»Morgenstadt International« in Vietnam – Fraunhofer presents research approach for Asian Smart Cities

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Stuttgart / SaigonMorgenstadt goes East! Nowhere else in the world the population is growing as rapidly as in Asia. This puts enormous pressure on the cities there, which are struggling with such annual population growth that is hard to imagine in Europe or North America. As a result, from the beginning of the 21st century, a large number of the big cities there are about to become megacities. But that is not the only challenge that Asian metropolises have to face. The Pacific region is also confronted with much greater consequences of the climate change, and the economy of the largest part of the world has also been growing rapidly for years and increasingly requires infrastructure that keeps up with the associated burdens. In Vietnam, they are now on the way to shape the future of their own cities dynamically but also sustainably. The scientists of the Morgenstadt Initiative would like to accompany the transformation of the metropolises into the Smart Cities with their expertise. For this purpose, an exchange between the Fraunhofer researchers and the local actors in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) took place recently as part of the event "Morgenstadt International". We talked to the accountable  scientist, Petr Suska, who shared with us fascinating impressions of his visit to the East Asian country.



1. Petr, you were recently presenting the Morgenstadt approach at an event, called Morgenstadt International, jointly organized with the Vietnamese-German University of Saigon. Could you tell us a little more about the purpose of the event? Who had the original idea for the cooperation?


P.S.: The event is part of a joint project co-funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the Fraunhofer Society. The purpose of the project is to intensify innovation partnerships between German research institutions and companies and the Vietnamese counterparts. The project also extends to India. The overall concept is to bring a global approach to local solutions and help building the city of tomorrow. The Vietnamese-German University and the Fraunhofer office in Bangkok were both key partners in the success of the event in Saigon, Vietnam. For Fraunhofer IAO, the event was particularly important, as it presented a great platform to discuss the Morgenstadt International project as well as the City Lab approach and Value of Urban Data Innovation partnerships.



2. The Asian market is fast growing and gets more and more important for Western countries and companies. What’s so special about Vietnam and why is it interesting for smart city projects?


P.S.: Vietnam in the past 20 years has been of the fastest growing markets and economies in the world. There is a phenomenal trajectory of the numbers of people using smartphones and those being connected to internet. The level of physical development of cities such as Saigon is also impressive, with new developments and projects such as Saigon Silicon Valley, which aims to attract $1.5 bn of investment. Smart Cities is one of the hottest topics in Vietnam. There are already smart district development projects in the pipeline in Saigon, Hanoi and Da Nang worth billions of dollars. Many consultancies and construction companies are trying to grab a piece of the pie. Fraunhofer IAO is positioning itself so that it could provide insightful intelligence and pre-investment assessment to some of these projects in order to ensure the focus on the overall quality of the concepts that are being developed.



3. The population in Asia is growing as fast as nowhere else in the world. Many cities on the continent are emerging mega cities. What are the implications for the smart city developement considering the predicted growth of the population in Vietnam? And what are the differences compared to smart city activities in European cities?


P.S.: There has been a rapid rate of urbanisation in some parts of Asia, particularly in China. Over 500 million of people from rural China have moved into cities over the past 30 years. This is almost unthinkable in the European context. It also produced many externalities in the form of now well-known Chinese ghost towns such as Ordos City, or the new town of Kangbashi in northern China. Vietnam is urbanizing at a rate of 3.4% per year compared to 0.12% per year in Germany. Furthermore, only 34% of the Vietnamese population (94 million) lives in urban areas. For comparison in the EU, on average some 73% of all EU inhabitants live in cities. Vietnamese cities are and will be under a large pressure to grow to accommodate all the newcomers. Furthermore, this urban growth has to be more sustainable. In a report from 2011, the World Bank predicted that Vietnam will be one of the 5 countries worst affected by climate change. The demand for energy grows by 10% annually in Vietnam. The great problem is that Vietnam heavily depends on coal as a main energy source. Some 50% of its electricity output is produced by burning 63 million tonnes of coal every year. This poses a great challenge and more sustainable options need to be explored. Fraunhofer IAO is eyeing a collaboration with Saigon to bring issues of sustainable and equitable growth to the forefront. Smart Cities projects in Vietnam have to go beyond a procurement of a couple of e-buses or a construction of a new metro line. Smart Cities projects not only in Vietnam must address the complex issues that are arising from the rapid population growth and the global megatrends that are posing threats, but also opportunities to the modern cities and societies.



4. As I mentioned above, you were recently representing the Morgenstadt initiative at the Morgenstadt International event in Ho Chi Minh City. Could you tell us a little more about the major topics of the event and who the other attendees were?


P.S.: There was a number of presentations divided into three main blocks: Smart Energy and Planning tools, Smart ICT Applications and Smart Governance and Management System. In the first block we talked about Integrated Design of Energy and Spatial Concepts, Net Zero Energy Districts, IoT and Connected Services, and Urban Infrastructure Digitalization. In the second block, we discussed Open Data Platforms for Smart Cities as well as Digital Healthcare. In the last, third block, we focused on the Role of Finance in the Smart City, Stakeholder Participation and Smarter Development Management in Saigon. The speakers came from a variety of backgrounds: research, public and private sector. The event was attended by a number of Fraunhofer representatives from Fraunhofer IAO, Fraunhofer FOKUS, and Fraunhofer Bangkok, as well by the Vietnamese-German University. Furthermore, there were representatives from the Binh Duong Smart City Province as well as Da Nang and Saigon. Last, there were participants from Siemens and Bosch.  



5. Obviously, Vietnam is a pretty interesting potential partner for a variety of companies and research institutes as well. Do you already know if there will be more events like this in the future in Vietnam or other countries and what are the upcoming steps regarding further Fraunhofer activities in Vietnam?


P.S.: There will be definitely one more event in March 2018. Fraunhofer IAO will be signing an MoU with the Vietnamese-German University in Saigon. There are some open discussions with the public sector representatives to see how Fraunhofer IAO could contribute to a more sustainable future of Vietnamese urban areas.


Thanks Petr for the interview and good luck for your future international projects.



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