Europe and China’s efforts to promote the development of Smart Cities between the two regions have received support from the EU-China Dialogue Support Facility (PDSF II). The Smart City cooperation between the European Commission and the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, has been initiated as both sides felt that this area will be of crucial importance for the development and implementation of modern Information and Communications Technology (ICT) solutions; it will help to improve government services and protect valuable resources. In the following article Thomas Hart and Jeanette Whyte provide a brief introduction to Smart Cities and explain their importance to both China and the EU.
There are many definitions of a Smart City. However, common to all definitions is that they have a strong focus on making best use of information and communications technologies and make the critical infrastructure components and services of a city — administration, education, healthcare, public safety, real estate, transportation and utilities — more interactive and efficient to enable social, cultural and urban development.
The need for the development of Smart Cities is driven by several factors. More than half of the world’s population are now living in urban areas — China crossed the 50 per cent threshold just last year — and that proportion is expected to reach almost 69 per cent by 2050 on a global level placing city infrastructures under increasing pressure. Energy and water scarcity, traffic congestion, waste disposal and safety risks from ageing infrastructures are just some of the challenges that require different solutions to those established when cities were operating on a much smaller scale.
Cities consume 75 per cent of the world’s energy resources and emit 80 per cent of the carbon that is harming the environment. At the same time, the economic climate is resulting in reduced public spending on the provision and management of public services, requiring new investment and business models for running and maintaining a city’s infrastructure and offering high-quality services.
Whilst the adoption of ICT solutions are not the only factor defining a Smart City, intelligent use of modern technology can play a key part in many of the areas often addressed by Smart City projects, such as:
- Transportation: Reducing traffic congestion and encouraging the use of public transportation by making travel more efficient, secure, and safe;
- Government Services: Delivering new services in an efficient way;
- People: Improving the quality and reducing the costs of education; increasing availability, accuracy of diagnoses and reducing the cost of health care; improving public safety by using real-time information to anticipate, and respond rapidly to, emergencies and threats;
- Businesses: Providing e-business solutions and ICT infrastructure for firms;
- Resources: Smart grid and renewable energy systems to manage outages, control costs, and deliver only as much energy or water as is required while reducing waste.
The major ICT requirements for a Smart City are Internet technologies and services such as location-based services, the Internet of Things, trust and security platforms that work together across a common open platform. The two major building blocks of the ICT infrastructure are: an all-IP core network, which creates a converged infrastructure for buildings and ICT systems, and seamlessly integrates wireless and wire-line technologies; and a broadband (fixed or wireless) access network, which can support advanced services and applications, such as traffic management, building automation, lighting and energy management, and security networks.
Smart Cities are not futuristic cities. Many of the technologies critical to a Smart City, including monitoring and sensor technologies, intelligent traffic systems, and energy management systems for buildings are available today. A comprehensive Smart City approach seeks to find a common strategy for making best use of these.
There are examples of cities in both China and Europe that are already adopting a Smart City approach to the challenges of urbanisation. Some of the EU examples, such as Amsterdam, Barcelona or Issy-les-Moulineux, have years of experience in this kind permanent modernisation process, systematically updating existing infrastructure and managerial capacity for the benefit of citizens and businesses.
For most Chinese cities, these efforts have started more recently, but today all of China’s first-tier cities, and more than half of its second-tier cities, have set Smart City development targets. Ninety Smart City trial sites have been nominated, with considerably more expected to be named before the end of this year. In order to coordinate these efforts, and create synergies, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and the MIIT are drafting Guiding Views on Promoting the Healthy, Ordered Development of Chinese Smart Cities. The Chinese domestic Smart City market is expected to reach a total value of more than CNY 700 billion during the 12th Five-Year Plan period.
The PDFS II activity on Smart Cities is dedicated to facilitating the information exchange between the participating cities. Ten cities from the EU and China will be selected respectively, their Smart City plans and actions documented and assessed according to a dedicated assessment framework. The selected cities will be given the chance of exchanging know-how and experiences, and, through personal meetings between city officials, will hopefully establish long-term relationships beyond the project lifetime.
When the selection process is finished later this year, the participating cities and project experts will address the key challenges Smart City projects are facing today, in particular:
- Financial investment: Smart City projects require a substantial financial investment, which is particularly difficult to raise in today’s global financial crisis.
- Business Models: To ensure the right level of financing is available Smart Cities need to adopt an effective business model. Some projects are externally funded through regional banks and investments funds that provide funding for public sector IT. Other projects are public-private partnerships where a vendor, service provider, systems integrators or a real-estate developer invests in the project on a revenue-sharing basis.
- Complexity of how cities are operated, regulated, and planned: The operation of a city is comprised of multiple stakeholders such as government (e.g. federal, state, local); regulators; developers (e.g. real estate, land); owners (e.g. real estate, transportation); operators (e.g. building services, utilities, Telco’s) and citizens. Smart City projects require consultation, cooperation and buy-in from all stakeholders.
- Privacy and security: Data collected from smart city services such as monitoring and measuring of energy, waste and water networks means that public value can be derived from private data. However, the data must be properly managed to protect citizens’ privacy.
- Technical issues: Smart city services are likely to involve many different and complex ICT solutions. In addition, the immaturity of Smart City services means that there are relatively few technical standards, hence there is a risk that Smart City solutions deployed today may need to be replaced to make them interoperable with future systems.
Within all of these challenges, European and international companies are competing for best practice solutions. The next steps of Smart City cooperation efforts between the EU and China will not just determine which cities can provide cutting-edge solutions to their citizens and businesses, but also which companies will be in a position to offer their solutions to the European and Chinese cities seeking to become world leaders in service quality and efficiency.
The EU-China Policy Dialogues Support Facility is a project co-funded by the European Union and China to facilitate and support current and future implementation of policy dialogues between the EU and China on a broad range of key sectors and issues, with the overall aim to strengthen strategic relations between the EU and China.