The smallest smart city in the world

Is there a minimum size requirement to deploy an IoT framework to become a smart city? A tiny French village of only 1500 inhabitants proves there isn’t.

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Photo by Olivier Collet on Unsplash

Some years ago, in the middle of Brittany (France’s westernmost region), the mayor of a small village, Saint-Sulpice-la-Forêt, nearly fell from his chair when he found out the content of his mail on a sunny morning.

A water bill was ridiculously high in comparison to previous years. This was due to the leak in their distribution system they hadn’t noticed for over a year, which amounted to the equivalent of 26 swimming pools!

And that’s not all, looking closer, every single year, gas and electricity bills were also going up for no apparent reason.

IoT is the answer to heterogeneity

So what you need to know is that in those French villages (thousands of them throughout all the country) public buildings are very heterogeneous, following the impact of political history.

Usually, with up to 200 years old for the Town hall (first Empire), between 100 and 20 years old for the schools (Third Republique), and other very recent facilities like the sports halls. Churches are much older, but not the public buildings.

So each of those constructions has its particular structure, heating, and water system. They have been made and refurbished one by one for decades, which is even more complex with systems mapping or, for example, water leak detection.

In Saint-Sulpice-la-Forêt, with only 27 sensors deployed on water, gas and electricity meters, and in the (very few) public buildings in the village, the money saved on energy consumption reduction will exceed the costs of the IoT installation (20K€) after the 5 years time frame. Thanks to a smarter use of heating or an early leak detection, from one day to another, a small team of the Town Hall could have a precise idea of real-time consumption in all parts of the town and know where to focus their renovation investments.

The critical importance of a simple management system

As you can presume, services for a town of this size don’t have enough resources to hire specialised engineers. So an intuitive front-end solution, in the language of the country, is totally crucial. In a village of this size, the main user of the platform will be the mayor himself.

So the thing is not to focus on features and gadgets, but to have a straight outcome mindset. The end-user needs to look at his tablet and understand right away:

  • the real-time consumption for each building
  • if it is normal use or not
  • how to decrease the consumption

As for the last point, the support of a bigger public organisation with an experienced HR department will come in handy.

The support of an upper local level

If the cost of installation can be carried by a small town, the expertise of a larger public entity is mandatory to transform data into actions, in order to save energy and money.

A big city nearby, Rennes (20-min drive, 200.000 inhabitants), has no problem to offer data specialists.

They can help at two levels:

  • initially: where to install the sensors and what to measure exactly
  • later / maintenance: what decisions to make to save the energy consumption

Hence, this way of collaboration is interesting because it combines:

  • the autonomy of the local authority — the village — in evaluating the reality of the needs and the size of the investment
  • the expertise level of the larger governance authority to maximise the efficiency of the IoT data exploitation

Moreover, dissemination of IoT companies in Europe is being conducted in a way you can manage a project like one with local companies.

Profitable solutions on such a small scale need to be local

So obviously, for large international groups, these kinds of contracts are not interesting in terms of profitability. But for local tech companies, they’re worthwhile. Saint-Sulpice-la-Forêt managed to launch its IoT by collaborating with companies based in a range of just 30 km. Wi6labs for the hardware (fewer than 20 people) and Alkante for the software ( slightly more than 30 people).

You can have an idea how profound is the democratisation of a smart city when such a small village can not only handle its IoT solutions, but also perform it locally.

If this village had to deal with a company based in Paris or Berlin, the overall cost of the operation would be weighed down by business trips and the functioning costs (higher rent, higher wages, etc.).

Upgrading the way all village sees the technology

When you install 5000 sensors in Paris, nobody will even notice. People are busy and used to technology. But installing 27 IoTs in a small-sized village is an important event for its residents. Once well explained, it can really add value to the way everyone interacts with IoT. In Saint-Sulpice-la-Forêt, the primary school has included a program where children can create their own indicators and see how their habits impact the consumption of water and electricity with small colored lights.

IoT becomes a local pride shared among its residents and, in the end, reinforces the sense of identity of the users with their place of living.

So is this anecdotic?

So as you probably know, in Europe and in France particularly, each town should aim to reduce its energy consumption to fit the objectives of the different environmental conventions and charts designed for this purpose. This is mandatory.

IoT is obviously playing a big role in achieving the above. A very sensible investment allows immediate results. There are 35.000 cities in France alone (half of all the European cities).

So, there is still a market to explore and exploit that is profitable and, from my point of view, offers a lot of benefits for both the clients (cities) and the teams (of IoTs SMEs), involving more human contact and tangible results than in large cities.

The phenomenon of metropolisation risks being aggravated by the concentration of smart cities investments in big capital cities, which was already the case with the deployment of cellular networks in the French countryside (in France, some areas are not even 3G-covered). This is one of the main obstacles towards the replication of this French village example.

About me // French Marketer who specialises in B2B tech and IoT. With the background of lobbying and over 10 years experience as creative director, I help IoT start-ups achieving stable growth, meaningful branding and long-lasting demand generation. More on www.dxm-agency.com

French Marketer specialised in tech and IoT / Malmö and Warsaw / dxm-agency.com

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