Grenoble is a city of about 160,000 inhabitants in southeastern France, known for its winter sport, its museums and universities, and spherical cable cars called “bubbles”. In 2022, Grenoble was crowned the green capital of Europe and received an incentive of 350,000 € to continue its pioneering approach to climate management. A strong commitment to systemic change and an innovative participatory approach to city governance make the city special – and smart.
We talked to Grenoble’s city government to learn more about why the “capital of the French Alps” is a smart city and what we can learn from it (translated from French):
What makes Grenoble a smart city?
Grenoble is a land of pioneers. From white coal in the 19th century to renewable energies in the 21st century, Grenoble has always been one step ahead of the challenges of our time. We didn't wait for the Paris Agreement that came out of Cop21 in 2015 to embark on the transformations needed to be more resilient. Here, in our territories, transition is preparing for the future and changing lives. It's an energy that inspires all the players in the region and brings us together as we face the challenges of climate change. In Grenoble and the Alps, climate change is occurring twice as fast as elsewhere, and our response must be equal to the challenge.
For us, being a smart city doesn't just mean using new technologies everywhere, all the time. In Grenoble, we put scientific knowledge and technology at the service of the ecological transition. Here, the city, research and industry cooperate in the service of transition and better living. Mobility, urban planning, risks, prospective studies, energy transition, health, equal rights, common services, social action... All our public policies are based on research and technology, with the aim of creating a living environment that is favourable to the health of residents and the environment.
Partnerships are encouraged by the public authorities - including the City - to help innovative solutions emerge, such as between GEG and Atos Worlgrid for the "Métro Energies" multi-fluid data platform (initially "VivaCité", initiated back in 2013, quite pioneering at the time and funded by the European Commission as such). The city also supports local energy transition solutions. For example, the city supports Grenoble-based Phoenix Mobility (now Tolv), a French pioneer in the electric retrofit of combustion-powered vehicles and works with local company Lancey Energy Storage and its smart heating and energy storage solution.
What projects for the smart city Grenoble are you particularly proud of?
Conceived in 2011 and due for inauguration in 2020, the ABC (Autonomous Building for Citizens) development on Grenoble's Presqu'Île site has a floor area of 5,000 m², spread over 62 housing units, 20 of which are reserved for social housing. ABC is France's first energy and water self-sufficient building concept. It aims to reduce water consumption by a factor of 3, cut grey garbage can waste by 40% and produce 70% of residents' daily electricity needs. To achieve this level of reduction in water consumption, rainwater is collected and made drinkable to supply homes with showers, washbasins, sinks, dishwashers and washing machines. All units are fitted with water-saving sanitary appliances and accessories (taps, showerheads, etc.). Grey water (low-pollution domestic wastewater) is recovered, treated and reused for toilets or watering shared gardens.
Domestic hot water production is also optimised by recovering heat from grey water. As a result, water consumption from the municipal network has been reduced by two-thirds. This pilot project, located at the heart of the new Presqu'île eco-neighbourhood, which itself has strong ambitions in terms of health-friendly urban planning, feeds the research on the "building of the future" conducted by Bouygues Construction (a major French player in the sector).
Grenoble was Europe's green capital in the year 2022. Which impact did this have and is the city still on track to meet its climate goals?
This title highlighted the strong policies and actions we have long been pursuing to combat climate change. We were able to raise awareness of environmental challenges and unite and mobilise all local players around the issue of transition. The effects of our policies and actions have been multiplied. This title also commits us to pursuing ever more ambitious policies of adaptation and transformation to meet these challenges.
The title of Grenoble European Green Capital 2022 is a springboard for pursuing the territorial dynamic around the challenges of environmental and social transition. We must continue to work together, with residents and organisations, to converge towards strong common objectives: becoming a carbon-neutral territory by 2040, continuing to significantly improve air quality...
So, yes, we're on the right track, but we need to continue and amplify our actions.
That's why, this year, we have put in place an ambitious investment plan to speed up our development projects, pedestrianisation, greening... and a social and climate “shield” designed to protect the most vulnerable, who are also the most vulnerable in the face of climate change. Among the shield's flagship projects: the creation of a municipal bicycle school dedicated to teaching schoolchildren and adults who don't know how to ride a bike or are not comfortable with it; the introduction of social food security to secure the right to quality food for all.
Which cities inspire you? And what message do you have for other cities that look to Grenoble for inspiration?
In Grenoble, we are in constant dialogue and cooperation with many other cities, inspired by their experiences in environmental transition, participatory democracy, and social innovation. Grenoble is involved in a number of city networks: the European Green Capital Cities network, the International Observatory of Participatory Democracy, Energy Cities, ICLEI Europe, the Cities in Transition network, which it initiated, and its network of 19 twin cities, with which it is developing numerous cooperation projects.
To give just one example: when it comes to low-carbon mobility and the role of bicycles in the city, we draw our inspiration from cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen.
Thank you for the interview!
Read on for a closer look at the eco-neighbourhood Éco-cité in Grenoble:
Grenoble is committed to making reducing energy consumption and encouraging the use of renewable energy. The city in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region is also looking to set up alternative forms of transport and increase its environmental, architectural, social, and urban quality. One of the city’s main goals is to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions by a factor 4 by 2050. Between 2005 and 2010, it already achieved a reduction of 18%. The Éco-cité project in the north of the city, launched by the French government in 2008, showcases many pilot projects that all aim to turn the area into a positive energy and carbon-neutral district. This will be achieved by retrofitting private co-owned buildings and social housing, by creating a low-temperature heating and cooling network, and by developing a territorial monitoring system for all energy flows. So far, the main lessons from this project are that connection is key, that the implementation and sharing of solutions takes time, and that citizens must be empowered in order to truly be at the heart of the future city.
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