Old World cities outstripping U.S. counterparts in tech adoption

From Barcelona’s intelligent trash cans to Tallinn’s electric cars, European cities are adopting tech to improve services, cut consumption and save cash

Europe may be the Old World, but it seems the Continent’s most-storied cities are ahead of the New World – namely, North America – in adopting technology aimed at improving municipal services, reducing consumption and saving money.

That’s according to a recent New York Times story about how investments including neighborhood-wide high-speed Internet, trash collection and electric vehicle charging stations are reshaping Europe’s metropolises as “smart cities.”

According to one research service, there’s big money here, with the smart cities market growing to more than $1.2 trillion annually by 2019.

But what’s a smart city? A lot of things, actually, revolving around a continuum of interconnected intelligent devices – the “Internet of Things” – to save energy, reduce congestion, trim emissions and cut consumption of scarce resources, while arming citizens with information to make good decisions.

ABB is part of this effort, from helping keep public and private electric-vehicle transport moving smoothly, creating energy efficient homes and offices that communicate with the power grid as well as boosting Internet access in places where it’s a major challenge.

In Venice, for example, the Italian city famous for its 150-odd canals commissioned an ABB Tropos wireless broadband network. It’s free for residents and businesses; roughly 22 million tourists who visit every year can get online for a small fee.

If you visited St. Mark’s Square or crossed the Rialto and somehow missed the 200 wireless routers installed across Venice’s picturesque islands, that’s the point: They’re tucked away in discreet enclosures, so they don’t distract from the city’s charms that have earned it distinction as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“We’re seeing a lot of developments in Europe, driven by the municipalities as well as by utilities, addressing more intelligent solutions in the areas of energy, transportation and other public services, usually backed up by communication systems and much more and better information,” said Jochen Kreusel, Head of ABB’s Smart Grids Industry Sector Initiative.

(To be sure, ABB Tropos routers aren’t just in Europe, with Phoenix, Arizona, using them to direct traffic – and save more than $200,000 annually.)

Similarly, ABB technology is deployed in the Netherlands and Estonia to create a seamless network of fast-charging stations for electric vehicles, or EVs. In Tallinn alone, there are 27 sites where drivers can replenish their EVs’ batteries in about 30 minutes, about enough time, by the way, to enjoy a refreshing Kali, the national soft drink known as “Estonia’s Coca Cola.”

In Geneva, Switzerland, ABB is a partner on an electric bus that operates without overhead lines and recharges at stops in a mere 15 seconds, the time it takes to let passengers on and off.

And in Helsinki, Finland, ABB is working to create a smart power grid for the new Kalasatama district, where technology will help lower consumption and emissions including through the integration of renewable electricity, energy storage and by employing home and building automation.

Who says the Old World can’t teach itself new tricks?

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About the author

John-Philip Miller

I’m the senior editor in ABB’s group corporate communications team, in Zurich. For most of my career I’ve been a reporter, at Bloomberg News in Zurich and then for the last 10 years at The Associated Press in Idaho.
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