Tackling the many challenges of smarter, greener cities

Aug 05, 2014
Tackling the many challenges of smarter, greener cities

Zero-energy districts are the only possible future for European cities, as costs associated with palliating the effects of climate change soar, but there are many challenges ahead

The quest towards low energy consumption in city districts requires many changes not only at building level, but also at district level. For instance, this may involve improving the thermal properties of the buildings, introducing renewable energies—such as those sources from biomass, photovoltaic or solar thermal technologies—creating a district heating and cooling network and developing an intelligent electricity network, dubbed smart grid).

These are some of the solutions due to be tested in the EU-funded Project CITyFiED. The aims to carry out an extensive demonstration of its low concept, among other things, through in selected districts in the cities of Laguna de Duero, in Spain, Lund in Sweden and Soma in Turkey. "The current maturity of technology allows us to address the challenge of renovating residential districts and creating nearly-zero energy areas," says Ali Vasallo, the project coordinator and an expert in industrial engineering at the energy division of an applied research institute called the CARTIF Technology Centre, based in Boecillo near Valladolid, in Spain.

Such project does not come without challenges, though. "One of the first steps is to involve all the stakeholders—the neighbourhood, the owners, the energy services and construction companies and the municipalities—in order to make these kind of solutions and strategies available and offer an attractive product for all of them," Vasallo says.

One expert believes that such approach is only feasible if accompanied by an intensive citizen awareness campaign demonstrating the benefits of such renovation plan. This is accounted not only in terms of , but also in terms of economic benefits in the long term. "It is technologically feasible and economically profitable in the long run, but [we need] a transition process that convinces political, economic and social actors," points out Han Vandevyvere, a senior researcher and project manager at VITO, the Flemish Institute for Technological Research, in Mol Belgium.

Another expert sees a second challenge in that the solutions developed under the project are expected to be replicable in other urban districts on the continent. Although he believes in the importance of creating new examples such as the project showcases, or the Johanneberg district in Göteborg, replicability may still be an issue. "We know we can do it," says Greg Morrison, head deputy of the department of civil and environmental engineering at Chalmers University in Göteborg, Sweden, "but the challenge is how to replicate these models in urban areas where there is both less money to be invested and also a lack of integration and social cohesion."

The third, more significant, challenge is getting the right business model. To date, the project has succeeded in involving an energy service company (ESCO) together with a construction company who are making the necessary initial investment in these technologies. They expect to recoup their investment, when the owners pay them back in the long term thanks to energy savings.

However, "the upfront investment is one of the main bottlenecks," notes Vandevyvere, who previously served as scientific coordinator of the city project Leuven Climate Neutral 2030, completed in 2013. He adds: "we need to find investors that accomodate for longer pay back time, like 30 years, but we also need to make it understandable to all the agents that this huge investment is economically viable, as you invest in green economy, cleaner cities, a better quality of life, local employment and independency."

Explore further: Many tongues, one voice, one common ambition

Related Stories

Building towards 'nearly zero energy' cities

Nov 06, 2013

An ambitious four-year project is to develop and demonstrate replicable strategies for designing, constructing and managing large scale district renovation projects for achieving nearly zero energy cities. ...

Low energy district renovation

Dec 13, 2013

Renovations of entire districts, designed to reach near zero energy consumption, need to be replicable if they are to be widely adopted.

Revamping existing buildings to make them energy efficient

Mar 17, 2014

Tackling energy loss from buildings is one of the key objectives to reach greater sustainability, when it comes to energy consumption. The EU-funded BRICKER project aims to develop ways of reducing energy consumption by 50% ...

Many tongues, one voice, one common ambition

Jul 31, 2014

There is much need to develop energy efficient solutions for residential buildings in Europe. The EU-funded project, MeeFS, due to be completed by the end of 2015, is developing an innovative multifunctional and energy efficient ...

User-led sustainable buildings

May 29, 2014

Users' perspectives play a key role in low-energy building. Experts agree that the feedback from people living in energy efficient buildings could help to optimise their overall usability.

Recommended for you

Battery bounce test inaccurate measure of charge

4 hours ago

Don't throw away those bouncing batteries. Researchers at Princeton University have found that the common test of bouncing a household battery to learn if it is dead or not is not actually an effective way ...

Colombia transforms old tires into green housing

17 hours ago

The highlands around the Colombian capital are scattered with small buildings that look like out-of-place igloos but are in fact innovative houses made from the tires that litter the country's roads.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.