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UK’s Smart Future Cities – where are the opportunities?

The UK has an opportunity to incorporate smart technology and Internet of Things (IoT) into its physical, energy and transport infrastructure, to improve public services and the overall quality of life for its citizens. Over the past few years, the National Government and UK Local Authorities (LA) have been taking proactive steps to implement and support this smart city transition, with key cities such as Bristol, London and Manchester pledging carbon neutrality by 2050 or earlier.

City-wide and integrated approach

Most references to smart cities in media coverage focus on smart technology and IoT, as well as mobility. However, it is important to think about smart urban areas in a wider context. For example, the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) will need localised energy systems and smart grids capable of supporting EVs’ sustained growth and integration. Increased use of renewable energy will also bring the challenge of intermittent electricity supply. And what role can hydrogen play?


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Bristol City Council showed leadership in taking a city-wide and integrated approach when they unveiled their City Leap prospectus in 2018, with investment potential totalling £875 mil in 6 key areas – Heat networks, Smart energy systems, Domestic and Commercial energy efficiency, Renewable energy, and Monitoring & dissemination. 180 vendors (multi-national firms, consortiums, SMEs) responded positively to the City Leap soft market test, saying that they had capabilities and interest in helping Bristol deliver its City Leap plan.

Up to now though, many projects and energy system activities by Local Authorities have mainly been discrete initiatives within a city – without linking them together. And most of these are neighbourhood, university campus/business district, designated zone-specific projects (rather than city-wide). Few consider a wide urban area.

What has been done so far?

Scanning across UK city initiatives:

  • Many of the smart technology and IoT activities centred around city Big Data, improved connectivity, real-time traffic information, shared and sustainable mobility, smart street lighting, smart charging, and an increase in electric vehicles.
  • LA investment and activities in energy systems have so far been mainly in heat and energy efficiency for low carbon, low energy building stock (through CHP, district heating, and energy efficiency projects). This is followed by renewable energy projects.
  • Carbon and energy saving were common LA goals, but projects were also expected to benefit economic development, and to generate new income, while cutting council energy bills or securing affordable warmth for households. Air quality was also a concern and we expect this to continue.
  • The largest barriers to implementing energy systems projects and smart city plans are lack of funding, uncertain return on investment and the complexity of procurement processes. In most cases, multiple sources of finance were combined, with public funding playing a significant role; commercial investments appeared more difficult to secure at an affordable price and on locally acceptable terms. However, the investment opportunities for the private sector is vast.

Going forward

Now is a key time in the emergence of smart cities plans and prospects for the future are huge. The complexity and variation in the expertise required to deliver these means successful partnerships and collaboration across all initiatives. Understanding local communities and how interconnected technologies can help improve the quality of life is key and the private sector is core in this.

To find out more in the Delta-ee Smart Cities Viewpoint paper or to understand more about the UK and Europe’s smart future cities development, and the business models, partnerships and opportunities for investment firms, technology manufacturers, service providers, utilities and ESCOS, get in touch with Charmaine.coutinho@delta-ee.com or call us on +44 (0)131 625 1011.

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