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Afgelopen dinsdag 23 augustus organiseerde de werkgroep SES een digitale community sessie. Hierbij sprak Naut Loots van de gemeente Amsterdam over hun aanpak op netcongestie en de rol van slimme energieoplossingen hierin. De sessie is hier terug te zien: https://vimeo.com/hendev/ses-adam-23aug22.
Digitale technologie en data zijn essentieel voor de energietransitie. In de energietransitie geldt: geen stroom zonder data. Digitale innovaties bieden uitkomst om vraag en aanbod van elektriciteit in balans te houden, binnen de beschikbare netcapaciteit. Zelf leveren ze ook een stroom van data op.
Tegenover de kansen die digitale technologie en data bieden voor de energietransitie, staan zorgen over bijvoorbeeld de zeggenschap van burgers over hun gegevens, de cyberveiligheid van de energievoorziening en de verdeling van lusten en lasten van een datagedreven energiemarkt.
In het rapport Stroom van data. Energiedata benutten voor een maatschappelijk verantwoorde energietransitie onderzoekt het Rathenau Instituut hoe data gebruikt kunnen worden voor een duurzame energievoorziening. Het rapport bevat een analyse van de concept-Energiewet en de afspraken voor data-uitwisseling die sectorpartijen zelf al maken. Vier case studies illustreren welke kwesties opspelen bij het gebruik van data voor de stroomvoorziening. De cases gaan over burgers die zich verenigen om lokaal energie op te wekken en te gebruiken, een virtuele energiecentrale, een platform voor balanshandhaving op het elektriciteitsnet en een platform om overbelasting op het net te voorkomen.
Op dinsdag 5 juli, organiseerde de werkgroep slimme energie systemen (SES) van de Provincie Noord-Holland, TenneT en Liander een digitale sessie voor de SES community. Hierin vertelde Liander over congestiemanagement 2.0 en gaf de Provincie inzicht in de aankomende subsidieregeling voor SES projecten.
Updates ontvangen van en/of meedoen aan de community? Mail naar email@example.com
In 2021, the city of Amsterdam has cooperated with citizen-led energy initiatives and The Democratic Society to bring about a decarbonised, decentralised energy future. Read the conclusions and six recommendations in the article by Kate Goodwin of the Democratic Society and Thomas de Groot of the Commons Network!
Samen energie besparen. Samen impact maken.
Het is oorlog in Oekraïne. Een oorlog die deels gefinancierd wordt met de opbrengst van de verkoop van fossiele brandstoffen aan het Westen – dus ook aan Nederland. Ruim 15% van het gas dat we verbruiken in Nederland komt uit Rusland. Als we samen een aantal eenvoudige besparingsstappen zetten, maken we ons energie-onafhankelijker. Benieuw hoe jouw organisatie minder last van de hoge energieprijzen kan hebben en haar duurzame doelen sneller bereikt?
Volg deze zes eenvoudige stappen om energie te besparen
 Naar huis? Lichten uit.
Onze energierekening stijgt, we moeten nu minder afhankelijk worden van gas uit Rusland én we willen klimaatverandering tegengaan. Doe voor je het kantoor verlaat alle lichten en computers uit. Het helpt! #zetookdeknopom
 Mag het een graadje minder?
Onze energierekening stijgt, we moeten nu minder afhankelijk worden van gas uit Rusland én we willen klimaatverandering tegengaan. Zet de verwarming op kantoor op max. 19 graden een draag een trui. Echt, dat graadje minder helpt! #zetookdeknopom
 Koel en verwarm in proportie
Onze energierekening stijgt, we moeten nu minder afhankelijk worden van gas uit Rusland én we willen klimaatverandering tegengaan. Moet de koeling niet veel te hard draaien voor de grootte van de ruimte en de temperatuur buiten? Check en pas het aan. #zetookdeknopom
 Druk de ECO-knop in
Onze energierekening stijgt, we moeten nu minder afhankelijk worden van gas uit Rusland én we willen klimaatverandering tegengaan. Druk op de spaarstand in van de vaatwasser en elektrische apparatuur, zet energiebesparing aan op je laptop en kijk eens naar het power management van je dataservers. Check en pas het aan. #zetookdeknopom
 Wek je eigen energie op
Onze energierekening stijgt, we moeten nu minder afhankelijk worden van gas uit Rusland én we willen klimaatverandering tegengaan. Plaats zonnepanelen boven op het dak van jouw kantoor of vraag jouw verhuurder om het te doen. #zetookdeknopom
 Pak wat vaker de fiets
Onze energierekening stijgt, we moeten nu minder afhankelijk worden van gas uit Rusland én we willen klimaatverandering tegengaan. Wat jij kunt doen? Laat je auto staan en pak wat vaker de fiets. Trappen helpt, ook voor je gezondheid! #zetookdeknopom
- Spread the word. Laat zien wat jouw organisatie doet om energie te besparen. Deel deze campagne én jouw acties op social media en websites.
- Besparen is verplicht. Grotere organisaties zijn verplicht om maatregelen te nemen waarvan vaststaat dat ze binnen 5 jaar terug te verdienen zijn. Dit zijn ook handige lijstjes voor kleinere organisaties: handhaaf de wet – tussen kolen & Parijs (urgenda.nl) En kijk bij https://www.zetookdeknopom.nl/bedrijven.
- Bespaar ook thuis. Ook thuis kan je tegengas geven door energie te besparen. Kijk voor meer ideeën op https://www.zetookdeknopom.nl/.
Om het doel van 15% minder gas te halen in 2022 zullen er meer campagnes en ondersteuning komen voor bewoners en bedrijven van een aantal samenwerkende partijen in de Metropoolregio Amsterdam (met o.a. Amsterdam Economic Board, Duurzaamheidsraad Amsterdam, gemeente Amsterdam, Green Business Club, Metropoolregio Amsterdam, 02025).
I updated and put together 75 posts and articles about the energy transition in a new e-book (in Dutch) 'Kennisdossier Zonne-energie' (120 pages). If you interested, download it for free with the link below.
The energy transition is in full swing. Besides manpower, it requires a lot of materials, products and infrastructure. Windmills, solar panels, batteries and water pumps contribute fully to this transition, but are still hardly purchased, produced or reused in a circular manner. With the global economy changing and the shortages of raw materials growing, it’s important to look at the materials we use in the energy transition. How can we limit the negative impact of these materials needed for the energy transition?
It's clear that this question is on the minds of several partners. For example, at the Transition Days 2021, the Province of North Holland suggested that a knowledge agenda should be drawn up. In the meantime, our partners AMS Institute and the City of Amsterdam have started a project aimed at the reuse of solar panels in Amsterdam-Southeast and linked this with social issues. Next to that, the companies Pontiflex and Cenex Netherlands (in collaboration with the University of Applied Sciences) are focusing on the reuse of wind turbine components in new bridge structures and EV batteries.
On March 17, Amsterdam Smart City organized a work session during the Demoday Circular & Energy so our partners could discuss their input and vision on the importance of a circular energy transition. Some think it's important to have an ''integrated approach to circularity and energy'', others seek further ''stimulus that enables circular reuse of materials''. But if we want to scale up the energy transition circularly, what obstacles and opportunities do we see together? The challenges and obstacles are mapped for the different physical products via the digital tool Miro. Check out the English version of the Miro board here.
The key challenges raised by the participants:
1. Not all procurement procedures allow for circular material use or are limited to steel and concrete. Or requirements and criteria do not match.
2. Local and regional logistics in relation to transport and labor costs.
3. The business case: often a low financial return and therefore less attractive to the market. Practice shows that to be able to experiment, subsidy or other funding is needed.
4. Laws, regulations and certification of circular products stand in the way. Often the same norms and standards must be applied as for new products.
5. Education to encourage a new generation of students to work more with biobased and circular materials in projects
Now that the obstacles are visible, the challenge is to find a common approach. Through a follow-up session, Amsterdam Smart City will invite the partners again to think about the next steps. In the end we need each other to take the circular energy transition one step further.
If you have any thoughts on this topic or have a related question for us, please let us know in the comments or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 20th episode of the Better Cities - The contribution of digital technology-series is about electrification, as part of climate adaptation. Based on this theme, both the role of digital technology and the relationship between digital and social innovation will be illustrated.
The Dutch government has dug deep into its pockets to get citizens and companies to cover their roofs with solar panels and to encourage the construction of solar meadows. Favorable tax facilities have been created and a generous so-called ‘salderingsregeling’ has been set up, and with success.
Solar energy and grid overload
Most citizens are very satisfied with solar panels and their impact on the energy bill. So far, no audit office has checked what the government pays for a kilowatt hour of electricity that citizens produce on their roofs. This includes the costs of the aforementioned (tax) facilities and subsidies, as well as the billions in investments in grid reinforcement resulting from the large-scale (re)delivery to the grid of decentral generated energy. In fact, when there is more supply than demand for electricity on the grid, the wholesale price of electricity is negative. In that case, thanks to the ‘salderingsregeling’, the electricity company pays back the full amount and also has to pay(!) companies that buy electricity at that time!
And now? Now the government suffers the consequences and is limiting the growth in the number of solar panels. Many requests for the large-scale generation of solar energy are waiting for a license because the electricity grid in large parts of the Netherlands is overloaded.
There are three ways to solve this problem. The first is to increase the capacity of the high-voltage grid. The second is large-scale storage of electricity, both for the short and the long term. The third is network management. The least elegant solution here is curtailment which means that the capacity of all solar meadows and wind farms is only used for 70%. A better alternative is the construction of smart grids; this is what this article is about. Smart grids have more to do with digitization than with extra cables. *A smart grid is an energy system in which PV panels, electric cars, heat pumps, household appliances, large but also small-scale storage systems and substations are intelligently connected.*However, more attention to energy storage is desperately needed too and high-voltage grid reinforcement will also be inevitable locally.
From centralized to decentralized electricity supply
Electricity infrastructure around the world is designed for centralized electricity generation, characterized by one-way traffic from producer to consumer. Now that many consumers have also become producers ('prosumers') and solar meadows and wind farms are being developed in many places in addition to the usual power plants, the network structure of the future must be decentralized. It will consist of two or three levels. Together, these will ensure a stable system in which much more electricity is used than today. This new structure is at the forefront of development. In 2016, approximately $47 billion was spent worldwide on infrastructure and software to make the electricity system more flexible, integrate renewable energy and better serve customers. The book Promoting Digital Innovations to Advance Clean Energy System (2018) is an excellent overview of these developments. This book can here be downloaded for free.
Most prosumers supply an average of 65% of the generated electricity back to the main grid. Own storage capacity is part of the solution and creates a mini grid that significantly reduces the need to supply back. Otherwise, there are times when the main grid benefits from supplying back locally generated power. Therefore, the next step is for main and mini grids to communicate with each other. In this case we speak of a smart grid: The management of energy production in large-scale power stations (including wind and solar parks) will then take place in conjunction with the regulation of the inflow and outflow of electricity from the main grid to the mini grids. This may also include signals to households to charge or discharge batteries, turn on the boiler, postpone charging the car or stop the production of energy. An automated monitoring and control system is a necessary enabler here.
The exchange of data between mini grids and the main grid has many privacy aspects, especially if the grid operator can influence what goes on 'behind the meter'. An intermediate layer between main and mini grids offers a solution. We then speak of a microgrid. This is a kind of switch between the main grid and the micro grid, that enables the micro grid even to function autonomously in the event of a failure of the main grid.
A microgrid contains three elements:
1. Installation(s) for local energy production for more than one user (usually a neighborhood): solar panels, wind turbines, cogeneration, heat pump(s), biomass power station, hydropower turbine and possibly an emergency production system (generator).
2. A storage system: home and neighborhood batteries and in the future also supercapacitors and chemical latent heat storage.
3. A digital management system to guarantee the balance between the production of and the demand for electricity, to determine how much energy is taken from or returned to the main grid and which calculates the costs and benefits per household.
In a micro grid, households can exchange their surpluses and shortages of electricity without the direct intervention of the grid operator or the electricity producers. These are solely related to the surpluses and deficits of the entire microgrid, eliminating the need to interfere in the mini grids of individual households. Thanks to the real-time monitoring of electricity production and consumption, the price of electricity can be determined minute by minute. For example, the households that are part of the microgrid can agree to purchase as much electricity as possible when the price is low. At such moments, home batteries, electric cars, any neighborhood battery and boilers and hot water barrels will be charged and heated. This can be done fully automated. For example, the Powermatcher, an open-source application developed by TNO, which now employs 1000 people in the Netherlands. This video illustrates how a microgrid works.
A microgrid gains extra value if the users form an energy cooperative. Here it is possible to decide about the algorithms that regulate the circulation of the current in the microgrid. A cooperative can also take care of the management and maintenance of the solar panels of other collective facilities such as a neighborhood battery, local energy sources (wind or solar park or geothermal heat). The cooperative is also a good means of negotiating with the network operator and the energy company.
The virtual power plant
By linking heat pump technology, energy generation and energy storage at the district level, a significant step can be made with the energy transition. Here are some examples.
The Amsterdam virtual power plant
An almost classic example of a microgrid is the Amsterdam virtual power plant. Here, 50 households produce electricity with solar panels, store it in-house and trade it according to availability when the price on the energy market is most favorable.
Future Living Berlin
This is a nice small-scale practical example developed by Panasonic. Future Living Berlin consists of a neighborhood with apartment buildings for a total of 90 households. The residential buildings are equipped with 600 solar panels that, together with a collective battery system, provide a constant flow of sustainable energy. Among others, to power the seventeen central air/water heat pumps, of which two to five per residential building are installed in a cascade and provide heating and hot tap water. The shared cars and communal washing machines are good for the environment, and they also promote neighborly contact. The Internet of Things also plays a role in controlling the heat pumps. Installers maintain remote access to these systems via a cloud platform.
Tesla's Virtual Power Plant
Tesla has built a virtual power plant in Australia for 50,000 households. Every household has solar panels, with a capacity of 5 kilowatts and a Tesla Powerwall battery of 13.5 kilowatt-hours. As a result, the power station has a capacity of 250 megawatts and a storage capacity of 675 megawatt-hours. Here too, every household charges the battery and possibly the car with self-generated energy and with cheap energy if the supply is large, and they supply the energy they have left to the electricity companies at the market price. In this way the participants save 20% of the annual energy costs.
The ultimate step: autarky
Companies that want to use solar panels and supply the surplus of energy back to the grid are also increasingly encountering the capacity limitations of the main grid. The result is that an increasing number of businesses take power supply into their own hands and even completely refraining from being connected to the grid. Commercial solutions for local virtual power grids are now available, for which companies such as Alfen and Joulz are involved. One of the options is Energy-as-a-service, where the business customer does not invest in an installation but pay a fixed amount per month.
The use of blockchain
Blockchain enables exchanging surplus energy between prosumers without human intervention. Brooklyn Microgrid is a 'benefit corporation', to which every resident who has solar panels can connect and buy energy directly from or sell energy to another user (P2P), without the intervention of the electricity company. Blockchain provides a secure, transparent, and decentralized ledger of all energy production and consumption data and transactions based on 'smart contracts'. These are self-executing programs that automate the exchange of value (here, the amount of electricity) on bilaterally agreed terms. Home and neighborhood batteries, individual and collective heat pumps and charging stations for cars can also be connected to this system.
A similar pilot with blockchain is taking place in the southern German town of Wilpoldsried. Project partners Siemens, grid operator AllgäuNetz, Kempten University of Applied Sciences and the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology (FIT) have jointly developed the platform and an app, considering the given load capacity of the grid.
Digital twins: need for oversight
Smart grids, ranging from local mini and micro grids to regional applications, are a substantial alternative to grid reinforcement. At the same time, they create new electricity flows, especially where there is a direct exchange between smart grids and the main grid. That is why there is a growing need to map these flows and regulate them where necessary. Digital twins can be helpful here.
Delft University of Technology has developed a small digital twin for a quarter of the Dutch high-voltage grid. This will gradually be expanded to encompass the entire network. To this end, the existing high-voltage hall of TU Delft will be converted into an Electrical Sustainable Power Lab, which will mirror the electricity network, including high-voltage pylons, sources of wind and solar energy, energy storage and distribution networks. This allows, for example, to simulate the effect of linking a new wind farm. As a result, it provides an overview of all bottlenecks and thus lays the foundation for better network management or the choice for grid reinforcement.
But there are also many promising developments at the local level. For that we must be in the US for the time being. The Cityzenith company, together with Arizona State University, has developed the SmartWorldOS digital twin and is making it available to Phoenix, Las Vegas and New York. Each of these cities is building a digital twin of a part of the center. The twins comprise all the buildings, transportation systems and infrastructure of the affected areas and are powered by sensors sent over a 5G network. They aggregate 3D (space) and 4D (time) data about the actual energy use and visualize and analyze it. Subsequently, the impact of other forms of lighting, heating, but also electricity generation with solar panels on the roof, on the facades and in the windows can be simulated and measured and a decision can be made about their implementation.
I have compiled a dossier on many aspects of the use of solar energy. This dossier deepens this article in several respects. Innovations in solar panels, the use of window glass to generate energy, the growth of solar energy in the Netherlands and the storage of electricity are discussed. Those who are interested can find this file by following the link below.
De stad Amsterdam groeit hard, de samenleving digitaliseert én we willen zo snel
mogelijk overstappen op duurzame energiebronnen. Deze factoren samen veroorzaken letterlijk spanningen op het elektriciteitsnet, onder andere in Amsterdam-West.
In het voorjaar van 2021 organiseerde de gemeente Amsterdam daarom samen met netbeheerder Liander een marktconsultatie. Het doel: creatieve en innovatieve ideeën ophalen om ons elektriciteitsnet zo flexibel, efficiënt en toekomstbestendig mogelijk te maken.
Hieronder vind je een greep uit de behaalde doelen en resultaten:
· Het bedrijfsleven denkt oplossingsgericht mee over de uitdagingen rondom de
· Verkenning en inventarisatie van technieken die een bijdrage kunnen leveren aan het
versterken van ons elektriciteitsnet
· Inzicht in de laatste stand van zaken betreffende bekende technieken
· Update van actieve marktpartijen op het gebied van flexibiliteit
De volledige terugkoppeling van de marktconsultatie vind je via de link onder dit artikel.
Vervolgstap: voorbereiding aanbestedingsproject
De marktconsultatie heeft er mede toe geleid dat netbeheerder Liander voldoende kansen en mogelijkheden ziet om de uitdagingen rondom de elektriciteitsvoorziening in Amsterdam-West succesvol aan te pakken. Het bedrijf is daarom gestart met de voorbereiding van een aanbestedingstraject.
Bijeenkomst aanbesteding Westhaven
In het verzorgingsgebied van verdeelstation Westhaven is sprake van congestie. Als tijdelijke oplossing zal Liander in dit gebied congestiemanagement toepassen totdat het netwerk verzwaard is. Om bestaande en nieuwe klanten, dienstverleners en marktpartijen te informeren over het oplossen van de congestieproblematiek en de aanstaande aanbesteding, organiseert Liander een informatiebijeenkomst.
U bent welkom op woensdag 23 maart van 15-17 uur in de PRODOCK-ruimte van Port of Amsterdam (Moezelhavenweg 9, 1043 AM Amsterdam). Met vragen over de bijeenkomst kunt u terecht bij Stef Lammers (email@example.com).
Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to live in a fully circular and sustainable city?
Around the world, cities are testing out real-life solutions to urban challenges in small open innovation ecosystems that allow them to demonstrate circular principles in action.
Learn more about how cities are embracing experimentation.
In the 13th episode of the Better cities -The contribution of digital technology-series I will continue the description of applications of digital technology and their evaluation based on relevant ethical principles treated in episode 9. Episode 12 discussed: (1) Internet of Things, (2) robotics, and (3) biometrics. Below, I will cover (4) Immersive technology (augmented and virtual reality), (5) blockchain and (6) platforms. By way of conclusion, I return to the implications of all these applications for governance.
The ethical principles mentioned in chapter 9 are: privacy, autonomy, security, control, human dignity, justice, and power relations.
4. Immersive technology (augmented and virtual reality)
Augmented reality adds information to our perception. The oldest examples are messages that pilots of super-fast fighter planes could read on their glasses, so that they eyes without interruption could follow their "target". Its most popular application is the game Pokémon Go. Additional information via the smartphone screen is also often available when visiting 'places of interest'. The infamous Google Glasses were an excellent tool for this purpose but due to the obvious risk of privacy violations their application soon came to an end. This is unfortunate for certain groups, for example the hearing impaired.
Virtual reality goes much further by replacing our sensory perception by images of an artificial world. This requires a special helmet, such as the oculus rift. Applications mainly find their way through gaming. But it is also possible to show the interior of a house in three dimensions or to take a virtual walk through a neighborhood that is yet to be built.
A primitive form of virtual reality was Second live, in which the screen gave access to an alternative reality, in which your avatar communicates with others’. That could go a long way, like someone who reported being raped by a fellow avatar. Nowadays, the capabilities of augmented reality are expanding rapidly. Think of a virtual space where the user meets others to converse, listen, or to do whatever.
Augmented reality takes you to the metaverse, which was first described by Neil Stephenson in his dystopian book Snow Crash in 1992. As the power of computers grew, the idea of the metaverse gained new impetus and recently Marc Zuckerberg announced that his new company Meta Platforms will gradually turn Facebook into a fully digital world. This immerses the users in the most diverse experiences, which they partly evoke themselves, such as communicating with other avatars, attending a concert, going to the disco, and getting acquainted with strangers and of course going to shops, because it remains a medium to make money.
Only recently, Microsoft has also announced that it would bring its operating system (Windows), web servers (Azure), communication networks (Teams and Linkedin) hardware (HoloLens), entertainment (Xbox) and IP (Minecraft) together in a virtual reality. The recent €60 billion-acquisition of game producer Activision Blizzard, producer of the Call of Duty video games, fits in with this policy and indicates that the company expects to make a lot of money with its version of the metaverse.
In the expected struggle between the titans, Amazon will probably join in and build the virtual mall of and for everyone's dreams.
It remains to be seen whether a younger generation, less consumer-addicted and more concerned about nature, is waiting for a completely artificial world. I hope not.
The risks of augmented reality have been widely mentioned from the start. For example, for research purposes, Google had been given the right to remotely track the movements of the eyes of people wearing Google glasses. For the rest, it is not only governments and companies that will spy on people, but above all people will spy on each other.
After a short time, those who move through the metaverse develop balance problems. Worse is that the risk of addiction is high.
There is a danger that people who frequently dwell in imaginary worlds can no longer distinguish fake and real and alienate from themselves in the 'real' world and lose the social skills that are necessary in it.
Big Tech is getting even more tools to analyze our preferences and influence us, including through deep fakes, which can imitate existing people in real life. This raises questions about the risks that citizens run, and about the even greater role of companies that offer immersive technology.
Blockchain makes it possible to record transactions (of money, securities, contracts, and objects) without the mediation of an authorized body (government, employer, bank, notary). The first version of blockchain was bitcoin, initially only intended for financial transactions. Today, there are hundreds of variants, of which Ethereum is the most widely used.
The essence of blockchain is that the database of all transactions, the ledger, is stored on everyone's computer and is therefore accessible to every user. Miners ensure that a cryptocurrency is only used for one transaction or that a contract is not changed afterwards by one of the parties involved. Once most miners have approved a series of transactions, these transactions together form an unchangeable block.
Miners are eager to approve blocks, because whoever turns out to have done so first will receive a significant fee in cryptocurrency. Mining takes time and, above all, requires a huge amount of computing power and therefore energy. Alternative methods are diligently sought, such as a method that mainly concerns the reputation of the miner.
Blockchain stems from a drive for radical decentralization and reduction of the power of states, banks, and companies. That has worked out differently in practice. It is mainly governments and large companies in the US, Russia, China, South Korea, and the Netherlands, for example Albert Heijn, that are ensuring a steady increase.
As a means of securely storing transactions and recording mutual obligations, as in the case of digital autonomous organizations and smart contacts, blockchain has more potential than as a cryptocurrency. An absolute precondition is finding an alternative for the high consumption of energy.
Blockchain grew out of the pursuit of escaping the ubiquitous eavesdropping enterprises and state. That is why dubious transactions are preferably handled with cryptocurrency. There is no complete anonymity, because cryptocurrency must be regularly exchanged for official money,
Perhaps more human autonomy comes into its own in blockchain than in any other system. For this it is necessary to know how it works well. This is all the truer in the case of non-financial transactions.
There are certain risks: The moment a miner has more than 50% of the computer capacity, it can completely corrupt the system. This situation is not imaginary. In 2019, there were two Chinese miners who together owned more than the half of computer capacity.
Not much is known about the position of miners. There is a tendency towards ever-increasing concentration, which carries dangers about the sustainability of the system. As concentration increases, cryptocurrency holdings will also become increasingly skewed. After all, it is the miners who ensure the expansion of the available amount of money.
6. Digital platforms
Companies such as Amazon, Uber and Airbnb represent a new form of economic activity that has far-reaching consequences for other companies and urban life. They essentially consist of digital platforms that bring providers and consumers together.
Imagine you are in Amazon's virtual fitting room. You sit on a chair and a series of models pass by all of which exactly have your figure and size and maybe also your appearance. You can vary endlessly what they are wearing, until you have found or put together the outfit of your dreams. This can apply to all conceivable purchases, up to cars, including a driving simulator. With the push of a button, it is ordered and a few hours later the drone drops your order at your doorstep.
Digital platforms bring together a range of digital technology applications, such as Internet of Things, robotics, immersive technology, artificial intelligence and blockchain, to monitor the immense flows of goods and services.
In the world of platforms, privacy is of little or no importance. Companies want to earn as much as possible from you and therefore collect masses of information about your behavior, preferences, and expenses. This in exchange for convenience and free gadgets such as navigation, search engines and email.
Some platforms are part of the sharing economy. They enable direct transactions between people and, as in the case of Airbnb, provide an unprecedented range of accommodations from which to choose.
Employees in platform companies often have poor labor conditions. For example, Uber drivers are followed, checked, and assessed all day long. In distribution centers, all remaining human actions are prescribed down to the minute.
In these companies, a large gap arises between the small inner circle of managers and technicians and the large outer circle of "contractors" that the company has nothing to do with and who have nothing to do with the company.
These companies also contribute to widening the gap between rich and poor; the unprecedentedly large earnings go to top management and shareholders and, where possible, tax is avoided.
Platforms like Airbnb make it possible to distort competition on a large scale; the accommodations they rent out do not comply with the safety and tax rules that apply to regular companies.
The growth of platforms that have taken on monopolistic forms is the major cause of urban disruption without contributing to the costs it entails for the community.
Back to governance
In the previous articles, I have elaborated a framework for dealing with digitization in a socially responsible manner. Two lines of thought developed in this, that of the value of digital technology and that of its ethical use.
The value of digital technology
Digital technology must be given shape and content as one of the tools with which a city works towards an ecologically and socially sustainable future. To help articulate what such a future means, I introduced Kate Raworth's ideas about the donut economy. The design of a vision of the future must be a broadly supported democratic process, in which citizens also test the solution of their inclining problems against the sustainable prosperity of future generations and that of people elsewhere in the world.
The most important question when it comes to (digital) technology is therefore which (digital) technological tools contribute to the realization of a socially and ecologically sustainable city?
The ethical use of technology
In the world in which we try to realize the sustainable city of the future, digital technology is developing rapidly, in the fort place under the influence of commercial and political interests. Cities are confronted with these technologies through powerful smart city technology marketing.
The most important question for cities to ask is How do we assess available technologies from an ethical perspective.
In the government of cities, both trains of thought come together: Together, the answers to these questions can lead to the choice, design, and application of digital techniques as part of the realization of a vision for an ecologically and socially sustainable future of the city.
In the next two articles I examine how ethical principles are dealt with in practice. In the first article I will put Amsterdam in the spotlight and next, I look at how several municipalities are digitizing responsibly in the context of the Agenda stad.
The link below opens an overview of all published and future articles in this series.
“The essence of systems thinking is that you don't look at an object on its own, you consider everything that it is connected to.” Eva Gladek, founder and CEO of Metabolic.
How does systems thinking look in practice? A systems map is a good way to show how everything is interconnected and how different parts influence each other.
At Metabolic, we use systems thinking as a core strategy to advance our vision of a circular and sustainable economy. Check out how this approach delivers sustainable solutions.
In the 12th and 13th episode of the series Better cities: The contribution of digital technology, I will use the ethical principles from the 9th episode to assess several applications of digital technology. This episode discusses: (1) Internet of Things, (2) robotics and (3) biometrics. Next week I will continue with (4) Immersive technology (augmented and virtual reality), (5) blockchain and (6) platforms.
These techniques establish reciprocal connections (cybernetic loops) between the physical and the digital world. I will describe each of them briefly, followed by comments on their ethical aspects: privacy, autonomy, security, control, human dignity, justice, and power relations, insofar relevant. The book Opwaarderen: Borgen van publieke waarden in de digitale samenleving. Rathenau Instituut 2017 proved to be valuable for this purpose. Rathenau Institute 2017.
The Internet-of-Things connects objects via sensors with devices that process this data (remotely). The pedometer on the smartphone is an example of data collection on people. In time, data about everyone's health might be collected and evaluated at distance. For the time being, this mainly concerns data of objects. A well-known example is the 'smart meter'. More and more household equipment is connected to the Internet and transmits data about their use. For a long time, Samsung smart televisions had a built-in television camera and microphone with which the behavior of the viewers could be observed. Digital roommates such as Alexa and Siri are also technically able to pass on everything that is said in their environment to their bosses.
Machines, but also trains and trucks are full of sensors to monitor their functioning. Traffic is tracked with sensors of all kinds which measure among many others the quantity of exhaust gases and particulate matter. In many places in the world, people are be monitored with hundreds of thousands CCTV’s. A simple signature from American owners of a Ring doorbell is enough to pass on to the police the countenance of those who come to the front door. Orwell couldn't have imagined.
Internet of Things makes it possible to always track every person, inside and outside the home. When it comes to collecting data in-house, the biggest problem is obscurity and lack of transparency. Digital home-law can be a solution, meaning that no device collects data unless explicit permission is given. A better solution is for manufacturers to think about why they want to collect all this data at all.
Once someone leaves the house, things get trickier. In many Dutch cities 'tracking' of mobile phones has been banned, but elsewhere a range of means is available to register everyone's (purchasing) behavior. Fortunately, legislation on this point in Europe is becoming increasingly strict.
The goal of constant addition of more 'gadges' to devices and selling them as 'smart' is to entice people to buy them, even if previous versions are far from worn out. Sailing is surrounded by all of persuasive techniques that affect people's free will. Facebook very deftly influences our moods through the selection of its newsfeeds. Media, advertisers, and companies should consider the desirability of taking a few steps back in this regard. For the sake of people and the environment.
Sensors in home appliances use to be poorly secured and give cybercriminals easy access to other devices. For those who want to control their devices centrally and want them to communicate with each other’s too, a closed network - a form of 'edge computing' - is a solution. Owners can then decide for themselves which data may be 'exposed', for example for alarms or for balancing the electricity network. I will come back to that in a later episode.
People who, for example, control the lighting of their home via an app, are already experiencing problems when the phone battery is empty. Experience also shows that setting up a wireless system is not easy and that unwanted interferences often occur. Simply changing a lamp is no longer sufficient to solve this kinds of problems. For many people, control over their own home slips out of their hands.
The digital component of many devices and in particular the dependence on well-configured software makes people increasingly dependent on suppliers, who at the same time are less and less able to meet the associated demand for service and support.
Robotics is making its appearance at great speed. In almost every heart surgery, robotics is used to make the surgeon's movements more precise, and some operations are performed (almost) completely automatically. Robots are increasingly being used in healthcare, to support or replace healthcare providers. Also think of robots that can observe 3D and crawl through the sewage system. They help to solve or prevent leakages, or they take samples to detect sources of contamination. Leeds aims to be the first 'self-repairing city' by 2035. ‘Self-driving' cars and metro trains are other examples. Most warehouses and factories are full of robots. They are also making their appearance in households, such as vacuum cleaners or lawnmowers. Robots transmit large amounts of information and are therefore essential parts of the Internet of Things.
Robots are often at odds with privacy 'by design'. This applies definitely to robots in healthcare. Still, such devices are valuable if patients and/or their relatives are sufficiently aware of their impact. Transparency is essential as well as trust that these devices only collect and transmit data for the purpose for which they are intended.
Many people find 'reversing parking' a problem and prefer to leave that to robotics. They thereby give up part of their autonomous driver skills, as the ability to park in reverse is required in various other situations. This is even more true for skills that 'self-driving' cars take over from people. Drivers will increasingly find themselves in situations where they are powerless.
At the same time, robotics is a solution in situations in which people abuse their right to self-determination, for example by speeding, the biggest causes of (fatal) accidents. A mandatory speed limiter saves untold suffering, but the 'king of the road' will not cheer for it.
Leaving operations to robots presupposes that safety is guaranteed. This will not be a problem with robotic lawnmowers, but it is with 'self-driving cars'. Added to this is the risk of hacking into software-driven devices.
Robots can take over boring, 'mind-numbing' dangerous and dirty work, but also work that requires a high degree of precision. Think of manufacturing of computer chips. The biggest problems lie in the potential for job takeovers, which not only has implications for employment, but can also seriously affect quality. In healthcare, people can start to feel 'reified' due to the loss of human contact. For many, daily contact with a care worker is an important instrument against loneliness.
Biometrics encompasses all techniques to identify people by body characteristics: iris, fingerprint, voice, heart rhythm, writing style and emotion. Much is expected of their combination, which is already applied in the passport. There is no escaping security in this world, so biometrics can be a good means of combating identity fraud, especially if different body characteristics are used.
In the US, the application of facial recognition is growing rapidly. In airports, people can often choose to open the security gate 'automatically’ or to stand in line for security. Incode, a San Francisco startup, reports that its digital identity recognition equipment has already been used in 140 million cases by 2021, four times as many as in all previous years combined.
In the EU, the privacy of residents is well regulated by law. The use of data is also laid down in law. Nevertheless, everyone's personal data is stored in countless places.
Facial recognition is provoking a lot of resistance and is increasingly being banned in the public space in the US. This applies to the Netherlands as well.
Biometric technology can also protect privacy by minimization of the information: collected. For example, someone can gain access based on an iris scan, while the computer only checks whether the person concerned has authorization, without registering name.
Cyber criminals are becoming more and more adept at getting hold of personal information. Smaller organizations and sports clubs are especially targeted because of their poor security. If it is also possible to obtain documents such as an identity card, then identity fraud is lurking.
Combining different identification techniques as happens in passports, contributes to the rightful establishing someone's identity. This also makes counterfeiting of identity documents more difficult. Other less secured documents, for example driver's licenses and debit cards, can still be counterfeited or (temporarily) used after they have been stolen, making identity theft relatively easy.
The opposition to facial recognition isn't just about its obvious flaws; the technology will undoubtedly improve in the coming years. Much of the danger lies in the underlying software, in which bias is difficult to eliminate.
When it comes to human dignity, there is also a positive side to biometrics. Worldwide, billions of people are unable to prove who they are. India's Aadhar program is estimated to have provided an accepted form of digital identity based on biometrics to 1.1 billion people. The effect is that financial inclusion of women has increased significantly.
In many situations where biometric identification has been applied, the problem of reversed burden of proof arises. If there is a mistaken identity, the victim must prove that he is not the person the police suspect is.
To be continued next week.
The link below opens an overview of all published and future articles in this series. https://www.dropbox.com/s/vnp7b75c1segi4h/Voorlopig%20overzicht%20van%20materialen.docx?dl=0
In the 11th episode of the series Better cities: The contribution of digital technology, I will apply the ethical principles from episode 9 to the design and use of artificial intelligence.
Before, I will briefly summarize the main features of artificial intelligence, such as big data, algorithms, deep-learning, and machine learning. For those who want to know more: Radical technologies by Adam Greenfield (2017) is a very readable introduction, also regarding technologies such as blockchain, augmented and virtual reality, Internet of Things, and robotics, which will be discussed in next episodes.
Artificial intelligence has valuable applications but also gross forms of abuse. Valuable, for example, is the use of artificial intelligence in the layout of houses and neighborhoods, taking into account ease of use, views and sunlight with AI technology from Spacemaker or measuring the noise in the center of Genk using Nokia's Scene Analytics technology. It is reprehensible how the police in the US discriminate against population groups with programs such as PredPol and how the Dutch government has dealt in the so called ‘toelagenaffaire’.
Thanks to artificial intelligence, a computer can independently recognize patterns. Recognizing patterns as such is nothing new. This has long been possible with computer programs written for that purpose. For example, to distinguish images of dogs and cats, a programmer created an "if....then" description of all relevant characteristics of dogs and cats that enabled a computer to distinguish between pictures of the two animal species. The number of errors depended on the level of detail of the program. When it comes to more types of animals and animals that have been photographed from different angles, making such a program is very complicated. In that case, a computer can be trained to distinguish relevant patterns itself. In this case we speak of artificial intelligence. People still play an important role in this. This role consists in the first place in writing an instruction - an algorithm - and then in the composition of a training set, a selection of a large number of examples, for example of animals that are labeled as dog or cat and if necessary lion tiger and more . The computer then searches 'itself' for associated characteristics. If there are still too many errors, new images will be added.
The way in which the animals are depicted can vary endlessly, whereby it is no longer about their characteristics, but about shadow effect, movement, position of the camera or the nature of the movement, in the case of moving images. The biggest challenge is to teach the computer to take these contextual characteristics into account as well. This is done through the imitation of the neural networks. Image recognition takes place just like in our brains thanks to distinguishing layers, varying from distinguishing simple lines, patterns, and colors to differences in sharpness. Because of this layering, we speak of 'deep learning'. This obviously involves large data sets and a lot of computing power, but it is also a labor-intensive process.
Learning how to apply algorithms under supervision produces reliable results and the instructor can still explain the result after many iterations. As the situation becomes more complicated and different processes are proceeding at the same time, guided instruction is not feasible any longer. For example, if animals attack each other, surviving or not, and the computer must predict which kind of animals have the best chance of survival under which conditions. Also think of the patterns that the computer of a car must be able to distinguish to be able to drive safely on of the almost unlimited variation, supervised learning no longer works.
In the case of unsupervised learning, the computer is fed with data from many millions of realistic situations, in the case of cars recordings of traffic situations and the way the drivers reacted to them. Here we can rightly speak of 'big data' and 'machine learning', although these terms are often used more broadly. For example, the car's computer 'learns' how and when it must stay within the lanes, can pass, how pedestrians, bicycles or other 'objects' can be avoided, what traffic signs mean and what the corresponding action is. Tesla’s still pass all this data on to a data center, which distills patterns from it that regularly update the 'autopilots' of the whole fleet. In the long run, every Tesla, anywhere in the world, should recognize every imaginable pattern, respond correctly and thus guarantee the highest possible level of safety. This is apparently not the case yet and Tesla's 'autopilot' may therefore not be used without the presence of a driver 'in control'. Nobody knows by what criteria a Tesla's algorithms work.
Unsupervised learning is also applied when it comes to the prediction of (tax) fraud, the chance that certain people will 'make a mistake' or in which places the risk of a crime is greatest at a certain moment. But also, in the assessment of applicants and the allocation of housing. For all these purposes, the value of artificial intelligence is overestimated. Here too, the 'decisions' that a computer make are a 'black box'. Partly for this reason, it is difficult, if not impossible, to trace and correct any errors afterwards. This is one of the problems with the infamous ‘toelagenaffaire’.
The cybernetic loop
Algorithmic decision-making is part of a new digital wave, characterized by a 'cybernetic loop' of measuring (collecting data), profiling (analyzing data) and intervening (applying data). These aspects are also reflected in every decision-making process, but the parties involved, politicians and representatives of the people make conscious choices step by step, while the entire process is now partly a black box.
The role of ethical principles
Meanwhile, concerns are growing about ignoring ethical principles using artificial intelligence. This applies to near all principles that are discussed in the 9th episode: violation of privacy, discrimination, lack of transparency and abuse of power resulting in great (partly unintentional) suffering, risks to the security of critical infrastructure, the erosion of human intelligence and undermining of trust in society. It is therefore necessary to formulate guidelines that align the application of artificial intelligence again with these ethical principles.
An interesting impetus to this end is given in the publication of the Institute of Electric and Electronic Engineers: Ethically Aligned Design: A Vision for Prioritizing Human Well-being with Autonomous and Intelligent Systems. The Rathenau Institute has also published several guidelines in various publications.
The main guidelines that can be distilled from these and other publications are:
1. Placing responsibility for the impact of the use of artificial intelligence on both those who make decisions about its application (political, organizational, or corporate leadership) and the developers. This responsibility concerns the systems used as well as the quality, accuracy, completeness, and representativeness of the data.
2. Prevent designers from (unknowingly) using their own standards when instructing learning processes. Teams with a diversity of backgrounds are a good way to prevent this.
3. To be able to trace back 'decisions' by computer systems to the algorithms used, to understand their operation and to be able to explain them.
4. To be able to scientifically substantiate the model that underlies the algorithm and the choice of data.
5. Manually verifying 'decisions' that have a negative impact on the data subject.
6. Excluding all forms of bias in the content of datasets, the application of algorithms and the handling of outcomes.
7. Accountability for the legal basis of the combination of datasets.
8. Determine whether the calculation aims to minimize false positives or false negatives.
9. Personal feedback to clients in case of lack of clarity in computerized ‘decisions’.
10. Applying the principles of proportionality and subsidiarity, which means determining on a case-by-case basis whether the benefits of using artificial intelligence outweigh the risks.
11. Prohibiting applications of artificial intelligence that pose a high risk of violating ethical principles, such as facial recognition, persuasive techniques and deep-fake techniques.
12. Revocation of legal provisions if it appears that they cannot be enforced in a transparent manner due to their complexity or vagueness.
The third, fourth and fifth directives must be seen in conjunction. I explain why below.
The scientific by-pass of algorithmic decision making
When using machine learning, computers themselves adapt and extend the algorithms and combine data from different data sets. As a result, the final ‘decisions’ made by the computer cannot be explained. This is only acceptable after it has been proven that these decisions are 'flawless', for example because, in the case of 'self-driving' cars, if they turn out to be many times safer than ordinary cars, which - by the way - is not the case yet.
Unfortunately, this was not the case too in the ‘toelagenaffaire’. The fourth guideline could have provided a solution. Scientific design-oriented research can be used to reconstruct the steps of a decision-making process to determine who is entitled to receive an allowance. By applying this decision tree to a sufficiently large sample of cases, the (degree of) correctness of the computer's 'decisions' can be verified. If this is indeed the case, then the criteria used in the manual calculation may be used to explain the processes in the computer's 'black box'. If there are too many deviations, then the computer calculation must be rejected at all.
In the US, the use of algorithms in the public sector has come in a bad light, especially because of the facial recognition practices that will be discussed in the next episode. The city of New York has therefore appointed an algorithm manager, who investigates whether the algorithms used comply with ethical and legal rules. KPMG has a supervisory role in Amsterdam. In other municipalities, we see that role more and more often fulfilled by an ethics committee.
In the European public domain, steps have already been taken to combat excesses of algorithmic decision-making. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into effect in 2018, has significantly improved privacy protection. In April 2019, the European High Level Expert Group on AI published ethical guidelines for the application of artificial intelligence. In February 2020, the European Commission also established such guidelines, including in the White Paper on Artificial Intelligence and an AI regulation. The government also adopted the national digitization strategy, the Strategic Action Plan for AI and the policy letter on AI, human rights, and public values.
I realize that binding governments and their executive bodies to ethical principles is grist to the mill for those who flout those principles. Therefore, the search for the legitimate use of artificial intelligence to detect crime, violations or abuse of subsidies and many other applications continues to deserve broad support.
Follow the link below to find one of the previous episodes or see which episodes are next, and this one for the Dutch version.
The eighth episode in the series Better cities - The contribution of digital technology provides a frame to seamlessly integrate the contribution of (digital) technology into urban policy. The Dutch versions of this and already published posts are here.
From the very first publication on smart cities (1992) to the present day, the solution of urban problems has been mentioned as a motive for the application of (digital) technology. However, this relationship is anything but obvious. Think of the discriminatory effect of the use of artificial intelligence by the police in the US – to which I will come back later – and of the misery it has caused in the allowance affair (toelagenaffaire) in the Netherlands.
The choice and application of (digital) technology is therefore part of a careful and democratic process, in which priorities are set and resources are weighed up. See also the article by Jan-Willem Wesselink and Hans Dekker: Smart city enhances quality of life and puts citizen first (p.15). Below, I propose a frame for such a process, on which I will built in the next five posts.
My proposal is an iterative process in which three clusters of activities can be distinguished:
• Developing a vision of the city
• The development and choice of objectives
• The instrumentation of the objectives
Vision of the city
The starting point for a democratic urban policy is a broadly supported vision of the city and its development. Citizens and other stakeholders must be able to identify with this vision and their voice must have been heard. The vision of the city is the result of a multitude of opposing or abrasive insights, wishes and interests. Balancing the power differences between parties involved is a precondition for making the city more just, inclusive, and democratic and the residents happier.
The concept of a donut economy is the best framework I know of for developing a vision of such a city. It has been elaborated by British economist Kate Raworth in a report entitled A Safe and Just Space for Humanity. The report takes the simultaneous application of social and environmental sustainability as principles for policy.
If you look at a doughnut, you see a small circle in the middle and a larger circle on the outside. The small circle represents 12 principles of social sustainability (basic needs). These principles are in line with the UN's development goals. The larger circle represents 9 principles of the earth’ long-term self-sustaining capacity. A table with both types of principles can be viewed here. Human activities in cities must not overshoot its ecological ceiling, thus harming the self-sustainable capacity of that entity. At the same time, these activities must not shortfall the social foundation of that city, harming its long-term well-being. Between both circles, a safe and just space for humanity - now and in the future - is created. These principles relate to both the city itself and its impact on the rest of the world. Based on these principles, the city can determine in which areas it falls short; think of housing, gender equality and it overshoots the ecological ceiling, for instance, in case of greenhouse gas emissions.
Amsterdam went through this process, together with Kate Raworth. During interactive sessions, a city donut has been created. Citizens from seven different neighborhoods, civil servants and politicians took part in this. The Amsterdam city donut is worth exploring closely.
The urban donut provides a broad vision of urban development, in particular because of the reference to both social and ecological principles and its global footprint. The first version is certainly no final version. It is obvious how Amsterdam has struggled with the description of the impact of the international dimension.
The formulation of desired objectives
Politicians and citizens will mention the most important bottlenecks within their city, even without the city donut. For Amsterdam these are themes like the waste problem, the climate transition, reduction of car use, affordable housing, and inclusion. The Amsterdam donut invites to look at these problems from multiple perspectives: A wide range of social implications, the ecological impact, and the international dimension. This lays the foundation for the formulation of objectives.
Five steps can be distinguished in the formulation of objectives:
• Determine where the most important bottlenecks are located for each of the selected themes, partly based on the city donut (problem analysis), for example insufficient greenery in the neighborhoods.
• Collect data on the existing situation about these bottlenecks. For example, the fact that working-class neighborhoods have four times fewer trees per hectare than middle-class neighborhoods.
• Make provisional choices about the desired improvement of these bottlenecks. For example, doubling the number of trees in five years.
• Formulate the way in which the gap between existing and desired situation can be bridged. For example, replacing parking spaces with trees or facade vegetation.
• Formulate (provisional) objectives.
This process also takes place together with stakeholders. More than 100 people were involved in the development of the circular economy plans in Amsterdam, mainly representatives of the municipalities, companies, and knowledge institutions.
Prioritizing objectives and their instrumentation
Given the provisional objectives, the search can begin for available and desirable resources, varying from information, legal measures, reorganization to (digital) techniques. The expected effectiveness, desired coherence, acceptability, and costs must be considered. With this knowledge, the goals can be formulated definitively and prioritized. It is also desirable to distinguish a short-term and long-term perspective to enable the development of innovative solutions.
The inventory, selection and ethical assessment of resources and the related fine-tuning of the objectives is best done in the first instance by teams representing different disciplines, including expertise in the field of digital technology, followed of course by democratic sanctioning.
My preference is to transfer the instrumentation process to an 'Urban Development and Innovation Department', modeled on the Majors Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM) in Boston. Changing teams can be put together from this office, which is strongly branched out with the other departments. In this way, the coherence between the individual goals and action points and the input of scientific research can be safeguarded. According to Ben Green, the author of the book The smart enough city and who has worked in MONUM for years, it has been shown time and again that the effect of technological innovation is enhanced when it is combined with other forms of innovation, such as social innovation.
From vision to action points: Overview
Below I give an overview of the most important building blocks for arriving at a vision and developing action points based on this vision:
1. The process from vision to action points is both linear and iterative. Distinguishing between the phases of vision development, formulating objectives and instrumentation is useful, but these phases influence each other mutually and eventually form a networked process.
2. Urban problems are always complicated, full of internal contradictions and complex. There are therefore seldom single solutions.
3. The mayor (and therefore not a separate alderman) is primarily responsible for coherence within the policy agenda, including the use of (digital) technology. This preferably translates into the structure of the municipal organization, for example an 'Urban Development and Innovation Department'.
4. Formulating a vision, objectives and their instrumentation is part of a democratic process. Both elected representatives and stakeholders play an important role in this.
5. Because of their complexity and coherence, the content of the policy agenda usually transcends the direct interests of the stakeholders, but they must experience that their problems are being addressed too.
6. Ultimately, each city chooses a series of related actions to arrive at an effective, efficient, and supported solution to its problems. The choice of these actions, especially when it comes to (digital) techniques, can always be explained as a function of the addressing problems.
7. The use of technology fits seamlessly into the urban agenda, instead of (re)framing problems to match tempting technologies.
8. Implementation is at least as important as grand plans, but without a vision, concrete plans lose their legitimacy and support.
9. In the search for support for solutions and the implementation of plans, there is collaboration with stakeholders, and they can be given the authority and resources to tackle problems and experiment themselves (‘right to challenge’).
10. In many urban problems, addressing the harmful effects of previously used technologies (varying from greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution to diseases of affluence) is a necessary starting point.
Back to digital technology
(Digital) technology is here to stay and it is developing at a rapid pace. Sometimes you wish it would slow down. It is very regrettable that not democratically elected governments, but Big Tech is the driving force behind the development of technology and that its development is therefore primarily motivated by commercial interests. This calls for resistance against Big Tech's monopoly and for reticence towards their products. By contrast, companies working on technological developments that support a sustainable urban agenda deserve all the support.
In my e-book Cities of the Future. Humane as a choice. Smart where that helps, I performed the exercise described in this post based on current knowledge about urban policy and urban developments. This has led to the identification of 13 themes and 75 action points, where possible with references to potentially useful technology. You can download the e-book here.
On the 28th of October 2021 Amsterdam Smart City and Datalab hosted an international event on the costs and benefits of accommodating data centres. Together with partners we discussed the complexity of the weighing of these aspects and the management by future policies.
The digitization of our society produces an exponentially increasing amount of data, which causes an increased need for data centres and connectivity. In 2030, there is expected to see a twenty-fold increase in data traffic, consuming 5% of worldwide electricity at that point. A recent report in the Netherlands has shown quite some hesitance on whether or not the foreseen rise in data centres in The Netherlands is the right way to go.
Lots of reasons to shed some international perspectives on these issues. What are current datacentre strategies? How are datacenters driving economic value? And how can the digital economy become more sustainable? Check out the presentations and discussions in the video!
• Wout Rensink (Policy advisor Economic Affairs at Province of Noord-Holland)
• Thomas Moran (Technology and Sustainability Strategist at Lumen & techUK)
• Daan Terpstra (Director of Policy & Regulatory Affairs · Sustainable Digital Infrastructure Alliance (SDIA))
- Jeroen Sipman, liaison at Amsterdam Smart City
On the 28th of October, Amsterdam Smart City, together with the Province of North Holland and Datalab, will discuss the costs and benefits of accommodating data centres, the complexity of the weighing of these aspects, and how future policies could manage these. We will put the complexity in an international perspective.
Why would you need data centers in your region? What are reasons to refuse them on territories? What are the dilemmas and how do cities in Europe deal with this? We can now confirm the speakers for the event!
Wout Rensink – Province of North Holland
The Province of North Holland is developing a policy on data centres, with which they try to take a first step in minimizing the impact of data centres. The Province ensures that data centres generate their own sustainable energy, the residual heat (in the environment) is used, circular design is applied in the development of buildings which blend into the landscape and that the data centres are leaders in terms of energy and innovation. The man for the job? Wout Rensink! He is the Province’s policy advisor who will try and achieve these goals with other governmental institutions and the industry itself.
Thomas Moran – techUK
Beside his job as the Senior Lead Technology Strategist for Lumen, Thomas is the vice chair of the Climate Strategy and Resilience Council for techUK, which is the largest European trade group representing the technology industry. They support the UK national, regional and local governments in formulating policy around all things technology related, including data centres and infrastructure. He will provide us with the point of view and insights from another part of the FLAP-region: London.
Daan Terpstra – SDI Alliance
After years of working on sustainable energy projects at Vattenfall, Daan Terpstra has joined SDI Alliance last year to try and move the digital infrastructure sector to sustainability by 2030. As the new Director of Policy and Regulatory Affairs, Daan can provide a view on future international digital infrastructure policies in Europe. SDI Alliance has derived a number of fundamental positions, beliefs and principles with which they hope to ensure the development of a vibrant European digital economy, without consuming unsustainable levels of resources.
The session will be moderated by Jeroen Sipman from Amsterdam Smart City.
Rewatch! Find the video of the event here:
The City of Amsterdam launched a platform for entrepreneurs who want to collaborate on innovation with the public sector.
If you want to work with government and other large organisations, you need to apply for tenders and grants. These application procedures are often complex. Using clear information and useful checklists, Innovatie Partners makes tenders and grants accessible for small entrepreneurs, such as startups, scale-ups and MKB.
On the platform
- Projects from organisations such as Gemeente Amsterdam, the Metropole Region Amsterdam (MRA) and Startup in Residence. Take a look at past and current projects (in Dutch).
- Road maps of how to apply for your tender or grant of choice.
- Explainers on what tenders and grants are and how they work, such as a glossary of unavoidable jargon (in Dutch).
- Detailed instructions and screencasts of how to fill out complicated forms (in Dutch).
De Omgevingsdienst Noordzeekanaalgebied heeft in opdracht van de provincie Noord-Holland onderzoek gedaan naar de hoeveelheid beschikbare restwarmte in de Noord-Hollandse industrie. Het onderzoek geeft een eerste indicatie van hoeveel warmte er in Noord-Holland nu nog via industriële schoorstenen de lucht in gaat en hoeveel warmte er via het koelwater op het oppervlaktewater wordt geloosd. Met deze gegevens kunnen gemeenten en warmtebedrijven hun plannen voor nuttig hergebruik van restwarmte verder vormgeven.
Bijna alle relevante bedrijven in beeld
65 bedrijven in onder meer de energiesector, de chemische- en voedselindustrie, en afvalverwerkende bedrijven zijn meegenomen in het onderzoek. Deze bedrijven zijn verantwoordelijk voor meer dan 95 procent van de potentiële restwarmte. Hiermee zijn dus nagenoeg alle relevante industriële bedrijven in Noord-Holland in beeld. Of de warmte daadwerkelijk gebruikt kan worden voor verwarming van woningen is afhankelijk van onder meer de temperatuur en de afstand tot een warmtenet.
Per 2022 komt er met de Wet Collectieve Warmtevoorziening een stimulans voor het gebruik van restwarmte in de gebouwde omgeving: producenten van restwarmte moeten deze dan gratis beschikbaar stellen aan energiebedrijven.
For centuries, entrepreneurship was linked to art and craft and rewarded by personal fulfilment, satisfied customers, and a good life. The term entrepreneur is still associated with giving direction, shape and content to new activities based on personal motivation and skills and thereby creating socially approved value. A description that applies to the self-employed, business entrepreneurs, franchisees or intrapreneurs and includes both commercial, institutional, and artistic activities.
However, there are two problems. Overcoming them opens the way to become a better business.
The plunder of the earth
Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz has warned that the creative power of entrepreneurship can easily become destructive. A 'maker' becomes a 'taker' once creating value becomes making money in the first place. Indeed, for centuries, companies have robbed resources around the world, destroyed nature, traded millions of slaves and exploited domestic workers, creating the divide between rich and poor countries.
The creative power of entrepreneurship can also be aimed at sustainable prosperity, for their employees, the country, and the world. In that case, the “purpose” of a company precedes the pursuit of profit. Unfortunately, still a minority of all companies are moving in this direction while others pretending.
The decline of engagement and passion within the workforce
There is more. In developed countries, the blatant exploitation of labour has disappeared. Instead, the majority of employment relegates into low strain jobs. Research by Gallup and Deloite has shown over consecutive years that over 64% of all employees worldwide are not engaged or passionate. Find John Hagel explain this in a short video. The reason is clear. 20th century companies have organized their production according to principles of scalable efficiency and have top-down planning and control. Room for initiative is therefore neither expected nor desired. Moreover, detailed protocols and regulations limit employment for people at a distance from the labour market.
In a rapidly changing world, companies must be adaptive and innovative. They therefore need flexible, interdisciplinary teams with a high degree of self-government and less pay differentials. According to recent research in 17 countries, this type of organizations (8%) outperforms in all respects.
Summarizing, to become a better business requires a double challenge:
· Replacing the dominance of the pursuit of money with a social and environmental purpose.
· Mobilizing the entrepreneurial and other capacities of their whole work force by forms of self-organization and shared leadership.
Why focussing on startups?
As only a limited number of companies meet these conditions, employees consider starting their own business. In the US alone, approximately two million workers give up well-paying jobs every year and become self-employed. 127,000 starters were registered in the Netherlands in 2018. Of them, only a minority will become a startup, which means that they will successfully commercialize a promising technological innovation and grow rapidly on an international level.
Start-ups are potential engines of growth and innovation. In the US, their steady growth is compensating for job losses in the rest of the economy. Dutch startups created 20.000 of jobs in 2018 and 2019. A recent reportoffers excellent documentation of the identity, growth and potential of the 4,311 Dutch startups in 2019, most of which have fewer than 10 employees. 34% of Dutch startups can found in the Amsterdam metropolitan area.
The hope is that start-ups will rise to both challenges by nurturing their social and environmental purpose end fueling the commitment and passion of each employee, and thereby become a better business.
Yet, like any other businesses, startups risk becoming takers rather than makers, trading their social and environmental purpose for the pursuit of money and losing the engagement and passion of their employees. Fortunately, they can prevent this.
Eleven ways to become or stay a better business
1. Embrace self-organization and shared leadership.
2. Involve all employees in the continuous strengthening of the social and environmental purpose of the company.
3. Enable all employees to become shareholders or even better co-owners.
4. Cherish diversity within the employees.
5. Secure shares in a foundation while enabling shareholders to support the purpose of the company.
6. Cap the profit to a level that guarantees the continuity of the company.
7. Ban greed, cancel bonuses, or at most pay a limited and equal allowance to all employees.
8. Place surplus profits in a foundation that spends money in accordance with the purpose of the company.
9. Being a fair taxpayer who refrains from tax avoidance practices.
10.Create a supervisory board to monitor the purpose of the company.
11.Focus the founder/director/CEO role on monitoring the purpose of the company and the commitment of all employees and on fueling the discussion on how to deal with changing external conditions.
Rapid societal changes require a reinventing the concept of entrepreneurship. Because of their flexibility and commitment, startups are apt to embrace the dual ambition of pursuing a social and environmental purpose and of mobilizing all employee’s engagement and passion.
My next post will look at how cities can help start-ups to settle, grow and become better businesses. The history of entrepreneurship, its growing distance from ‘makership’ and its possible revival by start-ups is documented in chapter 4 of my e-book Humane cities. Always humane. Smart if helpful. The English version of this book can be downloaded for free below.
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