Jacob Klimstra (PennWell): ‘Ignoring the citizens in the process is the biggest mistake’

Prior to the Smart City Event we’ve interviewed Dr. Jacob Klimstra, Managing Editor Co-generation and On-Site Power Production at PennWell International, about the biggest challenges to develop a successful Smart City project, cooperation between the private & public sector and how to involve citizens in a Smart City project.

 What is a Smart City in your opinion, and what city is in your opinion the best Smart City in the world?

PennWellA smart city is a city that ensures that its inhabitants live in a clean and pleasant environment, with the supplies needed for modern life provided in an ecologically optimum way. In a smart city, buildings have been optimized for minimum energy needs. Wherever possible, heat and chill recovery is used. Solar heat collectors and solar PV panels have been applied uniformly. Heat storage and chill storage are common practice. All inner-city transport is electric, including the taxies. Yet, care has been taken that the system does not depend too much on data communication since that would make the city too vulnerable to hackers and computer failures. Buildings have been equipped with dc power to avoid transformation losses with individual ac/dc transformers. I guess that city has still to be invented. Copenhagen might be the best example at the moment, but the real smart city has not been born.

How do you see the (smart city) developments in your city?

Politicians and citizens have great ideas but generally lack the required background knowledge and the implications. The NIMBY (Not In MY Back Yard) aspect is always there. Citizens and politicians don’t even know the difference between a kW and a kWh. A major problem is the long-term pay back of the investments. Although interest rates are quite low at the moment, many people want to keep the money on the bank because of fear of worse economic times. Private initiatives are often blocked by bureaucratic rules. Central governments oppose ideas of municipalities. Further, subsidy schemes sometimes change drastically leaving citizens with huge financial burdens. There is only one way to convert my city into a real smart city: a long term vision and a stable policy acceptable for all stakeholders.

What do you think is the biggest challenge to develop a successful Smart City project?

It is the costs. Converting an existing city is a lot more expensive than building a new city that complies with all the requirements for being fully smart. Breaking up the old streets causes much disturbance for commerce and transportation. Especially historic cities are difficult to optimize. Owners of historic buildings often cannot get planning permission to optimize their building energetically.

Cooperation between private and public sector are very important in creating smart cities. How can cities attract private partners and convince them to invest?

Most smart city investments have a long time of return of investment. However, the intrinsic value of the investment can be high as long as it is done in the optimum way. Finding the optimum way is a challenge in case insufficient specialists are involved in the planning process. Municipal bureaucracies are famous for making mistakes. The best thing is to start a showcase, involving all stakeholders and use the whole process as a learning case. Mistakes should be corrected and the showcase should be used for the next project. The risk is that politicians and civil servants want to develop their own project.

What is the most important success factor in involving citizens in a Smart City project?

If citizens receive an immediate benefit (such as cleaner environment, lower energy bill, less noise, reliable supply of the utility products, higher safety), they will respond positively. Optimum communication is another aspect. If the citizens are involved at an early stage and properly informed, it is much easier to accept the temporary negative consequences. Ignoring the citizens in the process is the biggest mistake.

What about the future? What kind of smart cities we will have in 2023?

The year 2023 is quite optimistic for existing cities. I would rather go for 2030. However, new cities which still have to be build can be rather smart in 2023, with optimized energy systems, electric transport and integral communications. The process of making a global showcase can already start tomorrow. A pitfall however, is too much dependence on data transmission and processing. Wherever possible, processes have to be made autonomous. Personally, I have a bad experience with too much automation in my new home. The many control systems are counteracting each other resulting in a poor end result. The equipment has been provided by world renowned companies, but optimizing it for all the varying ambient conditions is impossible, even for a graduated measurement and control engineer. Simple thermostatic valves per room work much better than a computer controlled system. The world has to learn how to make a real smart city without just hoping that putting in huge amounts of information technology will help. The thermodynamic basics have to be correct.


Smart City Event

smart-city-event-logo_zonderjaartal1PennWell is partner of the Smart City Event. During this event 500+ smart city professionals from over 30 countries share their vision and knowledge with each other. The event contains keynote speeches, interactive round table sessions, inspiring labs, excursions, dinners, breakfast meetings and lots of networking opportunities the Smart City Event is the place to be. Curious? View the program!

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