Sagrada-Familia-BarcelonaWhich is the Smartest City in the world in 2015? According to Juniper Research, that accolade goes to Barcelona. And Juniper is of course not the first to give Barcelona a smart city award. In more or less any discussion about Smart Cities, the name Barcelona is bound to crop up sooner or later. For example, although the 2013 Smart Cities Awards crowned Rio de Janeiro as best smart city, Barcelona was given the Initiative Award, for its Smart Citizen: Crowdsensing Open Community initiative. It was also one of the winners of the 2014 Intelligent City Infrastructure Award, in the City Climate Leadership Awards.

Recognising smart use of smart technology

Juniper’s approach is to look at the impact of emerging technologies in key vertical markets. It aims to identify the trends that are driving and changing the global market. Its research into Smart Cities examines the way in which factors from increasing urban populations to environmental concerns have driven changes in cities. It is particularly focused on the use of technology and resources.

Juniper’s Smart City Rankings have drawn on an analysis of each city’s smart capabilities, looking in particular at the use of smart grids, smart traffic management and smart street lighting. It has also looked at issues such as technological capability and social cohesion.

The top five cities, which are Barcelona, New York, London, Nice and Singapore, all performed well. But Barcelona was consistently good across all metrics. As with several other awards, one strength of Barcelona’s position was that it was thought to be a good model of success, from which others can learn. It also has good environmentally sustainable initiatives. The wider applicability seems to be a crucial factor in many awards, with leading cities needing to be able to demonstrate how others can successfully adopt and adapt their ideas.

London and New York were praised for their excellent technological capabilities, and willingness to engage with their citizens through open data initiatives. However, they were thought to lag behind somewhat on their environmental sustainability, and were encouraged to improve the emphasis on developing new projects in this area.

Barcelona as Smart City

Like Rio de Janeiro, one of the hallmarks of Barcelona’s transition to smart city is a long-term view by city leaders. Smartness does not develop instantly, and city leaders need to recognise that. Barcelona’s Smart City project has been in the making for a good five to seven years, so perhaps it’s not surprising that it’s getting real recognition now.

The Smart City project incorporates seven key initiatives:

  • Smart Lighting, with systems to control street lighting remotely, and also moving to LED technology to save both money and energy consumption.
  • Smart Energy, including smart grid projects and self-sufficient blocks. The aim has been to improve energy efficiency.
  • Smart Water, including remote irrigation control for all the city’s green spaces.
  • District heating and cooling, with two networks providing hot water across 64 buildings and an area of 21km2
  • Smart Transportation, using orthogonal bus lines, several of which started to operate in 2012.
  • Zero Emissions Mobility, including electric charging stations for vehicles, electric vehicle fleets and care rentals. The city now has more than 500 hybrid taxis and 294 public electric vehicles.
  • Open Government, making the city government’s work more transparent and engaging its citizens in open data initiatives.

Energy efficiency and savings

Juniper’s research suggests that of these, smart grids and energy efficiency could be the most crucial. Juniper estimates that smart grid initiatives could save a global $10.7 billion annually by 2019, through reductions in both energy consumption and emissions. It has noticed a real appetite around the world for working to create smarter energy grids, despite regional and national differences in regulation. This desire is driven by national and international policies on emissions reduction, and desire for greater reliability of supply.

There are still key issues, such as cyber-security of grids, and also persuading consumers to move to smart metering. So far, efforts to engage consumers have lacked any ‘push’ beyond a vague promise of lower energy bills.

But better engagement of citizens is an area in which Smart Cities are leading the way. Many of these cities, like Barcelona, recognise that citizen engagement is crucial to delivering change. Barcelona’s work on open government give it a good start in this area. This makes it more likely that it, along with other smart cities, will be able to make the successful move to a smarter grid system over the next few years.


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