Mannheim becomes one of the world’s smartest cities

Gabriele Booth of Stadtmarketing Mannheim lays out some of the technology projects that have put the German city at the forefront of sustainability and smart urban design

  • By Andrew Cake | Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

A number of initiatives have been undertaken to make Mannheim a healthy and attractive place to live

Mannheim – the city where Carl Benz invented the automobile in 1885 – is yet again in pole position when it comes to the development of future technologies. As a successful smart city, this German town is currently making a new mark and sharpening its profile. Mannheim is active in all areas of urban sustainability and is consistently bringing relevant processes into the economic, ecological and social activity of a smart city – and at a fast pace.

It is not by chance that this multicultural and innovative city in Southern Germany received a New Economy Smart City Award in 2014 and featured in the magazine’s list of top 20 smart cities. The key criteria here were the first-class infrastructure of the city with its 331,000 inhabitants, its economic strength, its high quality of life with its rich cultural scene, and its pioneering projects in the fields of sustainability and smart urban design.

The Strombank takes up subscribers’ current energy generation surpluses and releases them when energy requirements are greater than actual generation

Mannheim’s city council is shaping the city by means of a strategic system of objectives, building upon indicators and sustainability management – and this has aroused international interest and already reaped the city the renowned German Sustainability Award in 2013. The New Economy named the University of Mannheim one of the most important pillars in this bastion of innovation – among the world’s leading institutions in the economic sciences, creating key impulses with “pioneering research”. The New Economy also praised the close cooperation between the city’s renowned academic institutions – such as the Centre for European Economic Research – and Mannheim companies.

The term ‘smart city’ describes the rapid development of future technologies that occurs in the traditionally cosmopolitan city of Mannheim, through the interplay of many partners across many spheres. It is perhaps because Mannheim stands on two rivers – the Rhine and the Neckar – that everything has been in a future-orientated flow for years. In the laboratories of the city’s companies and seats of learning, research is undertaken and solutions are sought for the problems of modern society. The release of over 500 hectares of former military land (through the withdrawal of the US Army) will free up a great deal of space for urban development, startups, living space and green spaces in the next few years, and this dynamic will give the metropolis of Mannheim a further boost.

Let’s look at some developments in the dynamic smart city of Mannheim.

Energy technology
Germany’s shift in energy policy (prompted by a desire both in the political sphere and society) gave renewable energies a significant boost. They now account for a roughly 30 percent share of energy generation. And this share is on the rise.

Related to this is a fundamental change in the energy system. In Mannheim, the energy firm MVV Energie contributes to this change with two innovative and pioneering projects: under the heading ‘Modellstadt Mannheim’ (Model City Mannheim), the City of Squares was part of the now concluded E-Energy project, along with five other regions in Germany. Here, MVV Energie developed a so-called ‘Internet of Energy’. This allowed consumers to adapt their energy requirements automatically and comfortably to current generation from the wind and sun. The results of the project in the field of intelligent energy distribution and usage have now been channelled into Germany-wide research and development.

Another future-orientated project is currently underway in the south of Mannheim. Funded by the BWPlus programme of the state of Baden-Württemberg, the ‘Strombank’ (electricity bank) makes it possible to store and stagger one’s own use of electricity from decentralised generation sources. A local storage facility, the Strombank takes up subscribers’ current energy generation surpluses and releases them when energy requirements are greater than actual generation. This makes it possible to increase the proportion of self-generated electricity, thereby reducing losses and pressure on the grid. Participants in the pilot project are connected with the storage facility online via an ‘Energy Cloud’. Participants have direct access at all times to their own generation and consumption data as well as their electricity account via tablet computer. The pilot is to run until the end of the year and a final report on the project is expected next year.

Transport technology
Leading this sector on Mannheim’s streets is the PRIMOVE bus. Since June, two electric buses from Swiss manufacturer Hess have been undergoing tests in real street traffic. Although they contain the latest technology, the buses scarcely stand out. The two 12-metre vehicles are the first e-buses in the world to be equipped with the complete PRIMOVE product package: wireless charging technology and a compact and fully integrated propulsion system.

Together with other partners, the Mannheim company Bombardier Transportation developed contactless charging technology that works according to the principle of inductive electricity transmission. This is used, for instance, in the electric toothbrush. Electricity is transmitted via charging stations that are located at several selected stops in the road floor. While passengers get on and off, the buses’ batteries are charged automatically, unnoticed, without the use of cables. On the central No 63 bus line, the traffic company Rhein-Neckar-Verkehrsgesellschaft, together with Bombardier Transportation, is now gathering experience in passenger operation. This pilot project in the field of sustainable urban mobility will be developed further.

Medical technology
Over the past few years, close cooperation with the Universities of Mannheim and Heidelberg – as well as with pharmaceutical companies located in Mannheim such as Roche, and numerous research institutions – has brought into being the medical technology business cluster. This cluster of expertise has a characteristic profile of strengths that is unique in Germany and Europe. Its research is focused on the future provision of public healthcare. This firstly centres on fields of care for cancer, diabetes, circulatory conditions, weight problems, musculoskeletal disorders and age-related symptoms. Secondly, the medical technology cluster focuses on the fields of interventional medical technology, neuro-engineering, cell and tissue technology, imaging, telemedicine and communication, modelling and simulation, and in vitro diagnostics.

An example: a large centre of expertise for meditech firms has been set up on the campus of Mannheim’s medical school in collaboration with Cubex. This is also where the Fraunhofer Project Group for Automation in Medicine and Biotechnology is located. It is also home to an experimental operation theatre with state-of-the-art imaging as part of the BMBF research programme ‘Mannheim Molecular Intervention Environment’.

Climate protection
One of the greatest aims in Mannheim is to further improve the quality of life of people in the city and to extend their leisure and relaxation options within the urban space. Creating and interconnecting the kilometres of green space that encircle and cross the city means people’s time in the city is improved, as is the climate – because the north to east green corridor provides Mannheim’s city centre with cool, fresh air. The city becomes cleaner, quieter, greener and healthier by focusing on future-proof sectors and jobs as well as on the development of sustainable mobility models, smart residential districts and social participation projects (such as urban gardening schemes and movement zones in urban natural spaces).

Under the heading ‘Blue City Mannheim’, a modern district for energy efficiency, smart grids and electromobility will be developed in the former US settlement of Benjamin Franklin Village – with living space for up to 10,000 people. In the coming years, jobs will be created near the residential zone, which is close to a large wooded area while still well connected to the city thanks to public transport. This is how the future of a modern city society is imagined. The project has been made possible thanks to the comprehensive conversion process and fast paced development carried out by many agents, including international architects’ offices.

The city’s techno-ecological projects also include a Green Logistic Park. This initiative aims to divert heavy goods traffic away from the city in the medium term. Large heavy goods vehicles can park in the Green Logistic Park, where their goods are transferred onto small electric vehicles to then be transported to destinations around the city (for instance the Port of Mannheim).

However, the urban districts of the city centre are also going green, as documented by the Urban Gardening Initiatives, which are making a mark thanks to the work of many active Mannheim volunteers in various parts of the city. The university city of Mannheim is now already green – with two large recreation parks. Nevertheless, it is a great objective to create even more open spaces and even more sporting options.

Open Data Portal
Another project featuring smart, and in this case digital, participation options for the urban society is the coming Open Data Portal, which will be made available by the City of Mannheim this autumn. Anyone interested can use this to obtain freely accessible and mechanically usable communal data – useful information such as urban mapping with relevant tree stocks for the allergic, cycle paths, refuse containers, and real-time data for public transportation.