What next for smart cities?

Many of the UK's cities, large and small, have been working on a range of initiatives to make life for residents greener, more sustainable and better connected. Cities including Bristol, Cambridge, Birmingham and Manchester have been involved in various Smart City projects that have seen them transform transport networks, water management and digital access. They've invested in energy efficient homes, businesses, hospitals and university research centres and made their cities more attractive places to live, learn and work.


Smart energy

Energy is at the heart of it all, powering all the advances and developments. Smart grids provide power through a combination of renewable energies, storage and time-of-use tariffs to manage peak demands more effectively. In today's smart cities, many buildings are powered, heated and cooled through a combination of on-site generation - solar, wind, heat pumps, for example - and by drawing energy from the grid.

At E.ON we're working with many companies to deliver the energy infrastructure needed to deliver today’s smarter cities, including providing electric vehicle charging points and tackling energy inefficient housing and commercial buildings. This includes our project with the European Space Agency (ESA) and Earth observation specialists Astrosat, capturing satellite imaging data to identify areas across the UK where energy efficiency measures are most needed.

These are all excellent developments but technology is developing at a rapid pace and things keep changing quickly. So what might the future look like in a smart city and what role will energy have to play?


Future smart cities

We could be living in cities with integrated waste and transport systems, shared energy production and consumption and cleaner vehicle sharing. The experience of individual city-dwellers will shift as over the coming decades our role will increasingly become that of a multi-utility service provider. By 2050, utility companies as we know them today will no longer exist. Big data and AI (Artificial Intelligence) will enable customers to switch and purchase utilities - energy, water and telecoms - through technology platforms similar to Amazon, Apple and Google Play.

So the future of energy in smart cities will be decentralised and managed through technology platforms that enable customers to have more choice, more control and cut costs on their bills. This will apply to individual homes, businesses and whole cities who could also trade their utilities on these platforms. So if you had more energy than you needed, you could swap it for more water, for example. Or donate it to a community project to eradicate fuel poverty. The opportunities and possibilities are huge.

The question for E.ON is how we will fit into these future smart cities. Perhaps we will no longer just provide energy. The first step in finding out is getting involved in future smart city demonstrator projects to test out concepts and discover the smartest path to take for a smart future.

Written by Darren Gardner

Darren Gardner previously led on smart cities for E.ON, and now leads the UK mobility team. He remains passionate about cities and strongly believes that mobility and energy have the power to transform a city socially, economically and environmentally, particularly through partnerships focused on delivering essential outcomes for citizens – be those carbon reduction, air quality improvements, enhanced wellbeing or reduced inequalities. Prior to joining E.ON, Darren worked for a local authority in Low Carbon Economic Development.