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A smart city with an interconnective infrastructure to meet the challenges of climate and demographic change 

Already today, more than 50 percent of people worldwide live and work in cities; in Germany, the figure is already 75 percent (bpb). In the coming decades, more and more people will move to urban areas. Worldwide, the United Nations predicts that up to 70 percent of the population will live in cities by 2050 (statista). Which is why cities play a central role in meeting the challenges of climate change and demographic change. It is a matter of providing the right resources at the right time within the city – be it housing, education, health, energy, mobility, or consumer products. Energy and water supply, mobility and communication technologies are becoming increasingly interconnected. They interact with each other to meet people’s needs. A city with such smart infrastructures is called a smart city (source: EnBW). 

Progressive digitization is impacting all areas of life. Cities and municipalities must and want to face up to the digital transformation and take advantage of the associated opportunities. In doing so, municipalities face the challenge of shaping digitization strategically and with the common good in mind in terms of sustainable and integrated urban development (bmi). The term smart city describes ideas and concepts for urban spaces that are intended to make cities more efficient and thus more climate friendly as well as more liveable through the use of modern technology. To achieve these goals in growing cities, products, services, processes, and infrastructures are needed that are supported by highly integrated and networked information and communication technologies. 

One great example is the German city Cologne. Cologne residents identify much more strongly with their city than people in other cities. Cologne is perceived as cosmopolitan, hospitable, and fun-loving. “Cologne combines business and lifestyle like hardly any other metropolis. The entrepreneurial spirit and the people of Cologne themselves are a unique asset to the city,” says Dr. Frank Obermaier, Head of Business Development at KölnBusiness Wirtschaftsförderungs-GmbH. To do justice to these positive attributes, also regarding urban design, an overall planning strategy is required that equally preserves traditions and implements the possibilities of innovative modernity in such a way that an impressive overall picture of the mobile city can be created in a sustainable and demand-oriented manner. “Many companies and players in Cologne are successfully contributing their know-how to the smart city. According to the Smart City Index 2020 of the industry association Bitkom, Cologne is among the top 3 smartest cities in Germany and ranks first in terms of IT and communications infrastructure,” says Dr. Obermaier. 

KölnBusiness Wirtschaftsförderungs-GmbH sees itself as a coordinator, impulse generator, and initiator of business-related activities. In addition to the classic tasks of an economic development agency, such as location marketing, area procurement or company and start-up support, KölnBusiness also sets the course for the future. Achieving the climate targets is a key issue in both business support and location development. “With our activities, we support companies on their way to climate neutrality, promote the Cologne GreenTech ecosystem and strengthen the sustainable location profile. We initiate, support, and conduct a variety of event formats in topics such as hydrogen, resource efficiency, SmartCity, GreenTech or public good accounting. We also organize targeted networking formats between startups, established companies and scientific institutions, pitch events for startups with sustainable business models, and mediation of financing opportunities,” says Dr. Frank Obermaier. The sensible combination of innovative start-up ideas with the economic power of established companies is particularly successful in Cologne, as distances are short here and there is an atmosphere conducive to innovation.   

The local level is an indispensable factor in achieving the climate targets because it is only through the interaction of local players that the necessary CO2 savings potential can be achieved through concrete measures. The creativity of companies and startups plays an important role here: The startup On Charge, for example, is helping to accelerate the spread and acceptance of electromobility with its idea of bringing charging stations for electric vehicles to residential areas. Deutz AG and the German Aerospace Center are cooperating on the development of hydrogen-powered drives for construction site vehicles and agricultural machinery. Finally, the start-up Vytal tackles the vast amounts of packaging waste in to-go restaurants and is currently expanding nationwide and beyond. “It must be possible to motivate more people to switch to sustainable means of transport. This can be done by setting up mobile stations that link different modes of transport. Furthermore, Cologne is focusing on expanding its public transport and cycling infrastructure,” says Dr. Obermaier.  

But it is also possible to directly address the building planning process: The start-up Lumoview has developed a sensor technology that can be used to collect and analyze data on air quality and thermal weak points in indoor spaces within two seconds. This provides important data for thermal building renovation. The start-ups EINHUNDERTaedifion and GreenPocket equip buildings with smart energy solutions. And the backpack manufacturer FOND OF realized with its headquarters “The Ship” what it claims to be Germany’s most digital office building with significant effects on lower energy consumption. The recently founded hub “Proptech Powerhouse” coordinates and solves questions of the real estate and construction industry for integrated solutions for more climate protection and resource efficiency. “For a dense city like Cologne, for example, photovoltaics – the cheapest form of power generation today – on the city’s roofs offer enormous potential. Closely linked to this is the major challenge of sustainable heat and energy supply for existing buildings. Together with our innovative partners in Cologne, solutions must be developed to bring the energy and heat revolution to existing buildings. In doing so, there is a great opportunity to combine the topic of sustainability with the topic of digitization,” says Dr. Frank Obermaier. 

City governments themselves are also called upon to organize cities in a climate-friendly way: With its SmartCity Cologne initiative, the city of Cologne, together with the energy supplier Rheinenergie AG, is bundling applications on how the city of tomorrow can become climate-friendly, such as an inductive charging system for electric cabs, the “Klimastraße” model project for more effective traffic flow control in the Nippes district, or the implementation of projects in the “iResilience – for a good urban climate” research project at the city neighborhood level. 
SmartCity Cologne is a platform for different projects on climate protection and energy transition for private individuals, companies, associations and initiatives. Intelligent ideas and forward-looking technologies are developed together to make Cologne a little more livable. The project will test technologies and services that will shape environmentally conscious urban life in the future. 

With KölnBusiness Wirtschaftsförderungs-GmbH, a municipal player becomes a partner of aware_ for the first time. aware_ is pleased to welcome Dr. Manfred Janssen, Managing Director of KölnBusiness Wirtschaftsförderungs-GmbH, at this year’s conference on November 24. The expert will talk about what constitutes sustainable cities, what the prerequisites for this are, and what implementation strategies and prospects are needed. In doing so, Dr. Manfred Janssen will shed light on various stakeholders – from public administration to companies and civil society. 

 

by Marie Klimczak