Smart City Bristol

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Main actors

City Government, Supranational / Intergovernmental Institutions, Private Sector, Community / Citizen Group

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Project area

Whole City/Administrative Region

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Ongoing since 2011/01

Bristol's innovative approach to becoming a smart city is based on people and not on technology: a Public-Private-People approach. Projects to date include smart metering, open data, smart grid and electric vehicles which build on the City's strengths in micro-electronic and digital companies.

Smart City Bristol is a collaborative programme between the public sector, business and community. The main aim is to use smart technologies to help meet the ambitious city target to reduce CO2 emissions by 40% by 2020 from a 2005 baseline.

It was launched in 2011 and builds upon the Smart City Bristol Report commissioned by Bristol City Council in 2011 and funded by the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change.  The city’s resilience to identified challenges will be monitored via a series of qualitative measures as well as quantifiable targets, such as the Mayor’s annual ‘state of the city’ report, ‘quality of life survey’ and other public consultation.

The City was awarded European 'Green Capital' status for 2015, which will also contribute to these targets, promoting Bristol as a centre for innovation in Green technology.

Sustainable Development Goals

Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

Guangzhou Award

This project was awarded the 'Guangzhou Award' in 2014.

Bristol, United Kingdom

Size and population development
Population estimated at 442,500 (as of 2015); largest city in the South-West. Bristol's population is expected to reach half a million by 2029 (source: Bristol City Council)

Population composition
More children under sixteen than people of pensionable age live in Bristol. 16% of Bristol's population belongs to a black or minority ethnic group (source: Bristol City Council)

Main functions
Bristol is part of the Core Cities Group, formed in 1995 as a partnership of eight city councils in England.

Main industries / business
aerospace, defence, creative media, information technology, financial services, electronics and tourism industries

Political structure
Bristol City council consists of 70 councillors serving four-year terms

Administrative structure
Bristol is divided into 35 wards for local governement and four constituencies for Parlamentary representation

Although not a policy framework as such, Smart City Bristol is delivered under the auspices of the ‘Covenant of Mayors’ that Bristol signed in 2012. As defined on their website: ‘The Convenent of Mayors is the mainstream European movement involving local and regional authorities, voluntarily committing to increasing energy efficiency and use of renewable energy sources on their territories. Covenant signatories aim to meet and exceed the European Union 20% CO2 reduction objective by 2020.’ The smart city programme has therefore been formalized under this covenant, although its objectives exceed the basic 20% CO2 reduction target.

The City of Bristol smart city programme has two primary aims:

 • To contribute to the reduction of Bristol's CO2 emissions of 40% by 2020 from a 2005 baseline.

 • To place sustainability at the heart of community concerns through projects.

The city plans to create resilient systems—more decentralized, less prone to cascade failure—and will future-proof investment decisions. Bristol is already the most energy and waste-efficient major UK city, and plans to meet future needs by managing resources even more efficiently. The city aims to empower individuals and communities to help themselves, support capacity building and local-decision making, and protect local amenities. Much of the building stock is old, but the city is working to enable owners to future-proof buildings to support and protect life and enable commerce. The city is using a systems-led approach to build in capacity, flexibility, safe failure, and constant learning. 

Smart City Bristol was launched in 2011 focusing on Smart Energy, Smart Transport and Smart Data. It includes pilot projects (smart metering, smart grid, electric vehicles, open data), alongside permanent initiatives (Traffic Control Centre and Freight Consolidation Centre). Bristol collaborates with microelectronic, environmental technology and creative companies who are working with communities. For example through Bristol’s Living Lab in Knowle West consisting in a group of people actively involved in the creation and evaluation of technologies which they will ultimately use.

The City was awarded European 'Green Capital' status for 2015. The European Green Capital 2015 programme will also contribute to these targets, promoting Bristol as a centre for innovation in Green technology.  Some of the projects which will be funded and delivered as part of the Green Capital 2015 include:

  • The Bristol Prize: a new annual award for the best new clean technology. This will help deliver solutions for cities to deal with and alleviate climate change. 
  • A sustainable living programme in UK schools to educate up to 4.5 million children about climate change and how cities can contribute to tackling this issue. 
  • An international festival for Clean Technology Business, in Bristol, for a number of high profile sectors which have the greatest scope for boosting growth. 
  • The Grass Roots Catalyst Fund, to incubate and develop sustainable urban living initiatives which can be scaled up and applied to cities across the world. 
  • A series of international high profile summits on Climate Change. Attendees will include the Prime Minister, other leading politicians and top-level global climate change stakeholders. 
  • Expand a volunteer programme to SMEs and frontline businesses to help Bristol prepare and deal with the influx of visitors during its tenure as the European Green Capital in 2015.


Over 50 members of staff across a wide range of teams are collaborating in the delivery of the Programme.

Programme coordination is financed by Bristol City Council within existing staff budgets. During project development other organizations also provide their time freely. Individual pilot projects are funded by European and UK funding sources such as the European Commission, Ofgem, TSB, UK Government and some ongoing initiatives financed by the City Council e.g. Traffic Control Centre.

Leading up to 2015, Bristol will receive £7 million of additional funding to support it as European Green Capital. The funding will deliver a range of projects which will help Bristol remain at the centre of green investment and urban sustainability.

In 2013, Bristol was successful in its attempts to be one of ‘100 resilient cities’ identified by the Rockefeller foundation in the USA. In addition to membership of the newly formed 100 Resilient Cities Network, Bristol has received financial support from the Rockefeller Foundation to create and implement a resilience plan and to hire a Chief Resilience Officer.  

Accomplishments to-date include:

  • Securing an additional £7m in funding for Green Capital activity. 
  • Becoming one of the inaugural 100 Resilient Cities, a pioneering initiative funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. 
  • Achieving the 20% energy reduction target.
  • Decrease in energy consumption by schools and council offices as part of the ‘smart spaces’ project. 
  • Increased awareness and engagement with climate change issues via smart city projects in general. 

The main measure of success in this context is the City Council’s ‘Climate Change & Energy Security framework’, which forms Bristol’s SEAP under the Covenant of Mayors and is the 3rd iteration of a climate change plan for Bristol. The framework sets out 19 broad strategic activities and these there are 65 specific actions covering emissions from buildings, transport, business and city-wide activity.

In respect of the specific projects within the smart city programme, as most are funded via the European Commission, they have strict timescales and deadlines regarding progress. For example, for two of the smart energy projects ‘3e Houses’ and ‘STEEP’, a number of successes have to be evidenced. These included:

  • 20% reduction in energy consumption in pilot housing areas 
  • Guidelines and best-practice documents to be produced for use by other cities 
  • Online energy consumption analysis tools including interactive GIS maps 
  • Minimum number of stakeholders engaged in project and willing to participate in on-going evaluation. 

For each of the smart energy projects, Bristol is working with partners who conduct participation questionnaires throughout the project lifecycle to gather feedback from citizens taking part.

When deploying smart city projects, one of the major obstacles to success is ensuring good communication with the project customers. By linking the smart city agenda to Bristol’s status as Green Capital, the profile of the various projects has been raised significantly on a national level. At a local level, the election of a directly-elected mayor has helped distil messages about the necessity for a ‘smart city’ approach to carbon reduction.

When seeking to deploy innovative technological solutions, there are a number of political sensitivities to consider, especially in the context of decreasing authority budgets and the perception that smart city projects are somehow non-essential expenditure. This has been largely overcome by establishing successful links with other internal council departments, securing buy-in from senior managers as to how the technology in question can actual increase efficiency, and provide a more effective service for Bristol’s citizens.

Bristol's approach to smart cities is putting people at the heart of a smart city, rather than technology led. 

For example, the "So La Bristol smart grid project" uses bespoke technology in residents’ homes to connect solar pv generation to battery storage units. The smart city approach places people and communities at the centre of technological innovation. To that end, the "So La Bristol project" works with a local community based charity with the specific aim of stakeholder engagement. 

Smart city Bristol builds upon the lessons learned from previous projects.

An example of this is the ‘smart metering’ suite of projects that has been deployed in Bristol, beginning with a project called ‘DEHEMs’ (2008-2011) and further developed in ‘3e Houses’ (2011-2014). Both projects were funded under European Commission funding initiatives, with DEHEMs trialling the use of smart meters in council-owned properties. The lessons from this project were used to inform the 3e houses work, which used smart metering in combination with a user ‘interface’ to enrich the user experience and increase levels of participation and engagement. Again, the learning from this project has been used to develop a bid for a further smart metering project which aims to develop smart metering ‘apps’. It is hoped that this project will be funded under the new Horizon 20:20 programme.

- Smart City Bristol, U.K., Guangzhou Award for Urban Innovation: (accessed 22 January 2016)

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Guangzhou Award
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Guangzhou Award

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