Interview with Julia Egenolf

GrowSmarter Project Manager for the City of Cologne


Can you please provide us with a little background on SmartCity Cologne and what some of your main aims and objectives are?


We started the SmartCity Cologne initiative in 2011 with our partner and local energy provider RheinEnergie AG, in order to strengthen climate protection in Cologne and take advantage of the opportunities offered by innovative energy concepts, the use of renewable energies and digitisation etc.


The motto of SmartCity Cologne is: Implementing the energy revolution together.


SmartCity Cologne is a platform for various projects on climate protection and energy system transformation. Anyone can take part: private individuals, companies, associations and initiatives. Intelligent ideas and forward-looking technologies are developed together.


SmartCity Cologne wants to stimulate growth, productivity and new markets. It gives companies an optimal marketing opportunity for their products and services. Simplified formal procedures, good networking between multiple partners, an extensive pool of ideas and the use of subsidies all help participating companies to implement their projects and reduce their development costs.


SmartCity has grown from 5 initial projects to over 50 projects with more than 50 partners. In addition, the City's own initiatives permanent financing tools, innovation partnerships and coordinated funding management are now in demand. Today, SmartCity provides important impetus for resilient and competitive Cologne that’s a great place to live in, in every way.


What are some of the defining factors that separate SmartCity Cologne from other smart city platforms?


SmartCity Cologne (SCC) is essentially pursuing the goal of a sustainable and future-oriented city. In order to achieve this, all areas of a city's life are considered. SCC’s framework concept is an integrated approach encompassing eight fields of action: buildings and housing, energy, mobility, climate and environment, economy, security and health, information and communication technologies (ICT) and data,and politics and administration.


The SCC Steering Committee, under the chairmanship of our Lord Mayor, Henriette Reker, decides on the objectives and the action programme that is required to meet them. The Steering Committee includes representatives of the administrative management as well as board members of the urban subsidiaries. Twice a year, this committee decides on new projects, communication and the further development of the strategy. At the same time, changed developments require a continuous process of adaptation and readjustment - especially in order to align the strategic goals of SCC with those of overarching urban strategies, such as the ‘Cologne Perspectives 2030’, the urban development strategy or the digitalization strategy.


Could you give us some examples of SmartCity Cologne’s current projects?


The Smart City Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was recently signed with Deutsche Bahn AG and Nahverkehr Rheinland GmbH. In the coming years, innovative project plans will be launched and tested in testbeds in Cologne: concrete plans include mobility stations/hubs as attractive transfer and service points with a wide range of sharing offers, digitally bookable ‘on-demand shuttles’ and an area-wide network of intelligent lockers at which customers can pick up goods ordered online. Micro-hubs will store parcels which are then delivered by low-emission micro-vehicles, contributing to environmentally friendly transport. In a pilot plant, electric taxis will be able to be charged wirelessly on inductive loading tracks while waiting or queuing at taxi ranks.


While we are promoting electromobility by setting up an additional 400 charging points, we also want to use hydrogen: Our funding application ‘Hydrogen Region Rhineland’, submitted together with other partners, reached the second stage of the competition ‘Model Municipality/Region Hydrogen Mobility NRW’.


Further pilot projects on traffic sensors and parking space management are being carried out on the ‘Klimastraße’ in Cologne's Nippes district, providing data that will be collected and processed to help develop traffic optimisation measures.


In addition, the city's own funding programme, ‘SmartCity Cologne GO’ (SCC GO) was launched for the start-up financing of SCC projects. The aim is to address urban society and make SCC visible. A revolving SmartCity Cologne Innovation Fund is to be developed in the medium to long term on the basis of SCC GO, together with the support of the European Investment Bank.


Innovative strategies for the optimised use of living space are being developed in the OptiWohn project to reduce the pressure on new buildings. The building blocks here are the establishment of housing agencies as a central advisory office for those seeking accommodation and to advise target groups on optimised use of living space - e.g. for conversion, relocation and subletting.


In the VertiKKA project, we are participating as a city in a research project on façade greening together with the municipal drainage companies. Prototype modules that combine the production of solar power with the greening of facades are being developed with various research institutions.


The iResilience project supports local residents and organisations responsible for flood prevention, urban green areas and heat and health, as well as local implementation groups, to jointly develop and implement innovative solutions for climate protection. Collaborative solutions using ‘intelligent’ (networked) urban infrastructures at district or neighbourhood level will be tested.


The Horizon 2020 project, GrowSmarter, aims to transform cities for a smart, sustainable Europe by rolling out smart solutions in Cologne, Stockholm and Barcelona. Can you tell us a bit more about SmartCity Cologne's role in this project?


The GrowSmarter project has the ambition to demonstrate and facilitate the growth of a market for 12 smart solutions within the topics of Energy, Mobility and Integrated Infrastructures. The presentation of GrowSmarter at events and conferences, including the Greenbuild conference, North America's largest conference on sustainable development in building, helps promote the use of these 12 smart solutions to other countries and cities, helping them reduce GHG emissions. As part of the GrowSmarter project, the City of Cologne aims to establish the Mülheim district as a blueprint for sustainable urban development. To this end, Cologne has joined the city consortium from Stockholm and Barcelona to jointly receive funding from the Horizon 2020 Programme of the European Union to the tune of 25 million euros. This has enabled the cities to implement their ambitious projects in the fields of mobility, energy and information and telecommunications technology (ICT). The overall project has a duration of 5 years (2015-2020). The project partners involved in Cologne vary from start-up companies to the partially City-owned utility provider, RheinEnergie. News regarding the project is disseminated by SCC.


What is your vision for the future of smart cities?


SmartCity Cologne is vision, task, platform and process all at the same time. SmartCity will become a location factor for companies and employees, bringing competitive and economic innovations to Cologne. Sustainable, social and climate-neutral urban development alongside full use of potential digitisation is the core task of the SmartCity strategy. To be smart, the city needs digital technologies, but also analogue structures that form the basis of our everyday lives. Above all, SmartCity means improving people's lives.


For us, a smart city is one in which air quality in urban areas is improved while particulate matter, CO2 emissions and energy consumption are reduced. It is a city being developed in a way that conserves resources; one that is interspersed with green spaces and open spaces, and whose buildings are increasingly energy-efficient.


We aim to become climate-neutral by 2050. The neighbourhoods will be equipped with intelligent energy management with special storage facilities (virtual power plants). In the smart city, sustainable mobility will be facilitated by developing and expanding public transport, promoting and facilitating walking and cycling, and the intelligent networking of mobility options.


For intelligent cities to develop their full potential, they must concentrate on the citizens living there. The solutions offered by business and science must also be accepted and used by people; only then does a Smart City work. Our SmartCity Cologne initiative also needs smart people who can make smart decisions about which technologies can be used, and how, to further our sustainable urban development. Cooperation between the City, the real estate industry, science, citizenship, start-ups and industry are necessary.


And a smart city needs experimental spaces. We cannot wait any longer if we want to achieve our climate protection goals and actively help shape the energy revolution. In practice, neighbourhoods in particular must increasingly be seen as laboratories for a sustainable and digital future.


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