June 10, 2016

It’s all about smart city, stupid

With Creating Urban Tech and MetSol on the calendar in early June, Berlin’s smart city initiative for 2016 reached a climax with respect to major events. Experts, thinkers, and visionaries from more than 400 cities came to the capital from May 30 to June 2 for the two events. We were also there and took a look at the most important trends and developments.

Cornelia Yzer, Senator for Economics, Technology and Research invited technology and urbanization experts from all over the world to Creating Urban Tech, which was held the day before Metropolitan Solutions. Under the motto “Solutions from Berlin – Solutions for Berlin,” 250 experts discussed the challenges of rapidly growing cities at the second Berlin economic conference (Berliner Wirtschaftskonferenz), which took place at Kosmos on May 30. The governing mayor, Michael Müller, made it clear in his opening keynote speech where Berlin can score highly. Although there is definitely still room for improvement when it comes to digital administration, he noted that the city offers three essential features that make it an attractive location for companies today: open land, an extensive university and research environment, and well-trained specialists.

Securing land for business

If businesses are to settle in an area, a key criterion is the provision of space. No other major city in the world can offer as much urban space as Berlin, and it is important to make use of this potential. Here Müller also emphasized the central role played by smart centers in implementing the federal state’s smart city strategy. An especially important factor in this context is the Urban Tech Republic in Berlin. “People from business, science, and politics must stand together and fight for this center because it will be a real industrial location for smart cities as a concept,” said Müller, appealing to the people of Berlin. Last but not least, the area will yield new living space as well as sites for business and research – another important topic in this growing city.

Promoting smart urban development and climate-neutral construction

Unambiguous agreement with Müller’s plea could be heard from Rudolf M. Siegers, CEO of Siemens Germany. He tweeted “I agree, Mayor Müller: “#smartcities is a huge opportunity Berlin!” @UrbanTechBerlin.”

In a keynote address entitled “The Big Picture,” Siegers demonstrated that the issue of smart cities is a very important driver for the economic development of Berlin as well as other cities: “Companies go wherever the resources of the future can be found,” he explained, outlining his theory. Specifically, these resources are the people who come up with innovative ideas. They in turn head to places where they can find a smart city design. As a result, the smart city strategy draws on multiple sectors of the economy – not only those that are directly linked to the issue. Somit nutzt die Smart-City-Strategie allen Wirtschaftszweigen. Among many inspiring sessions, a talk delivered by Berlin architect Allison Dring stood out in particular.

The assembled crowd was excited by her Berlin tech start-up elegant embellishments. In her presentation, Dring explained how new materials enable a form of construction that is not only climate neutral but climate negative; CO2 from the atmosphere is used directly in the facades. Her TED-Talk is well worth watching. Here she presents a smog-eating facade developed by elegant embellishments installed on a hospital in Mexico City. In essence, it is the world’s largest urban air filter.

Car sharing reduces the number of private cars

The topic of mobility also featured in many discussions and panel sessions at both events. One area of interest at Metropolitan Solutions was the direct relationship between the growing array of car sharing companies and the number of private cars being registered. The company DriveNow presented up-to-date figures on this topic.

It is questionable whether this development will actually lead to less traffic on the roads. After all people who once traveled exclusively by public transport or by bike now occasionally opt for a car, too. What is more certain is that parking is less problematic as a result. At the same time, shared cars are considerably more sustainable than private cars because they are used for six to eight hours a day rather than a single hour. Furthermore, we should see car sharing as one of the biggest drivers of electric mobility in Germany: according to DriveNow, more than 100,000 people in Germany have come into contact with an electric car for the first time since 2013.

Sector coupling – the magic word

Recently, one topic with a rather dry name has topped the agenda in matters concerning smart energy use: sector coupling. Markus Graebig from the WindNODE initiative was able to explain in a very enlightening talk why the cooperation of many different players in the energy system is both technologically possible and financially worthwhile. He also set out how we can help the energy revolution to succeed in a very practical way.

The WindNODE concept is rooted in the fluctuating relationship between capacity and energy consumption from wind and solar sources. Data analysis shows that in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania renewable energy is already being produced by a factor of three, meaning that the amount of energy available is three times the amount required. Berlin, by contrast, is an “energy sponge” and will not become self-sufficient with regard to energy in the foreseeable future. This is not bad per se. After all, strawberries and wheat are also imported. However, the success of the energy revolution will depend on the optimal coordination of production and consumption with loads being shared in an intelligent fashion. So how does excess electricity from Mecklenburg-West Pomerania get to Berlin just when it is needed? In other words, how can a city using smart technology and networking become an intelligent energy sponge?

WindNODE has placed the Berlin and Brandenburg region at the center of the next stage of the energy revolution. Towns and cities will be where this plays out. Although the ideas are not new, WindNODE is implementing them on a large scale and as a field test for the first time. The project is scheduled to begin at the end of the year, and there are already more than 70 project partners on board, from business, science, public utilities, and politics. Be sure to keep an eye out for new developments!

Of course, Berlin also made a big appearance at CityCube. The Urban Tech Republic was represented at a joint booth for the capital’s sites of the future, where Peter Strunk (press relations officer at WISTA-Management GmbH) and Philipp Bouteiller (managing director of Tegel Projekt GmbH) explained the future plans for the Tegel Airport site to interested parties.

Creating Urban Tech and Metropolitan Solutions demonstrated that materials, intelligent energy use, and mobility are still the most important aspects of smart cities – a complex field that remains fresh and exciting


June 10, 2016

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