The challenge of energy transition. Transform post #22

From-smart-to-intelligent-cities-arjan-van-timmeren-800x580On January 9th Delft University of Technology celebrated its 173th anniversary. The theme “Intelligent Cities: Sustainability and Big Data” was addressed by several speakers and ten PHD researchers on the field of architecture and information technology. Professor Andy van den Dobbelsteen gave a presentation on Sustainable city development and Professor Anthony Townsend, writer of the famous book “Smart Cities”, came to Delft to give a key note speech and to receive an honorary doctorate degree.

It was a very interesting day!

I would like to share my experience and thoughts.

As I noticed before, Smart City discussion and conferences tend to focus on the nice and attractive things we can do with ICT, gadgets, apps, data, and sensors etcetera. Most of the examples given are inspiriting, innovative and sometimes joyful. Townsend gave us the example of the plant that tells you when it needs water! That is fun! Once again it was explained that ICT and the growing internet of things can make our daily live more convenient, easy and joyful by giving information about heath, traffic, and public transport. ICT and the web are connecting us to others and more and more to our stuff. ICT and Big Data can also give us the information to design better and to improve urban re-planning.

All these applications and tools are very smart. But I wonder if these kinds of innovations are going to make our cities really sustainable? This was also the issue addressed during the day. Will ICT be the real enabler for energy transformation and phasing out carbon based fuels in our quest towards a sustainable society?

At this moment more than half of the worlds’ population lives in cities. These cities use a vast amount of energy and are therefore dependent on fossil fuels like gas, petrol and coal. Because of depletion of fossil fuels and to prevent dangerous climate change this dependency of fossil fuels has to change. The whole energy infrastructure of new and existing cities, away from carbon, is enormously complex and almost beyond imagination. An app or a funny gadget is not going to change that.

The developments of the city of Portland were mentioned as a leading example. This city made, like we aim for in Transform, its whole energy economy visible by mapping data about consumption, distribution, production, transport, buildings and renewable energy potentials. In the real spirit of Transform! This is what Amsterdam accomplished as well by building the Energy Atlas Amsterdam. To involve stakeholders and to simulate different future scenario’s AIT and Accenture are developing an Energy Transition Decision Support environment.

In an interview I found on the web Townsend states: “A lot of the vision of smart cities has been shaped by IT engineers and marketers. The problem there is not just that it’s sort of a naïve vision being pushed by companies with very short-term sales goals. It just doesn’t appreciate the complexity of good urbanism, and the role that both communications and information play in creating good places that people want to buy, work, live in”.

In my opinion it doesn’t appreciate the challenge and complexity of the energy transition as well. Transform offers us the opportunity to support the energy transition of our cities, to tackle energy challenges and to help us transform away from carbon. But it is not only DATA and ICT that will bring the solutions. Transformation is even more about governance, equity, citizen’s involvement and democracy.­­

One statement Anthony I fully agree with is that the internet is not about virtual spaces but about real physical places. Electricity is maybe not to grab (do not try this at home) but the infrastructure of energy, gas, coal and sustainable solutions are nothing more than physical. Let’s combine this world to the world of massive data and find the appropriate solutions!  Let’s TRANSFORM!

Ronald van WarmerdamRonald van Warmerdam
Sr project manager Projectmanagement Bureau, city of Amsterdam / lecturer TuDelft / Coordinator TRANSFORM


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