© Hoffotografen

© Hoffotografen

Ramona Pop, Mayor and Senator for Economics, Energy and Business, Berlin

What does "smart city" mean for you?

Like most cities around the world, Berlin is facing the challenge of strong population growth. In recent years, some 50,000 new Berliners come to the city each year to live and work here.

Despite this rapid growth, Berliners have a legitimate right to expect that this growth be designed sustainably for the optimal use of increasingly scarce resources. For me, a smart city is a city where the different parts of life are networked via modern technologies and a good digital infrastructure in such a way that it can make the transition to a society post-fossil fuels, reduce the consumption of resources, increase the competitiveness of the local and regional economy over the long term, and improve the overall quality of life for its citizens.

What makes Berlin a smart city?

One of the biggest challenges for the intelligent city of tomorrow is not only coordinating the diverse stakeholders and sectors, but also making sensible use of synergies.

With around 40,000 new companies each year, Berlin is and will remain a centre for start-ups, especially in technology-orientated sectors such as IT, life sciences, electrical engineering, and systems design. Berlin has a high level of competence, especially in the growing, technology-focused industries, as can be seen in the attractive "assortment" of companies we have here.

One reason why high-tech companies opt to locate in Berlin is that they can benefit from a research and university landscape that is truly one-of-a-kind in Germany.

Berlin is also Germany's digital capital. However, digitalisation is not an end in itself for Berlin, but a central lever that is turning our city into a smart city. In Berlin, for example, we have set ourselves the ambitious goal of being climate neutral by 2050.

This goal can only be achieved by networking the different energy sources, producers, consumers, and energy infrastructures. Concrete measures can also be found in our BEK energy and climate protection programme for Power-to-X, virtual power plants, decentralised energy generation, neighbourhood concepts, networked mobility solutions, and energy storage systems. The latter especially play an essential role in the flexible and smart energy market of the future.

The mobility transition is also playing a decisive role for us, as you know. In addition to the expansion of the bicycle infrastructure, the field of electric mobility is making a major contribution. This is necessary in order to meet our goal of climate neutrality. There are currently about 5,000 registered electric vehicles in Berlin and 400 publicly accessible charging stations (700 charging points), 9 of them fast-charging stations. Our public transport is also moving in the same direction: the state-owned transport companies are increasingly focusing on electric vehicles, with more than 250 in their fleets. Joint projects like the Smart Business District also help network energy and mobility.

Which measures and projects already being implemented are stand-out projects for Smart City Berlin?

Of course, the idea of success should not focus on individual projects. What matters is the networking of approaches, the expansion of the smart ecosystem in the city. But if you want me to name two, I'd say:

  • WindNode: where consumers in industry, commerce, and large residential areas are identified as being able to flexibly adapt their energy requirements to fluctuations in energy coming wind and solar power plants. Further flexibility options are also offered by sector-coupling applications, i.e/ electricity, heat, refrigeration, and mobility.  
  • And the EUREF campus: more than ten years ago, the foundation stone was laid for a real laboratory for the energy transition. With an innovative community of business and science, a climate-neutral energy supply, the intelligent energy network, the energy-efficient buildings, the testing platform for the mobility of the future, and numerous other research projects, EUREF has demonstrated on a daily basis that the energy transition is feasible and affordable.

As part of the WindNODE consortium project, GASAG Solution Plus GmbH, Stromnetz Berlin, GETEC, BLS Energieplan, and EUREF Consulting are implementing a Power-to-Heat/Cool system. The aim of the subproject is to use surplus electricity from sun and wind from Berlin's surrounding countryside for heating and cooling production using a 500 kW Power-to-Heat (P2H) system in combination with a 200 kW Power-to-Cool (P2C) system.

The WindNODE project is also bearing fruits away from the EUREF campus, namely in the middle of Schöneberg here in the heart of Berlin: the Schwarz Group, operator of Lidl on the high street there, has joined the load flexibilisation project.

  • Intelligent control of the energy used by the discount stores and, in particular, the control of the refrigeration/freezer units can make their consumption of energy more flexible over time. The frozen food kept in -18°C freezers can actually be cooled lower than -18°C when there is an oversupply of power (it doesn't harm the products), but then it will keep them cold enough longer, meaning the motors on the coolers don't necessarily have to run while delivering the same cooling capacity.

Where else do you see potential?

Certainly in the further expansion of the digital infrastructure. Broadband networks are an important factor for people deciding to locate in the smart city as well as for our vibrant start-up scene and the approximately 180,000 companies and micro-enterprises here in Berlin.

Overall, the situation in Berlin good (min. 50 Mbps for 90.6% of private households and for 97% of businesses), although most of the so-called "last mile" with fibreoptic cables has not yet to be built here in Berlin. We want to meet these requirements together with the participating network operators, infrastructure owners such as the utilities and housing industry, and the state-owned enterprises. For this purpose, a concept and set of measures for expanding the fibreoptic network at least up to the property lines will be implemented quickly

There are three key elements to this: first, an online broadband platform that provides interactive demand and needs reporting and provides a variety of information about the broadband supply. Second, a broadband dialogue for Berlin, in which the co-operation of all actors involved in the broadband expansion will be coordinated at both the technical and working levels Third, the "Broadband Competence Team Berlin" will provide expertise, design, and coaching services.

What do the citizens of Berlin want from your point of view and experiences?

Greater sustainability, which is also visible in their immediate living environment, but also quickly and easily addressing their concerns through realistic (i.e. digitalised) processes. In addition, most people want safe and clean transportation throughout the city.

It is important that it's not just policymakers and the state who can solve the problems that will arise. The digital revolution and the concept of the intelligent city of tomorrow must lead to a reorientation of society as the problems of the future can only be solved in a participatory manner across all sectors of society. Effective and efficient solutions must be found, especially in view of global climate change and dwindling resources, and the concept of the smart city can be the key. 

What can be done at the mayor-level to ensure that a city growing as a fast as Berlin remains a great place to live and possibly even more better?

Around 75% of global energy and resource needs are in cities. At the same time, the proximity of utilities and consumers provides a good basis for implementing integrative concepts. As an experimental space, where the majority of new energy technologies and infrastructures are implemented, cities play an important role. Policymakers and industry alike are called upon to work on intelligent, sustainable solutions. 

Berlin is already a laboratory where work is being done to make optimal use of resources for a better quality of life. The wide range of data about the city and its infrastructure need to be opened up and exploited even more. Berlin was Germany's first city to have an open data portal. This needs to be expanded. We are doing this with the Data Hub Berlin project, which is integrating all the various approaches

We are also modernising Berlin ecologically. With the unleashing of the Stadtwerk [city utility company], we are advancing the energy transition in Berlin. Berliners can now source local green electricity. We have created a modern energy service provider for the city, which is also a major player in the energy renovation of public buildings. 

What does the city of the future look like for you? What will or should Berlin look like in 2050?

Berlin should be a city of freedom in 2050 just as it is today. In fact, Berlin is currently at a kind of turning point. The city has developed into a real metropolis, it is growing, jobs are being created, people are moving here, and economically, things are moving forward. With all this growth, we also need the foresight to make this development sustainable. Not only does a liveable city have enough affordable housing, Berlin also cannot suffocate in nitrogen and carbon dioxide. The smart city approach will maintain the quality of life in Berlin in 2050 as well.