Pilot projects may hide our unability to decide

In every city and in every country, bloom pilot projects, demonstrators and various types of tests. The launch of such a project is enough to attract journalists to a city claiming itself to be a Smart City, in short, feeding the buzz.

But, why so many pilots? What is behind these initiatives?

I clearly saw, in recent years, a change in the nature of pilot projects.

Consortia, keen to join forces to develop innovative solutions to address complex issues, launched 15 years ago the first pilot projects conducted in the field of Smart Grids that I remember. These projects provided, to complementary partners, unaccustomed to work together, the opportunity to develop, live with a customer, a common solution.

This type of pilot project was extended to research projects, for instance those aiming at understanding the consumers’ behaviour, requiring observation of behaviour and usage.

These first projects of a new kind were virtuous: they allowed to master a new degree of difficulty encountered in preparing the response to emerging energy challenges. They were a step that became necessary in the design of complex solutions.

Since then, I have observed the launch of pilot projects that do not fit into this dynamic.

Recent pilot projects have been launched by hesitant policymakers, anxious to reassure the value of a solution: the objective of these projects is not to create conditions for their success but to seek the reason for their potential failure. It is rare to validate an innovation in these conditions.

Others have been launched to postpone the decision to deploy a new solution. The time needed to complete the pilot project is as much time before having to make a decision.

Some decision makers, including political ones, do not intend to introduce innovations in their city: but a pilot project has the advantage of showing that they are active while affecting a small area at a lower cost.

These pilots are rarely integrated into a comprehensive approach: for the casual observer of the market, they give the illusion of a great innovation activity. In reality, they hide a guilty wait.

A global vision of energy stakes pursued over decades and the associated roadmap of actions are generally a good guarantor of the real intentions. This vision must be communicated simply and intelligible for all. We, as smart citizens, have to request it.

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