Sustainable Cities™

Mannheim: Smart City

The first so called Smart City in Germany is Mannheim, where they have succeeded in connecting every household in the city to a smart energy network. The project is called Model City Mannheim and aims to heighten the efficiency in energy provision and raise awareness about energy amongst the inhabitants.


Germany is at the forefront when it comes to the concept of Smart Cities and many experiments are being conducted in cities throughout the country. The german interest in Smart Cities has led to the creation of an E-Energy financed program that connects technologies for energy saving with systems of communication. The first so called Smart City in Germany is Mannheim, where they have succeeded in connecting every household in the city to a smart energy network. The project is called Model City Mannheim and aims to heighten the efficiency in energy provision and raise awareness about energy amongst the inhabitants.


Smart City
Cities today not only compete in terms of quality of infrastructure or historic city centers, but increasingly more in terms of accessibility, quality of life, communication and social structures in the city. This has brought about a change in city planning, creating strategies such a the Smart City concept. The difference between a Smart City and digital or intelligent city lies in the Smart City focus on the growing importance of the combination of information- and communication technology and social- and environmental capital. Various solutions with Smart City qualities have already become part of  everyday life in many cities; bus stops stating when the next bus arrives or signs showing where there are traffic jams, for example. The Smart City concept covers an array of solutions like this, and the examples throughout the world are interesting, showing quantity, quality and innovation.

Smart Grid
A crucial part of the Smart City concept is the Smart grid, a digitally enabled power grid that collects, distributes and acts on information about energy habits. The power grid is a collaboration between many networks, energy companies and producers. The goal for a Smart Grid is to enhance the efficiency of the energy supply, as well as making the individual household or business attentive to their useage and opportunities regarding energy. In doing this, Smart Grid is believed to be an important tool in reducing the energy consumption.

Image by tjschloss, Flickr, Creative Commons

Mannheim Smart City is to be realized through the Smart Grid project "Model City Mannheim"(MoMa). Throught this project, Mannheim has managed to secure a high level of stability in energy supply and -security through a combination of central and decentral energy production. Through this, the households own production of energy,  for example from solar panels, is combined with energy from bigger energy companies´ production and thereby secures a minimum of losses through a short supply route. The Smart Grid in MoMa aims to combine the advanced communication-, sensing- and measurement infrastructures with the existing power grid. This makes for a more reliable supply since it is possible to identify and solve problems with the power grid, as well as to enhance the control of the voltage in the grid.

Energy Butler
One of the main thoughts behind the Smart Grid is to help the consumer gain better control of their indivudual enegry consumption. An innovation that could be helpful in reducing the private energy consumption and -expenses is the "Energy Butler"- a regulating, energy efficient system. An "Energy Butler"-system shows the household´s own consumption in their own home, raising awareness. Moreover, the system can be programmed to for example start the washing machine a a time when the supply of renewable energy is high and the energy prices low. The "Energy Butler"-system could be a help in changing the household´s energy habits without lowering their level of comfort, and make sure that the consumer stays in control of the system. The system also works in relation to industrial companies, where cooling facilities or aircondition can be connected to the regulating system.

Own consumption
Every individual user has their own secure password to an internet portal, where they can see information about the energy use. This could be used to monitor the household´s energy consumption, general energy prices, when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing, or the quantity of energy produced by the households as well as by the supplier. By visualizing both the energy consumtion and the energy prices in the home of the individual user, it is hoped that the users become aware of the benefits of environmentally friendly habits and assume a personal responsability for their energy consumption.

Image by tjschloss, Flickr, Creative Commons

A marketplace for energy
Another possible advantage with this new way of thinking in terms of energy supply networks is that the price of electricity could work on the basis of competition and market prices. This is made possible through the quantity of suppliers and consumers, creating a marketplace of energy. This regional marketplace of energy gathers users, producers, suppliers, distributors, and operators. Generally, energy prices drop at times when energy production from for example solar- or wind power is high, and rise when less power is available. This creates an incentive for the consumer to use energy when the supply is high. It also means that the prices of energy drops when the quantity of energy is higher than the energy consumed, for example at night. Such considerations created a foundation for new thinking in terms of both energy production and -consumption.

Smart City Mannheim will therefore through infromation-and communication systems help eliminating power breakage, establish a stabil operating safety through advanced monitoring and control. As the users gain more insight in their energy habits, they also get a better competence to make informed decisions regarding their energy costs.

So why not introduce a Smart Grid or "Energy Butler" in every city?
First of all, it is very costly to reconstruct an energy infrastructure or create a Smart Grid from scratch. Secondly, systems like the "Energy Butler" system relies heavliy on the consumers to be interested in integrating the system in their everyday life. Furthermore, it is not certain what influence the concept of a marketplace of energy could have on more vulnerable parts of society, where the ability to change consumer habits in regards to shifts in energy prices is not as strong. This is also true for public institutions such as hospitals, that can risk higher energy costs since their demand includes times of high demand and high pricing.

If one looks at energy production companies, where they have an even spread of energy consumption throughout the day, a rise in the price of energy could possibly be transfered to the individual user. Moreover, there is a risk involved in the automatically controlled system, for example in connection to identity theft. An advantage of the system is that all parties will become aware of the value of energy; it will cost more to buy products from companies that consume energy every hour of the day. A disadvantage could be the costs for individual households of installing the new power grid and Smart control systems, but an important consideration is the long term positive effect for the state, which possibly could be considered as an incentive for economical support for installations.

Read more:

>> Modellstadt Mannheim

>> Smart Aarhus
>> 'Smart Cities' - når kommunikationsteknologi skaber bæredygtige byer
>> Boulder: USA's første Smart Grid by

Last updated Tuesday, January 21, 2014