The 2nd ICT revolution will enable the use of smart solutions in all aspects of life

Interview:
Hans-Günther Schwarz
29 January 2016
Hans-Günther Schwarz

Hans-Günther Schwarz is Strategic Programme Coordinator for Energy and Urbanisation Research at the Austrian Ministry of Transport, Innovation and Technology. He studied Physics in Munich and at Vienna Technical University. Since 1993 he has been coordinating the environmental technology research at the Austrian Federal Ministry of Transport, Innovation and Technology (BMVIT), and between 1999 and 2008 he was involved in the development and implementation of the strategic technology programme “Factory of Tomorrow” under the Austrian Programme on Technologies for Sustainable Development.

Hans-Günther was the initiator of, and Austrian delegate to ERA-NET SUSPRISE (2003), Austrian delegate to IEA-CERT (2006-2008), Seconded National Expert at the European Commission (2008-2010), implementing the online-platform NETWATCH. Since 2010 he is strategic coordinator at BMVIT of Austria’s national programmes on urban issues and participation in trans-national programme initiatives related to energy and urbanisation RDI (SET-Plan, European Innovation Partnership Smart Cities and Communities, Smart Cities Member States Initiative, ERA-NET Smart Cities and Communities, and Joint Programming Initiative Urban Europe), as well as policy coordinator of the JPI Urban Europe.

 

Tell us a little about ERA-NET Smart Cities and Communities and its objectives.

The ERA-NET Smart Cities and Communities is a joint activity of the Joint Programming Initiative Urban Europe and the Smart Cities Member States Initiative. Both networks have been around for a number of years, which has enabled them to build considerable experience and trust for collaboration. The main aim of the initiative is to develop new standards in transnational research, technological development, and innovation (RTI) funding, especially where complex societal challenges, like urbanisation, or energy, are concerned. It is based on three actions:

  1. A transnational joint call for RTI proposals, which focuses on implementation projects in cities along four call topics:
    • - Smart urban energy and mobility systems;

    • - Smart tools and services for integrated urban energy and transport systems;

    • - Smart data, big data;

    • - Smart governance and smart citizens;

  2. A joint effort to establish a collaboration with China in the field of funding urban RTI

An action to asses and advance best practices in the alignment of national RTI programming with national or regional operational programmes administering European Structural and Innovation Funds (ESIF) in European Member States.

The results of the joint call conducted by the ERA-NET Smart Cities and Communities are already available and will be taken up and developed further in the context of the Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda (SRIA), and the programme management structure of the JPI Urban Europe.

In your view, what are Europe’s priorities in terms of urban research?

RTI on urban matters is scattered across the different thematic lines of H2020, which makes it difficult to talk about priorities in this context. This is, where the JPI Urban Europe comes in, trying to act as a single entry point for urban RTI with its long-term programme management and strategic research and innovation agenda. However, one has to acknowledge the efforts made in H2020 by the project calls on lighthouse cities, which will establish a good practice base of around 100 European cities by 2020.

JPI Urban Europe is in close collaboration with the European Commission in defining complementary actions, such as the ERA-NET Smart Cities and Communities, but also future joint calls, such as the recently launched ERA-NET on Sustainable Urban Futures, whose call already opened in December 2015 As part of this collaboration we will coordinate the European part of a global RTI call on sustainable urbanisation in the context of the Belmont Forum in 2017.

Another important venue for priority-setting is the Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET-Plan), where Smart Cities is an important focus in addressing the European energy system, and working towards an increase in energy efficiency of our cities. The European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities and Communities is another relevant forum where the ERA-NET Smart Cities and Communities and the JPI Urban Europe are active participants.

The European Commission Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy (DG REGIO) represents the side of implementation of urban initiatives, and has just launched its European Urban Agenda last year, which is implemented as part of the Structural Funds, and through initiatives, like URBACT, a European exchange and learning programme promoting sustainable urban development. DG REGIO, together with the European Committee of the Regions, and the European Parliament was the host of our presentation of the SRIA of the JPI Urban Europe in September 2015

What recent advances in urban research might have an impact on the lives of urban dwellers in Europe?

The second ICT revolution, which is coming into our lives through the pervasive implementation of the “internet of things”, with its embedded IT systems, is already affecting everyone in industrialised countries. This is especially true for the urban space, where we are able to use smart services in all aspects of life. An important impact comes through the multiple new ways of communication and decision-taking, which open themselves up for urban citizens. This includes new ways of interacting with city administrations and governments, but also new phenomena of urban planning, governance and formation of will. Of course, the resource efficiency and user friendliness of urban infrastructures, and the built environment are also deeply affected. Just think about the many new aspects of energy efficiency, and urban mobility, which have come into our lives, as well as the opportunities of generating and managing renewable energies in plus-energy buildings and smart homes.

 

What role will urban research play in making Europe’s cities smarter?

Urban research is adopting a new, holistic approach through the integration of technologies across the board, where urban infrastructures communicate through advanced ICT. This approach goes hand in hand with a systems view of the city, where we are increasingly becoming aware of the urban space as a “system of systems”. All of this connects the thinking of urban decision makers, planners, and engineers, and will provide citizens with unprecedented new ways of participation, services, and liveability. Yet, there is a caveat, in that the city is requesting the involvement of its citizens, and that there is a danger in leaving behind those parts of the population, who cannot conquer the “digital divide”.

Is enough being done to ensure that top-quality research is transformed into innovative solutions that benefit the lives of European citizens, or is more support needed to help research bridge the gap to market?

The implementation of innovative solutions is definitely slowed down by the current economic crisis, which leads to a general reduction of investments. Research cannot provide an amendment for this situation of our global economy. Yet, some of these solutions also provide a work-around for innovative actors, where they can attract the interest of both, investors, and consumers, with new tailor-made services and implementations. Support to cities in the field of pre-commercial, and innovative procurement will play an important role in harnessing the buying power of cities, who currently are the largest investors of public money, into making cities the drivers of innovation.           

How does research in Europe compare with other regions of the world, is there anything that Europe can learn from international experience?

Research in urban matters in Europe can learn much from the long-standing tradition and experience of the United States. We can also learn from the dynamic urban hubs of Africa and Asia, which are not only an important destination for European technologies and solutions, but also drivers of development and application.