Since the Industrial Revolution people are attracted to move and live in cities. The population growth in cities followed the increase of infrastructures (e.g. buildings and roads), the development of new communication systems, the creation of new services, among other aspects. Alongside with population growth and city development, policy-makers are faced with several complex challenges emerging from this new reality, such as: pollution, environment preservation, dependency from fossil fuels as sources of energy, city planning, ageing society, etc. More than short-term measures, these challenges require mitigating actions oriented to long-run results and to the protection of the overall ecosystem.
Recently, the concept of “Smart Cities” is used to define those cities actively engaged in minimizing their environmental impact by improving urban services made available to the population, as well as by supporting economic growth through cost reduction and smart use of resources. Smart Cities seek to improve public administration services, namely through the adoption of novel information and communication technologies (ICT) for better public services delivery (e.g. transport, mobility, energy efficiency and urban environment). The relevance of this concept and its adoption by European cities is confirmed by the establishment of the European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities and Communities (EIP-SCC) which aims to overcome bottlenecks impeding the changeover to smart cities.
In the development of a Smart City, one key factor for sustainability is Energy Management. In this context, Smart Grids are being used to monitor energy flows and adjust to changes in energy supply and demand accordingly. Through Smart Grids energy supply can become more efficient, economic and sustainable. Moving from analogical to innovative digital systems allows cities to monitor energy supply in real time, to promote the adoption of renewal sources (e.g. solar) and, therefore allowing a large reduction of losses in power transmission through the creation of shorted and closed power transmission networks.
Besides Smart Grids, technological progress can support the development of smart and sustainable communities through the use of digital solutions such as the Internet of Things in order to address the needs of [informed and demanding] citizens. The integrated use of those solutions can help cities to achieve better public services delivery, to combat climate change, to promote social empowerment and responsibility, and to improve the population’s quality of life.
Moreover, to become a true Smart City, policy-makers in charge of cities must be aware that citizens need to play an active role in the definition of urban planning, namely through open innovation processes. In this regard, besides investing in the right technology, Smart Cities needs to invest in public engagement, which is being considered by many experts as key for successful and sustainable communities.