The issues facing Scotland’s ­cities as they try to keep pace with the smart energy revolution and harness innovations in renewable ­energy takes centre stage on 20 February at ­Scottish Renewables’ Low-Carbon Cities Conference in Edinburgh.

Sponsored by Pinsent Masons, the ­conference will feature industry leaders, local and national politicians and major stakeholders, who will discuss how ­Scotland can make best use of its formidable natural resources and continue the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Certainly, there is no lack of ambition, as laid out in December in the Scottish ­Government’s strategy A 2050 Vision for Energy, which set two new targets – firstly, the equivalent of 50 per cent of the energy for Scotland’s heat, transport and electricity consumption to be supplied from renewable sources, and secondly an increase by 30 per cent in the productivity of energy use across the Scottish economy.

Whilst the focus on renewable energy generation continues to be key to the ­energy strategy, it is clear that energy efficiency measures, the management of energy consumption and the promotion of storage and system flexibility and further innovation are priority focus areas.

The ambitious framework set out in the energy strategy sends an important ­message to business regarding the potential for investment in low-carbon projects located in Scotland. This is particularly clear in relation to the need to see real progress in the decarbonisation of heat.

Innovation is also required for the roll-out of electric or other low-emission forms of transport and economic opportunities will emerge from the necessary changes that Scotland’s energy system will create in order to deliver this strategy and a more localised energy system that integrates smart technologies.

This all chimes with the findings in a ­Pinsent Masons commissioned survey, Smart Energy – Hungry for Change, which amongst other things looked at the ­evolution of mobile technology and the development of smart energy and ­infrastructure projects on a global scale.

Cities are a logical starting point for smart energy projects and Scotland will be following the example of the likes of Amsterdam, Barcelona and Oslo, which are already encouraging the adoption of smart energy technologies through the roll-out of smart city initiatives.

Turning smart city concepts into reality, however, is never straightforward, and according to our survey findings, ­utilities companies and investors are somewhat split on the best way forward. Utilities – which bear ultimate responsibility for delivering the smart energy portion of such initiatives – are clear about the ­support mechanisms needed for these projects to succeed, with 44 per cent believing legislative support is most crucial and 36 per cent favouring more financial support.

Investors, not surprisingly, have a different perspective – financial support is seen as the most important mechanism by 50 per cent of respondents, with organisational assistance favoured by 28 per cent.

One area where the smart energy industry has been given a leg-up is in local government policy. In the UK for example, Bristol and Peterborough have for some years been ­promoting smart technologies, including electric vehicles and renewable energy.

The smart cities drive is helping to change the focus of the smart energy market as local authorities open up public sector assets, such as data, and enable the private sector to innovate using those assets. Some local authorities are also providing public sector money to support private sector investment in smart cities and smart energy technologies, and this gives businesses comfort that they are not alone in taking on the risks involved in pushing forward with innovation and developing and commercialising new technologies.

Kate Turner, legal director and specialist in energy projects at legal firm Pinsent Masons