The roll-out of integrated infrastructure can be accompanied with many challenges. When it comes to governance, there might be a lack of a clear division of responsibilities between the national and city level. But also within the city itself, there is often too little communication between the different departments of the municipality.
The absence of political willpower to lead the way to innovative solutions often hampers a fast transition.
From a technical point of view, some of the workshop participants believe district heating should be a key technology in the transition towards low carbon cities in Europe. They also highlight the importance of new planning methodologies as well as the questioning of alleged fixed facts, such as the current lay-out of a city.
Others emphasize the importance of data for the success of integrated infrastructure. For the moment, there is a lack of standardized data formats and a lack of data available to public administration (although having more data available could help cities to make better decisions on investments). At the same time, there seems to be no priority on both national and local level to support open data projects. Data also is often seen as a static resource, while its dynamic potential could bring many opportunities when approached accordingly. From a financial point of view, procurement decisions unfortunately are often too much price driven, while other factors could be more important.
When a city procures a platform to support the integrated infrastructure, it is also necessary to tackle privacy and security concerns and to take legacy systems, investments and contracts into account. These privacy and security issues could result in a need for external specialists in order to be able to provide access to data in a technically feasible and legally approved way.
Furthermore, economic challenges will arise. For example, a large system such as district heating might require financing at different stages of development. Additionally, there can be a lack of understanding related to financing and investing in innovation, which is often linked to the high investment costs and long pay-back times. Another challenge, which is both economic and legislative, concerns the development of smart grids, since they involve the resale of energy between users or do require some energy provider license which could not only be hard to obtain but also expensive.
The lack of sustainable business models for sensor ecosystems and the limited awareness of the impact open data could have on citizens, businesses and NGOs in their daily activities are barriers for a fast uptake of some solutions. Also clear communication about the requirements of a large infrastructure such as a district heating system is an important point of attention, which is often underestimated. Other challenges are linked to the variety of technical standards, the lack of technological knowledge within the community, data security and data transformation/conversion.
To achieve a successful integrated infrastructure in the long run, cities should start with the implementation of specific valuable cases. This could for example be done when rolling out an urban data platform. The creation of common guidelines for data sharing (which could be a tricky business), as well as engaging in collective capacity building could increase the project’s chances of success. Also, making at least part of the data available in a dynamic way (e.g. through APIs) will bring extra opportunities for the city and possibilities for collaboration between different parties. When making procurement decisions, value should be given to environmental concerns and innovation, since this will make the project more attractive for stakeholders to engage with, which again is beneficial for success. All these recommendations do not only account for urban data platforms, but also for other types of integrated infrastructure.
On a legal level, laws could be changed, restrictions removed, and standards could be used to secure buy-in from legacy arrangements. Moreover, municipalities can be open to specific modification of the municipal plans in order to allow some infrastructure deployments. Economically, public-private solutions should be developed to finance district heating works while standards could be used to drive change and strengthen business cases.
Moreover, the collaboration with citizens and partners should be considered as a source of insight and innovation.
Plan for Implementation
To implement an integrated infrastructure successfully, cities not only need to demonstrate foresight but also local political leadership. Municipalities should also be open to work on specific aspects of their general development plan in order to solve some barriers when implementing certain infrastructures (like in Vitoria). All in all, collaboration and transparency with citizens and partners is also highly important.