Neelie Kroes: Using ICT to build Sustainable Cities

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Today in Europe, we face enormous challenges. In a time of climate change, the challenge of managing energy resources. In a time of economic crisis, the challenge of doing things more efficiently.

But we also have one great opportunity: the amazing power of new information and communications technology. And today I would like to talk to you about how such ICT systems can help achieve our energy and climate goals. Particularly in our cities, where 70% of energy consumption happens.

There are three things in particular I’d like to talk about today. About how ICT can make our world smarter, work better together with other sectors like energy and transport, and how the ICT sector itself can cut its own carbon footprint.

But first, let me remind you how ICT can help us smarten up our cities and our electricity networks.

With smarter cities, we could cut resource use; put easy-to-use tools into everyone’s hands; and improve quality of life.

Imagine innovations like street lights that know when there’s people around – and adjust accordingly. Home heating systems that respond to their environment, and that you can control remotely. Electric vehicles that are fully integrated with the grid. And better information, empowering people to take smart, green decisions in everything they do.

That’s the kind of smart world ICT can deliver.

ICT can also give us a smarter two-directional power grid, especially at the retail level: getting real-time information on time and quantity of energy consumption; and allowing households to become energy suppliers to the grid.

This would be enabled: first, by existing communications infrastructure building links across the energy distribution chain; second, by advanced control of the grid; and third, by decentralised energy storage.

In short, we can do a lot to cut carbon. And make it much easier for people to choose more sustainable lifestyles.

The second thing we need to see more of is for the different sectors – ICT, transport and energy – to work together. By breaking through sectoral barriers, we can find ways to collaborate: on infrastructure, on services, on business models.

There are many synergies between these sectors waiting to be exploited.

For instance, telecoms companies have great expertise in billing and pricing. It’s easy to see how that knowledge can help other utilities improve their performance in this area. Also, those businesses with expertise in processing real–time, huge quantities of data can offer tremendous value to the roll out and management of smart grids.

But synergies also exist in more down-to-earth areas – like rolling out infrastructure. Often different networks – energy, telecoms, water and transport – needlessly duplicate “passive infrastructure”: things like ducts for carrying cables.

That’s a waste! If we got better at planning, allowing access, re-use and sharing of those assets, then everyone could save. Most importantly, it could cut the cost of new high-speed broadband networks. Remember that, without those networks, we couldn’t get started on smart grids or smart cities in the first place!

The convergence of formerly distinct sectors is an irreversible trend, with many opportunities for new businesses and services. Those who acknowledge this and think ahead will be the winners of tomorrow. Stagnation is simply not an option.

So it is in all our interests to make this convergence easier.

The European Council has asked us to look at measures to exploit these synergies. I hope you’ll join in the consultation we just launched, ahead of a proposal by early next year.

And let me be clear about my intentions. As you might be aware, I do not believe in defending anti-competitive behaviour. I do believe in removing barriers to new market entrants. Here to read more.

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