Today, the term “smart” is often associated exclusively with large urban centres, hives of innovation and hubs for resources that enable change. However, the first step towards a smart city is to embrace the new energy-community model, and this is possible for any urban centre.
Long recognised as hubs driving innovation and cultural evolution, cities are again the centre of attention, and not just for us, due to their role in the unrelenting development of all things “smart”. This term should be interpreted with its full range of meaning, including intelligence and even awareness. Technology that is truly at our service, in all aspects of life, should offer awareness of the fundamental parameters of daily life, allowing lifestyle improvements. From phones to watches, right through to homes, and energy meters, grids and smart energy communities. The next stop: Smart Cities.
Smart cities are a key component of the United Nations goals.
In fact, when we talk about digital energy, it is unavoidable to also discuss urban centres, where it prospers: according to Eurostat data, urban centres contain 75% of the European population, along with the relative energy consumption and carbon footprint.
Taking a step back and considering the planet as a whole, this percentage drops to 50%, but the numbers are growing. According to the United Nations, today there are 3.5 billion people living in urban areas globally, and this will grow by at least 10 percentage points by 2030. Covering just 3% of the earth’s surface, cities are responsible for at least 60% of world energy consumption and 75% of carbon emissions.
Based on these figures, the natural evolution of cities towards a smart future will have to include crucial attention to environmental sustainability as a fundamental principle, promoted by the digital transformation to achieve goal no. 11 of the UN Agenda 2030: “Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.” There are two targets that are particularly relevant here:
- enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries;
- reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management.
The European Union Urban Agenda, launched in 2016 with the Pact of Amsterdam, follows the indications of the United Nations and forms part of a process of growth that also includes the Clean Energy Package.
At the service of the people living in them, smart cities must therefore hold this as their mission, alongside and inextricably tied to other spheres that characterise cities of the future.
Features of a smart city
As with all other smart entities, smart cities represent far more than simply integrating technology into daily life.
According to the EU, a smart city must aim to offer greater awareness to improve various aspects of the lives of its citizens, starting from their participation in public life and services offered by the public administration. In a smart city, people are at the centre of the collective thought process and are involved in decision making and growth, driving inclusiveness and participatory policy. The web and digital channels in general have allowed proliferation of ideas originating from virtual sharing, with a bottom-up dynamic. The public administration has to respond to these smart citizens with the same energy and readiness to reform local bureaucracy. In the same vein, businesses also need to be promoted and spotlighted by new technology, in a context of participatory economics, and increased productivity and employment.
The focus of smart cities on well-being of citizens must regard services for health and education, key aspects of daily life with significant scope for technological improvement, as we have seen during the period of lockdown, e.g. via remote learning. It is also important not to overlook safety: innovation can allow real-time control and warning systems to effectively combat crime and make public spaces safer, giving new life and purpose to such areas.
Let’s get right to the heart of what a “smart city” really is, which is particularly relevant for us.
A smart city focuses on smart mobility: from shared mobility to slow mobility, which involves rethinking the flows of traffic of citizens to promote use of bicycles or travelling on foot, and through to e-mobility, i.e. electric public transport powered with photovoltaic systems, as well as smart parking systems that ease traffic, optimising average parking times. All of these solutions reduce the environmental impact of the city, increasing energy savings and reducing long-term costs.
Finally, but certainly the most important aspect of the smart environment for us, is the category including all solutions introduced to drastically cut energy wastage, greenhouse gas emissions and waste. Environmentally sustainable development is founded on concepts that we value greatly: energy upgrading, increasing efficiency and smart and digital energy.
Energy communities as a driver of smart cities
This aspect of smart cities requires the creation of a smart grid connecting smart buildings capable of optimising their consumption: in short, a smart grid that requires a new, decentralised, local and collective energy model, in the form of energy communities. The key thing to highlight here is that not only highly developed cities such as London, Singapore and New York are capable of integrating energy communities to increase levels of sustainability.
The digital-energy revolution can also begin from small urban centres. Energy communities can already prosper in towns and cities of any size, simplifying citizen’s lives, making them more aware of their energy consumption and allowing them to optimise consumption through sharing. Dimensions and concentration do not affect the natural suitability of urban centres for energy sharing. It is in cities with a variety of energy profiles combined intelligently via Regalgrid’s algorithms where perfect energy communities can be created. Currently, the true requirements to launch an energy community are related to the individual residential units, which must be powered by the same low or medium-voltage transformer substation, and a desire to be part of the energy of tomorrow. Regalgrid’s SNOCU units allow anybody to be an actor of change, whether you are an artisan, commercial business, public administration or simply a citizen, and whether you have a photovoltaic system, storage system or you are just a consumer. This revolution in the energy sector is the first essential step towards the broader innovation characterising smart cities.
Technologies to transform a city into a smart city are available now; all it takes is courage, initiative and entrepreneurial spirit. From whom? From everybody who wants to see this transition take place, and perhaps firstly public administrations. Regalgrid has refined software packages and kits specifically designed for public administrations, and several Italian municipalities are already reaping the rewards.
These rewards include starting to gain a real-time insight into the scale and types of consumption taking place in public buildings. This allows definition of the ideal dimensions for installation of photovoltaic systems allowing optimised self-consumption, perhaps alongside small delocalised storage systems, set-up for sharing via the Regalgrid digital platform, or the transfer of energy generated by some solar units to a nearby school or municipal electric-vehicle charging stations.
In short, there are many fantastic solutions beginning to take shape in Italian municipalities thanks to Regalgrid technology. And this is just the start: obviously, Regalgrid solutions are also used by private customers and businesses. The concept of energy communities is in fact so robust, resilient and inclusive that is can be launched by public administrations and involve nearby sites belonging to citizens or businesses, or vice versa. From a technical perspective it is entirely tangible and Regalgrid has demonstrated this. Collective self-consumption is an asset destined to grow in the smart-city context.