climate neutral

100 European cities invest to be climate neutral by 2030

Good news from Europe. The EU Commission has just announced that 100 cities will join a program to cut emissions and become climate neutral by 2030. The selected cities are from all 27 member states and represent about 12% of European population.

The ‘Cities Mission’ is one of the five Horizon Europe research and innovation programs for the years 2021-2027. The participating cities include Marseille in France, Dortmund in Germany, Zaragoza in Spain, Parma in Italy, Lahti in Finland, Thessaloniki in Greece, Košice in Slovakia, and many more.

They will receive a total of EUR 360 million of Horizon Europe funding to support clean mobility, energy efficiency and green urban planning, with specific investment plans about energy, buildings, waste management, and urban transportation systems.

The green transition is making its way all over Europe right now, but there’s always a need for trailblazers, who set themselves even higher goals,” said Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, while announcing the 100 selected cities.

Cities will be asked to develop ‘Climate City Contracts’ to detail their plans for climate neutrality and how they will make an impact by leveraging smart technologies or improving existing services and systems. These contracts will act as highly visible commitments, and cities will be required to engage citizens, research institutes, and private companies to share know-how and potentially spur further investments.

Cities are at the forefront in addressing the climate crisis, and this program may accelerate the energy transition and the changes Europe needs to reach climate neutrality.


congestion charges reduce car use

Congestion charges reduce car use

After London’s congestion charges, the City of Oxford is now asking non-electric vehicles to pay 10 pounds to access its historic medieval center. The decision is part of a pilot program to create a zero-emission zone and make the city cleaner, healthier and less congested.

Unsurprisingly, the charge is facing some resistance. The restricted area currently covers several of the city’s main shopping streets and some Oxford University colleges, but the plan is to expand it to around 2 miles across to almost all the city center, thus impacting workers commuting in from surrounding districts and potentially reshaping the economics of the whole city.e

Oxford is being watched as a test case for the applicability of congestion charges beyond major urban centers. But are these measures really helpful in reducing car use, mitigating traffic, and improving sustainability and air quality?

A new study carried out at the Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies in Sweden and published in Case Studies on Transport Policy, examined about 800 peer-reviewed reports and real experiences in Europe, and ranked congestion charges as the most effective way to reduce car use in cities.

According to the research, the introduction of congestion charges reduced car traffic by up to 33%, while other measures proved to be less impactful. For instance, limited traffic zones cut the transit of non-resident vehicles by 20% during the restricted hours; offering discounted or free public transport passes to workers and students made car commuters drop by up to 37%.

Parking-related measures were also scrutinized. Making parking more difficult by removing parking spaces and replacing them with walkable lanes and bike tracks was found to reduce car usage by up to 19% (that was the best result achieved in Oslo, Norway). Workplace parking charges – with workers asked to pay when parking outside their offices – led to a 20-25% reduction in employee car commutes and the corresponding shift towards public transport.

The smarter management of parking facilities may not directly contribute to getting cars out of cities, but it is undoubtedly effective in improving urban mobility and mitigating traffic. Independent studies proved that about 30% of overall road congestion is due to parking search: Smart Parking solutions allow Cities to improve drivers experience by reducing idle itineraries looking for a free spot, and related fuel consumption, air pollution, time waste and stress.

 

Want to learn more about our Smart Parking solution? Watch our video and contact our experts!


local energy communities

Local energy communities for a net zero society

In 2010-2019 average annual global greenhouse gas emissions were at their highest levels in human history, but the rate of growth has slowed. “We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make now can secure a liveable future”, said climate scientists signing latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

The scenario is gloomy, but there is increasing evidence of climate action. Cities and local governments are working hard to reduce emissions by decreasing energy consumption (think of Smart Lighting and the efforts to create compact, walkable cities), implementing low-carbon mobility systems, and enhancing reforestation. With the right policies, infrastructure, and technology in place, experts estimate lifestyles and people behaviors can be changed to achieve a 40-70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 – and these lifestyle changes will have a positive impact on health and wellbeing too.

A vital role in this energy transition may be played by local energy communities, groups of neighbor users who cooperate to satisfy their energy needs through local production sources.

Good news come from the US, where the transition to clean energy is generating environmental benefits and even good-paying jobs. In 2019, renewable energy investments reached 55 billion USD and clean energy jobs paid 25% more than the national median wage.

The U.S. Department of Energy has recently presented the first 22 local energy communities to receive targeted technical assistance and access federal government programs, including those included in the $1.3 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, to plan and invest in smart buildings, clean energy production, resilient microgrids and energy storage, carbon capture and storage systems. The selected communities include Bakersfield (California), Columbia (South Carolina), Hennepin County (Minnesota), Jackson County (Illinois), New Orleans (Louisiana), Pittsburgh - Hill District (Pennsylvania), and Questa (New Mexico) among the others.

What about Europe? According to the EU’s 2021 State of the Energy Union report, about 2 million people are participating to more than 7,700 local energy communities and contributing up to 7% of nationally installed renewable capacities. However, the context in which local energy communities operate seems to be rather complicated.

According to a recently published report by the EU-funded eNeuron project, the lack of a comprehensive regulation in the energy sector is affecting local energy communities and delaying the EU’s progress in achieving its 2050 targets.

Uncertainty about regulatory provisions is a significant barrier for investors willing to develop infrastructure assets. The landscape is further complicated by the variety of technological solutions available on both consumer and energy community level. The report considers for instance heat storage, mentioning that over 50% of the energy consumed in the EU is used for generating heat. This should be a focus application, but its current adoption is fragmented and highly ineffective.

Local energy communities have a very important role to play in the energy transition, but there is still a long way to walk before the advent of a net zero society.


IoT skills

The gap in IoT skills hinders Smart Cities

Cities acknowledge the beneficial impact of smart investments to raise productivity, create jobs, improve safety, enable sustainable growth, and make public services more efficient and accessible.

This consolidated awareness will drive technology spending on smart projects in the near future: considering 2018 as baseline, budgets worldwide are forecasted to more than double by 2023 and increase from US$81 billion to US$189.5 billion.

If public investments in advanced technologies and the infrastructure underpinning them is growing, what is preventing cities from starting or accelerating their smart journeys? Shrinking financial resources and the difficult search for additional funding are usually reported by local authorities, together with regulatory hurdles that slow down large-scale projects.

Siloed, piecemeal governance is also an issue. But even when local authorities have enough resources and a far-sighted governance, the development of smart services may experience troubles: inadequate IoT skills and technology expertise stand out as one of the most relevant barriers to the development of effective solutions.

Cities and utilities are increasingly asking for help to successfully manage their IoT projects, from the design to roll-out, up to operation and maintenance management. Expert partners and professional support services are fundamental to design and engineer smart applications, assess the necessary network infrastructure and connectivity layout, configure, and set up all solution components. Once the solution is up and running, equally important skills are needed to achieve the best possible performance from installed networks and devices, smoothly manage troubleshooting and address possible hiccups.

 

Explore how a gap in IoT skills is hindering smart projects: download our report and discover what can be done to overcome this obstacle.


interoperability smart lighting

Smart Lighting: cities should tender for interoperability

Public lighting management changed a lot since the introduction of smart IoT technologies. Remote monitoring and control are now possible, with immediate benefits in terms of power and energy bill saving, GHG emission reduction, improved maintenance and quality of service.

But how can we ensure connected streetlights benefit the city, its people and the common good? LUCI Association picked on the question in a recent paper, discussing key elements of the technical and operational framework of Smart Lighting, and the social and societal side.

Interoperability stands out as a focus topic. Cities are increasingly worried about vendor lock-in, as proprietary technologies and single-application networks suffer impossible or expensive integration with other systems, run a higher risk of obsolescence and ultimately provide a poor return-on-investment.

As LUCI Association’s paper clearly explains, the concept of interoperability in Smart Lighting comes into play in three levels. The network level is about the carrier of the communication among connected devices; the software level is about the shared language these devices need to interact. The hardware level relates to the physical devices to be interfaced, considering for instance LED luminaires, smart controllers, and environmental sensors.

As a technology provider who has always been agnostic to the application, at Paradox Engineering we focus on the development of smart IoT networks supporting a number of field devices and third-party systems, independently of the make. In a word, we head for interoperability.

Our technologies are standard-based and feature open data models: 6LoWPAN, TALQ, uCIFI Alliance, but also DALI, Nema, Zhaga are some of the industry standards you will hear the most from us.

Interoperability grants cities the flexibility to address the most pressing challenges and strategically plan for future, innovative applications. Less costs today, and no barriers when it comes to adding new devices and applications over time.

Are you ready to tender for interoperability? Contact our experts for a non-binding consultancy about smart interoperable networks for Open Cities!


road safety

Road safety in cities: smart technologies help

2020 was the deadliest year in the US for traffic crashes in over a decade, with a 7% increase in fatalities over the previous year. The unfortunate trend continued in 2021, with about 20 thousand victims in the first half of the year.

Last week, the US Department of Transportation announced a new comprehensive National Roadway Safety Strategy, a roadmap for addressing what has become a true national crisis. Adopting a “Safe System Approach”, the strategy acknowledges human mistakes in crashes, but urges the design of redundant systems and the implementation of smart technologies to make roads safer for everyone.

Generally speaking, there is a pressing need for new systems to prevent traffic accidents. Vehicles are increasingly equipped with sensors, advanced driver-assistance systems, and automatic emergency braking that improve navigation and safety. Infrastructure is also becoming more intelligent to enable traffic monitoring and control, thus contributing to accident prevention and quicker intervention when needed.

But cities are highly complex system, and there are many and competing demands placed on their transport systems. There is no single silver bullet measure, and the mix of interventions that works in one city may not be enough in another community.

According to the International Transport Forum – coordinating the ‘Safer City Streets’ initiative at the OECD since 2016 –, smart technology plays an increasingly important role in road safety and feed both accurate monitoring (think of video surveillance at critical junctions or along busy itineraries) and data-driven decisions related to traffic engineering and speed management.

The timing and configuration of traffic lights are also very important. A simple but effective example is the optimization of pedestrian intervals: real-life experiments proved that indicating “walk” to pedestrians several seconds before turning traffic gets a green light improves pedestrian safety a lot, making them more visible and decreasing the risk of being hit by a car.

Vehicles are becoming increasingly connected by devices that interact with each other and the road infrastructure. Data flows resulting from Vehicle to Everything (V2X) technologies and their interaction with the so called Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems can feed emergency braking warning, distance sensing, improper-driving detection, collision-avoidance systems, weather-related skid warnings, and optimized intersection management.

But road safety is not only about private motor vehicles and pedestrians. As micro mobility and cycle riding are on the up, cities are increasingly looking at road safety from a wider perspective. Space is being reallocated, effective parking management and curb management are needed to ensure a safe access to different urban transportation systems. Smart technologies are definitely part of the improvements being made to road infrastructure.


cascading risks

A resilient infrastructure to tackle cascading risks

The eruption of the undersea volcano in Tonga last January is an illustrative case of how cascading risks work. A disruptive event triggers another, then another, in an incremental chain that exacerbates multiple vulnerabilities becoming critical in a certain environment.

The Covid-19 pandemic made clear that crisis don’t come alone. While cities were fighting the health emergency, many of them were impacted by climate extremes – floods, droughts, cyclones – that made the existing issues of aging and inadequate urban infrastructures come to the surface and jeopardized the effort towards the economic and social recovery.

Cascading risks have become more visible in recent years, as cities can barely recover from an extreme weather event or a natural disaster, before being struck with a follow-on cybercrime attack, civil unrest, or other social disruptions.

As disruption has now become the ‘new normal’, city managers need to endorse resilience as the overarching approach to tackle cascading risks from climate change, urbanization, and digitalization.

But resilience is not something that can be achieved overnight, said Elaine Tan, Deputy Director at the Center for Livable Cities in Singapore, during a recent online event by the Resilient Cities Network and The World Bank Group.

It is paramount to reshape urban models, design and implement resilient infrastructures, leveraging smart technologies to improve the efficiency and quality of key public services (think of power and water supplies, mobility systems, law enforcement, just to mention a few) while making them resilient and accessible even in crisis times. Cascading risks will be less frightening if the city relies on a smart urban infrastructure to monitor and control critical services.

“The ‘hardware’ infrastructure resilience has got to do a lot with the community resilience, the ‘software’ side of things”, added Elaine Tan. And that’s absolutely true: there can’t be a smart resilient city without smart resilient citizens.

In this uncertain time, it is especially important for local governments to engage people, creating trust and open lines of communication and collaboration. Only cohesive communities can respond to multiple, ongoing cascading risks and thrive even in the face of adversity.


transportation equity

Inclusive cities pursue transportation equity

In the global-local effort to shape sustainable, resilient, and inclusive cities, mobility systems are at stake. There is an urgent call for transportation equity, that means designing and delivering transport systems that are safe, accessible, reliable, and affordable for all, including the mobility-underprivileged communities.

Mobility is a critical success factor for socio-economic growth, but it is still far from being equitable in many places, points out a recent white paper by the World Economic Forum, BCG and the University of St Gallen.

The report analyzes three archetypical cities and their transportation ecosystems: the car-centric Chicago in the USA, the compact middleweight Berlin in Germany, and the high-density megacity Beijing in China. Researchers warn that the pure increase of mobility infrastructure does not always improve social inclusion, as in all investigated cities the best results came when considering both transportation supply and demand.

Accurate data collection is pivotal to better understand rider demand and the specific mobility challenges affecting minorities, disabled and economically disadvantaged people. Data-driven decisions allowed cities to pilot some simple but highly effective mobility initiatives.

In Chicago, adding first- and last-mile shuttles to and from local public transit stations increased the number of jobs accessible to underserved communities by up to 90%. A scaled-up metro pass reservation system in Beijing allows people to pre-book their slot on a train and bypass queues at the station to enter the train directly, resulting in commuting times to be decreased by 29%. In Berlin, a differentiated service level on public transit, like business-class carriages on trains, increased the share of public transit trips by 11% while at the same time generating 28% higher revenue for the operator.

Looking at the 15-minute city planning concept, cities strive to reduce traffic and make life easier for drivers (including parking search), at the same time they try to strengthen public transportation systems.

But the report also suggests that transportation equity eschews the cars/public transport binary perspective. Truly inclusive cities should consider innovative, multimodal transportation solutions, where scooters, bikes, and electric vehicles play a role and contribute to safe, accessible, reliable, and affordable mobility systems for all.


self-driving vehicles

Self-driving vehicles: industrial applications rise

Self-driving vehicles have been long awaited as a crucial booster for the car industry. The technology should jump forward in 2022, but most manufacturers are still dealing with Level 3 autonomous vehicles and won’t be able to launch fully automated cars in the short term.

But technology is not the only delaying element. Driverless cars hold huge promises, as they were expected to make driving safer, more efficient, and comfortable. As a matter of fact, the many questions around safety have not been answered yet, and there is a growing call for strict regulations and clear rules to assign responsibilities in case of motoring offences.

Lately, doubts about the potential environmental impacts of automated vehicles have been raised. We expect self-driving vehicles to select the best possible itinerary to get to the desired destination and adjust speed and pace to save fuel and reduce emissions. Right, but what if users change the game?

If I ask the car to look for the cheapest (and not the nearest) parking lot, cruising time may increase. If I don’t want to pay for parking at all, I may send the car back home while I am at work and summon it after office hours. This would twice the driving – generally speaking, this may lead self-driving vehicles to cause more congestion, fuel consumption and pollution. A recent study in downtown Toronto showed this unpleasant side effect, and the debate is starting to provoke some reactions.

While driverless cars are slowed down, self-driving vehicles are experiencing better results in some other industries. Fully automated vehicles are increasingly used as load and assembly line transporters, forklifts and tuggers in warehouses and manufacturing sites. Featuring IoT technologies, cameras, motion sensors, infrared and laser radars, these vehicles can leverage complex algorithms and artificial intelligence to manage the transportation of materials and equipment with limited or no human effort.

Self-driving tractors are making their way in agriculture, contributing to a greener and more productive farming. Tractors can enable smart decisions by collecting data while they operate, which give farmers information on field and crop health and long-term yields, as well as alerts about problems such as irrigation leaks or crop discoloration.

Manufacturing, logistics, and agriculture seem to have fewer challenges than busy urban roads. Will industrial applications be the real business opportunity for self-driving vehicles?


smart urban sensors

Smart urban sensors become ubiquitous

The number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices worldwide is forecast to almost triple from 8.74 billion in 2020 to more than 25.4 billion units in 2030. IoT devices are used in all types of industry verticals and consumer markets, and Smart Cities have seen a mass proliferation in recent years.

As we know, nowadays cities leverage smart urban sensors to extensively collect data and manage their infrastructure, power and water networks, essential public services, and more. Recent ABI Research report took a position on the most relevant trends to happen in 2022 and confirmed smart urban sensors are on their way to ubiquity, as the number of use cases where IoT can offer added value is multiplying.

Emerging sensor-based solutions include automated traffic management at intersections, people density and flow tracking for Covid-19 distancing, air quality monitoring, advanced public security applications featuring mobile surveillance and gunshot detection. However, IoT deployments in smart cities are still primarily aimed at efficiency improvements and cost savings, sustainability and decarbonization.

Following the hype of COP26 event in Glasgow, sustainability and carbon neutrality will be a pressing challenge for cities. The EU’s Green Deal and pledges from cities and governments across the globe will raise the bar for cities, that naturally stand on the front line in suffering the effects of climate change and trying to mitigate them.

Key smart urban sensors applications such as smart lighting, smart waste, or smart parking will continue to drive investments in 2022, says ABI Research. Much of their momentum is due to both the increasing range of high-performance sensor technologies and the emergence of powerful edge AI compute, with the opportunity of unlocking more value from captured data and enabling predictive intelligence.

Despite the increase in popularity of circular economy models, analysts fear there will be no measurable progress in the next 12 months. The principle is yet in the very early stages of development, so it would probably require more time to pick up any relevant large-scale result.

But ABI Research points out another interesting trend: city governments are now waking up to the real possibility of smart urban sensors data monetization. What is this about? It relates to the possibility to leverage data generated by connected devices and applications to design new revenue streams for cities, much needed in the post Covid-19 era.

The background for any data monetization program is the availability of a perfectly safe and accountable urban infrastructure, where data are fully transferrable and assignable (and blockchain technology can be the answer to this).

A platform such as PE Smart Urban Network allows data generated by urban devices to be shared and tokenized, hence transformed in tradeable assets. This means data streams can be easily sold and bought through a secure digital marketplace. Parking-related data can be used for instance to design mobile apps to check free car lots in real time, reserve and pay them via smartphone; live environmental data can be leveraged to monitor the impact of traffic-mitigation measures and dynamically manage restricted traffic zones; and so on. Start ups and local businesses might design and provide applications mashing-up different data to create their own services.

Smart urban sensors are ubiquitous – and cities are learning how to leverage them not only to improve efficiency and sustainability, but also to generate revenues to fund innovation and future growth.