Leveraging ICT's Potential

By Mr Stancic, Deputy Director-General, European Commission, Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology
Autumn 2012

Leveraging ICT's potential in the major emitting sectors to reduce energy demand, better integrate renewables and activate consumers.

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have enabled many businesses to revolutionise their operations and achieve enormous efficiency gains in the process. These include banks, airlines, publishing, and entertainment to name but a few. The energy sector has so far been largely unaffected by advances in ICTs. However, threats to energy security, coupled with the imperative to increase the share of renewables in the energy mix, imply that ICTs are now being leveraged more and more in this sector.

But it is not only the energy sector (and especially energy distribution), but also the transport as well as the construction sectors, where we see enormous potential for green benefits from leveraging ICTs. The Digital Agenda for Europe speaks of these as the 'major emitting sectors', identifying them as priority areas for establishing partnerships with the ICT sector. The green benefits we can reap are first and foremost decreased energy consumption, as well as reduced emissions by increased efficiency of energy use and better integration of distributed, micro- and consumer-generated renewables. This will be achieved through bidirectional communication links and sensor networks alongside the energy distribution chain, on roads and inside buildings, with fast data integration and predictive analysis at the core.

To make this more vivid, think of the construction sector where ICT enables energy management and decision support systems for the individual building and beyond in order to cut energy consumption. Together with storage solutions, this allows a better alignment of renewables' generation patterns with our energy consumption. To fully reap the potential benefits, the individual building, neighbourhood or even district must not operate in isolation. Rather, it ought to contribute to overall grid balancing also, for instance by enabling the individual consumer-turned-prosumer to sell excess energy from microgeneration back to the European grid. Again, ICT plays a crucial enabling role firstly by providing the communication infrastructure and secondly by leveraging existing know-how for meeting new service provision needs that come along with smartening up the grid. Lastly, the transport sector has a major role to play in our drive towards more sustainable energy generation and consumption in the EU: be it as part of the smart grid directly (vehicle-to-grid) or through ICT-enabled real-time traffic information systems leading to less energy-consuming individual transport and more efficient public transportation. It has hence become increasingly difficult to neatly demarcate sectoral boundaries between ICT, energy, construction and transport. Indeed, these sectors are intimately intertwined in the context of working towards our green goals and it is precisely at their intersection that we see great innovation potential for strengthening Europe's industrial leadership in sustainable technologies.

It is quite clear that it is in the urban context in Europe that most of such innovations takes place and are most needed. Not only does a city provide an attractive demand side, which is important for piloting novel solutions, it often already has advanced ICT infrastructure in place, as well as established networks of trust between stakeholders from the different sectors and public authorities.

We have translated these observations into the launch of the European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities and Communities this summer as the latest addition to the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) family. Under the leadership of European Commission Vice-Presidents Kroes and Kallas and Commissioner Oettinger, the Commission plan to co-fund lighthouse projects to catalyse the market entry of innovative smart city solutions as well as taking specific horizontal actions and market-oriented measures to speed up their wide-scale commercial deployment.

As a first step, joint calls for projects on smart city solutions are planned in the Work Programme 2013 of the EU's Seventh Framework Programme
for Research and Technological Development.

Furthermore, under the Connecting Europe Facility, which the Commission has proposed for adoption by the European Parliament and Council, a total of €9.2 bn (to be combined with significant private financing) is foreseen for digital infrastructures and services which as well as broadband deployment could include the development and piloting of smart energy services.

To close with, let me stress three boundary conditions that we see on the part of the ICT sector and its solutions so that they may fully realise their enabling potential towards more sustainable energy generation and consumption.

Firstly, interoperability is a must, especially for smart city solutions. A novel market such as this one must be an open market with low entry barriers and solutions must be adaptable enough to capitalise on new breakthroughs.

Secondly, the host of data already produced (e.g. by smart meters) and still to come must be made available as much as possible to third parties and it must be done in a transparent way and in common formats - while respecting the privacy of consumers, of course. Indeed, this is going to be the resource from which novel applications targeting the end user will be built and these are essential to achieve behavioural change.

Last but not least, the ICT sector itself must further work on reducing its environmental footprint. Currently, ICT services and products are already responsible for around 8 to 10% of our electricity consumption and up to 4% of our emissions - and this is expected to double by 2020! The sector must also continue its work in adopting common standards to measure this footprint, as transparency is a precondition for progress.


"This paper expresses the personal views of the author and in no way constitutes a formal/official position of the European Commission"

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