of rapid high-growth companies. This, in turn, influences European capacity to invest in intangible assets.
Moreover, although important national differences persists among Member States, nowadays they are more nuanced, notably in terms of investment levels: for example, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Poland and the Czech Republic have significantly increased their R&D investment intensity over the past decade. On the other hand, countries like Romania, Portugal and Spain have exhibited disappointing R&D investment-intensity records.
Finally, it is important not to omit the persistency of national gap also in terms of scientific and technological outputs (countries like the United Kingdom the Netherlands, Denmark and Belgium are leaders in this area) that reflects the lower efficiency of the national R&I systems in the laggard countries in transforming R&D investment into scientific and technological output. In fact, top-30 leading regions invest 4,2% in R&D and account 36% of total R&D investment.
With this scenario in mind, the Report suggests a set of policy to promote innovation in Europe: boosting investments in intangible assets and rethinking public support for R&I and ensuring innovation-friendly regulation are central in this project. Therefore, it is important to complete the internal market to promote the development of born-in-Europe “unicorns”, to boost the access to risk capital with the creation of a pan-European Venture Capital and to develop tools to relocate resources from unproductive companies to innovative ones with the aim to open up European science and innovation to the world.
According to Don & Alex Tapscott, authors of the book “Blockchain Revolution, “Blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value.” Based on transparency of network, blockchain is incorruptible (a huge amount of computing power is needed to override the entire network), and it could solve the problem of trust.
In energy sector, blockchain technology shows a lot of promise. For example, it is possible that blockchain is used to execute energy supply transactions or to provide the basis for metering, billing and clearing processes. Other possible areas of application are in the documentation of ownership, the state of assets (asset management), guarantees of origin, emission allowances and renewable energy certificates.
Therefore, it is possible to use blockchain to map and keep track of how much clean energy is produced. It is important because, nowadays, clean electric energy is generated from the sun, wind, or other renewable sources, but it is indistinguishable from those generated by fossil fuels. According to Jesse Morris, an energy expert at the Rocky Mountain Institute, tradable green certificates don’t work. Data management based on blockchain could fix this by combining business with sustainability and participation. This kind of technologies seems promising in energy sector because of its peculiar design. Although this has been a matter of centralized power plants, there is a growing number of smaller distributed energy producers that generates networks of peers such as electricity producers (for example, rooftop solar panels and electric-vehicle batteries) and consumers, connected via the grid, that depend on shared sets of data.
According to this scenario, actual energy system is fundamentally based on a central provider that collects information on how much energy is produced by every renewable-power plant. In a second step, intermediaries brokers deal between buyers and sellers of these certificates and another player is responsible for monitoring the purchase. It is clear that the complexity of the system and the lack of transparency concern a lot of potential buyers or sellers.
For example, according to Jemma Green, cofounder and chair of Power Ledger, a startup developing a blockchain-based platform that allows producers to trade energy peer-to-peer with consumers, it generally takes 60 to 80 days for an electricity producer to be paid. This is an example of above-mentioned inefficiency that “rewards only who holds privileges”. With a blockchain-based system, producers can be paid immediately because players could simply trade energy with one another.
Blockchain technology has the potential to radically change energy as we know it, by starting with individual sectors first but ultimately transforming the entire energy market. For example, Power Ledger has demonstrated that it is possible turning an apartment building into a microgrid based on a shared system of solar panels and battery storage. LO3 Energy set up a neighborhood microgrid in Brooklyn. Grid operator TenneT TSO and German storage company Sonnen are working on a community-based model for solar power and battery storage.
However, as Jemma Green says, “blockchain technology adds a level of sophistication to the market by enabling those more granular transactions” and the traditional energy system has not yet implemented a method to deal with that. A likely solution is given by Energy Web Foundation, a global non-profit organization focused on accelerating blockchain technology across the energy sector. Energy Web Foundation will be a test bed for promising use cases: based on Ethereum, Energy Web Foundation will validate transactions will rely of 10 major energy companies that have signed on as affiliates (such as Shell, E.On, Eneco, Ptt, etc.). In the longer term, the aim is not only tracking renewable-energy certificates but also equipping homes and buildings with a software that automatically trades power to and from the grid based on real-time price signals.
Sono sempre più le esperienze di utilizzo della blockchain nel settore energetico. In questo campo, l’obiettivo non è solo arrivare a mappare i certificati energetici ma soprattutto ad equipaggiare ogni edificio con un software che, in modo automatico, vende e compra energia dalla rete in tempo reale in base ai segnali di prezzo.