28 November 2017

International collaboration for smart, clean cities

The city becomes cleaner, more attractive and more efficient. Innovation, architecture, smart technologies and urban planning are more and more united. Taking centre stage in these developments is the H2020 IRIS project, which revolves around the preservation of energy and mobility at neighbourhood level with ICT and civilian involvement. An international project, led by the city of Utrecht.

Utrecht as a European Lighthouse City

Utrecht is a Lighthouse City just like Gotenburg and Nice, making it one of the three trailblazers of the IRIS project. IRIS stands for Integrated and Replicable solutions for co-creation In Sustainable cities. A total of 43 partners participate in the project, divided across seven countries. Within Utrecht, Utrecht University, Utrecht Sustainability Institute, the municipality of Utrecht, HKU for the Arts Utrecht, Bo-Ex, Eneco, Stedin, QBuzz, LomboXnet, KPN and Civity work closely together to preserve energy and mobility at a neighbourhood level.

Besides the three Lighthouse Cities, there are four following cities in Finland, Greece, Romania and the Canary Islands. This division of roles works as follows: the Lighthouse Cities integrate and demonstrate pre-existing innovations that have already proven themselves elsewhere. For instance, think of connecting solar panels in the Utrecht neighbourhood Lombok to recharge points for electric cars, such as in Smart Solar Charging. The Lighthouse Cities and following cities then replicate such innovations, making their reach bigger in the process: from the neighbourhood of Lombok, through other Utrecht neighbourhoods, to Tenerife.

Towards energy-positive neighbourhoods

Utrecht University collaborates to realise a big number of innovations within the IRIS project. For instance, solar-energy researcher Wilfried van Sark works on monitoring energy systems that ensure neighbourhoods generate energy. Such neighbourhoods combine the local generation of energy with clean and innovative mobility. By means of smart recharge points, electric cars can be recharged by the sun and return surplus energy to the neighbourhood. The Utrecht neighbourhood of Lombok is one of these neighbourhoods, and LomboXnet is the project that started there.

“Together with LomboXnet, we started the project We Drive Solar within the collaboration project Smart Solar Charging, a predecessor of the IRIS-project,” Van Sark explains. “We encourage the sharing of electric cars within the project, and thanks to our developments, we have gone from a pilot to business in Utrecht and its surroundings. We also test this in Utrecht Science Park to find out what the preconditions are for the successful implementation in multiple neighbourhoods: for instance, sharing cars in the neighbourhood of Lombok is done completely different from Utrecht Science Park.”

As the project leader, the Utrecht Sustainability Institute is responsible for the demonstration of such solutions in Utrecht. A good challenge, according to Director Carolien van Hemel: “The IRIS project is the next step in making cities more sustainable, because we integrate already proven technologies and upscale them to neighbourhood level. The challenge to it is to realise it together with the inhabitants and make an attractive value model for the involved organisations.”

Innovative company models that make sustainability profitable

“In a project such as IRIS, it's all about the upscaling of solutions that combine various innovations,” says Mark Sanders, macro-economist at Utrecht University. “The introduction of new products and services in an existing context requires new value models involving smart technology and mobility. These innovations are in various stages of mobility. Some are ready to be implemented, others have yet to prove themselves and there are innovations we are not aware of yet.”

Within the IRIS project, economists and innovation scientists of Utrecht University in every part of the cycle will actively contribute to the advancing of existing and budding ideas. Together with Utrecht Inc, the business incubator in Utrecht, the researchers design and implement a programme to help companies that want to become more sustainable to complete their business cases. This is done in interaction with partners from the other Lighthouse Cities Nice and Gotenburg, who implement comparable innovations in their cities.

Five primary challenges

The 43 partners and seven participating cities in the IRIS-project will take up five primary challenges together within five years: energy-positive neighbourhoods, smart energy management, sharing electric cars, a digital city-innovation platform and co-creating solutions with the inhabitants. The European Union allocates 18 million euros to this.