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  • SMART CITIES: ENVISIONING THE FUTURE, TODAY

    Jun 17, 2019

    Melanie Muller

     

    Melanie Müller is a Customer Management expert at energy distribution giant, Netze BW, where her work centres around Smart Metering – the new technology innovating the way street parking is accessed and moderated. The disc-shaped Smart Metering device is one example of thousands of small but revolutionary products redefining the way people engage with their environment - and a glimpse towards the Smart Cities of the future. Melanie spoke at this year’s XQ Digital Summit about the impact of Smart Metering and the challenges of implementing smart devices and technologies to make cities more connected, efficient, safe and sustainable. We spoke to Melanie about some of these challenges, about the core concepts of the Smart City, and how we can already start to embrace these innovations in our daily lives.

     

     

    Throughout your work, you mention that a ‘Smart City’ is probably impossible to define –but what are its characteristics?

    As much as definitions and descriptions of a Smart City may differ, I think the characteristics coincide in most cases. When thinking of a Smart City, it implies features such as intelligence, digitalization, efficiency, technology and comfort among many others - and the combination of those aspects. It’s about smart connections with each other. Basically, for me, the main character of a Smart City is the smart and useful combination of modern technology and its data to make living and working in an area safer, more comfortable and more efficient. It starts with the digitalization of processes, goes on to the Internet of Things and connection of objects - and the Smart City is the intelligent, sustainable outcome optimized for people and/or the environment. 

     

    What are the main challenges facing energy companies now in envisioning their future role?

    A Smart City is very complex and requires the partnering of many parties and industries as the boundaries between industries are blurring. I can imagine this to be complicated for companies and parties of all sizes. For Netze BW, as a network operator, and for other energy companies as well, one challenge is developing into an infrastructure provider in addition to the core business. Another enduring task for the energy industry is to secure the foundation for almost everything: energy supply and the responsibility that comes with it. Also, I think the change itself is a big challenge. Not only the digitalization of products and services, but also the acceptance of a big pending change in people’s minds, trusting technology more and more, and taking new business opportunities. 

     

    What are the core human values that drive our visions of a Smart City? Quality of life? Efficiency? Equality? Sustainability?

    All aspects mentioned above to some extent. As I said in my first answer, it’s the combination of many characteristics that makes a Smart City - and I think it’s similar with values and visions. Humans desire a qualitative, comfortable life, for sustainability of the environment, for a fair treatment of everyone and everything. The thought of making life and surroundings simply better and easier by using technology might always be the main thought when referring to a Smart City or a Smart Life. In my eyes, especially the values of safety, efficiency and comfort drive this vision.

     

    Do you feel there is enough being done from an educational point of view, to teach us how our cities and spaces can ‘work smarter’ for us? Are there any exciting educational initiatives you’ve seen?

    Can there ever be enough education? :) I believe that teaching in a hard-to-define field is difficult. What can be done first is to raise a lot more awareness for the topic of Smart Cities and how technology can further support all beings lives and the environment. Gaining people’s trust and creating interest as early as possible. With increased awareness and public knowledge of how present the future actually is, I think we all could accomplish more in less time. As the world is clearly heading into a Smart City future and into digitalization for each area, educating and teaching how to live with technology and how to further develop our lives with it can never start too early. Nowadays, more and more events, seminars and fairs around the topic of Smart City take place and I think that is a good start.

     

    We have all dreamt of flying cars or fully automated butler-bots! But are there any myths that you would like to debunk about the future of Smart Cities?

    No, I don’t want to say anything against such visions as - you never know - they might become reality one day. I wouldn’t say that they are myths or that they are impossible. But what I would like for people to see is a more realistic approach concerning a smart future. Behind each innovation of this kind, behind each sensor or platform, and behind each working connection, there is a whole lot of research, development, creativity and work. I believe that innovations of all kinds should be appreciated a little more. There should be a more realistic vision of things that are feasible in short- and middle-term, not only in long-term. This way, people’s expectations and images of a Smart City might not be flying cars but communicating cars or parking solutions first, for example. Step by step into the future.

     

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