Smart Cities – What role for local authorities?

It’s self evident isn’t it? How can a city set an agenda to become smarter without its local authority on board? At the very least there are issues of governance, public space, licensing, enforcement, regulations that a council would need to oversee.

In the space of a few days we have seen the UK Government both identify real weaknesses in the capacity of local authorities (by DCLG) whilst another Government department applauds sixteen local and regional authorities that are setting the standard in open data and transparency by the Cabinet Office’s, Francis Maude (Local authorities setting standards as Open Data Champions).

Is this just a case of un-joined up messaging from two departments who claim to be working hand-in-glove or, in fact, reality? Of course there are some local authorities who have embraced this approach. Bristol, Glasgow and London have all been funded heavily by both the Future Cities Catapult and private sector investment whilst other sizeable cities such as Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham have taken a lead in this area too – because they see it’s the right direction to be travelling. You’d expect, of course Cambridgeshire to be in the mix simply because of its world class university presence but who would have thought Sunderland and Devon would be included? Well deserved recognition in the face of adversity in the case of the former I would suggest.

But what do cities (and other urban and rural authorities) need to have in their armoury? “Without the right skills to innovate, the public sector will be unable to take full advantage of the cost efficiencies available from better – and smarter – ways of delivering modern services,” the report, Smart Places Today, finds.

As local authorities are further cut by budget cuts will they have sufficient gravitas to attract the forward thinking expertise needed to regenerate their cities – not with bricks and mortar but clicks of an app. The research, which aimed to assess the benefits and potential for ‘smart’ places, not just ‘smart cities’, found that the capacity to implement smart technologies is only in place in 15.2% of local public service bodies, though 45.7% have plans to address the gap.

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Can we be Transparent on District and Communal Heat Network Data?

In a recent blog (Can we be Transparent on District and Communal Heat Network Data?) there is a call to ensure data is in high definition. To make”innovative projects truly successful there is a requirement for as much data, information and experiences as possible. The data provided to academics, policy planners, system designers, manufacturers and operators allows for solutions to meet the needs of all stakeholders, offering the best in environmental and cost benefits.

This is hard to argue with – lots of stakeholders might want to see this data (such as academics, policy planners, system designers, manufacturers and operators) but if you really want to extract and harvest data about the system, user behaviour and the interaction between the two you really need to give the end user some benefit. My view is that heat networks have the potential to be much more flexible in their offer to customers. In a previous blog I wrote that modern networks should offer choice and product differentiation, offered through multiple heat providers inputting to a singular (independent possibly) network over which consumers buy their heat. Products could be differentiated by temperature (return temperatures are lower than those temperatures leaving central plant), carbon intensity (fuels of varying intensities of heat can command different prices and values shaped by carbon markets and carbon targets).

With real time monitoring and offers you can, potentially, encourage customers to turn down their heating, or indeed encourage them to take more as a mechanism to balance heat loads. You could share local performance at the home level or at the network level to achieve this.

To conclude this short blog, it’s hard to disagree with Sycous Limited in their call for better data, but it has to reap reward for the end user as much as any operator, academic or planner.

Liverpool’s Commission on Environmental Sustainability Reports

I have written about three cities in England setting up ‘commissions’ to review their aspirations, plans and resources to ensure they are sustainable in previous blogs. In January 2015 I wrote about those three commissions and their ‘one’ outcome. “Faced with depleting local authority resources and in times of change – both in terms of political leadership, centralisation vs devolution, economic challenge and environmental change – can ‘commissions’ such as those set up in Birmingham, Sheffield and Liverpool help shape the future strategic direction of a city’s commitment to environmental sustainability?” 

The key question I asked in that blog was What should be the role of the Council? in those cities. My conclusion was that a strong city council leader will attempt to deliver against all three in both the short, medium and longer term. Perhaps the only chance they have of doing that is in partnership with other public, private and their sector partners with a healthy challenge from academia.

So, it’s encouraging, as Liverpool’s Commission led by Professor Nigel Weatherill, Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive of Liverpool John Moores University, reported its findings yesterday and made a very clear statement of intent that the Mayor would lead this agenda and facilitate integrated cross-boundary and cross-agency working to bring this to fruition.

I was invited to give evidence to the Commission last year and I am delighted that some of the observations I made have been endorsed and incorporated into the recommendations of the report. In particular, I was pleased to see that the Commission recognises the City of Liverpool is not an island – it has to work collaboratively with its neighbouring authorities and its economic area. The role of the LEP and any city region is crucial to this. It clearly recognises that economic wellbeing is underpinned by an approach that supports and understands the wider sustainability agenda.

Whilst you might expect transport, energy and waste to feature it was pleasing to see emphasis placed on the role of the City’s universities and of education, engagement and behavioural change. These areas are out of the comfort zone of most local authorities, so it is pleasing to see these recommendations published. Of course, we look forward to seeing how cash-constrained local authorities might respond to this challenge.

Finally, it was particularly pleasing to see the link made between a smarter, digital city and one that was sustainable. Almost all of the Core Cities are building links between these two strategic objectives. Notably Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester. I trust Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle will follow suit.

The recommendations are set out below and the full report is available.

1. Environmental issues cut across political boundaries and timescales
1.1 The Mayor should seek a commitment from our local political leaders for a single unified vision for an environmentally sustainable City Region.
1.2 The Mayor should appoint a Director of Environmental Sustainability to report directly to him with resources and authority to be effective.
1.3 The Mayor should work with his counterparts across the North of England and propose a Northern Commission on Environmental Sustainability. The terms of reference should mirror those set for this Commission.

2. Maximise economic benefits from renewable resources
2.1 An integrated sustainable energy strategy must be initiated by the Mayor.
2.2 The Mayor should establish a team to explore options for a Liverpool municipal or city-wide community energy company.
3. An integrated transport system for the future
3.1 A strategy to deliver an integrated, innovative and sustainable transport system must be developed and implemented. This strategy must meet the demands of a growing population in a modern, dynamic and
economically thriving city and address:
• Improved airport, port and city connectivity for vehicles and citizens
• Integrated smart ticketing across all modes of transport
• Easier personal accessibility to some railway stations
• Park and ride facilities
3.2 The Mayor should call on the Combined Authority and Merseytravel to
immediately begin the process to take back control of the bus network.

3.3 The Mayor must take action to ensure Liverpool’s roads are safe for
cyclists with protected cycle lanes and other solutions to increase the
safety of cycling.

4. Education and engagement drives behavioural change
4.1 The Mayor must work in a visible way with community leaders to communicate the vision, debate the issues and task leaders to raise awareness of environmental sustainability within the fabric of the city.

4.2 The Mayor should bring together educational leaders and task them with raising the awareness and understanding of the importance of environmental sustainability and the inevitable changes that are required
in our society.
4.3 The Mayor must task the universities and colleges to develop a joint International Research Centre for Environmentally Sustainable Cities.
4.4 The Mayor should work with health and educational professionals to help raise the profile of the importance of the environment and sustainability to personal wellbeing.
4.5 The Mayor must create a digital vision for Liverpool that can become the platform for social media and other forms to communicate, engage and help deliver a smart, green city.
5. Quality of place matters
5.1 The City Council should adopt a ‘Meanwhile Use’ strategy for plots of available land across the city.
5.2 The Mayor must ensure that local people are involved in the review of Liverpool’s green spaces.
5.3 The Mayor should bring forward a green corridor strategy and as an exemplar should take action to pedestrianise areas within the Knowledge Quarter and monitor impact.
6. Redefine waste as a resource
6.1 The Mayor should request a full review of waste collection to improve recycling rates and improve cleanliness all at a reduced cost.
6.2 The Mayor should call for an integrated waste strategy that transcends political boundaries and recognises waste as a valuable resource to be developed as a matter of great urgency.

7. Securing our future
7.1 The Mayor should request an integrated appraisal of the whole of the infrastructure in Liverpool with consideration given to factors inherent in an historic city.
7.2 The Mayor should work collaboratively with the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and sector leaders to explore innovative inward investment opportunities to support business growth and economic prosperity.
8. The Liverpool of the future
8.1 The Mayor should invite local organisations to continue the discussion and keep the debate alive and should instigate an annual event to benchmark and monitor progress as Liverpool navigates its way towards
environmental sustainability.

Carbon. It’s Not Staying or Going Underground and It Needs To

Not really aligned with sustainable cities per se, but occasionally you read a blog that just clarifies complexity in a wonderfully concise way. Today I read a blog written by Howard J. Herzog, a Senior Research Engineer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In his blog on The Conversation‘s website “Pumping CO2 underground can help fight climate change. Why is it stuck in second gear?” he explains not only the opportunity afforded by carbon capture and storage but also disentangles the complexity of financial and political interventions and drivers. But, quite simply, he does make the case for capturing ‘free’ CO2 and storing it underground to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere causing climate change.

On the same day, by coincidence, George Monbiot writes in The Guardian The extraction of fossil fuels is a hard fact. The rules governments have developed to prevent their use are weak, inconsistent and negotiable. In other words, when coal, oil and gas are produced, they will be used. Continued production will overwhelm attempts to restrict consumption. Even if efforts to restrict consumption temporarily succeed, they are likely to be self-defeating. A reduction in demand when supply is unconstrained lowers the price, favouring carbon-intensive industry”. Keeping those fossil fuels that were formed over millions of years underground exactly there is the only way we’re going to stave off irreversible climate change. 

Both conclude that the true cost of ‘freeing’ those carbons is not being met. If there was a true polluter pays principle it would make the case for keeping the carbon in the ground in the first place and it would certainly help invest in technologies to capture carbon, store it and re-use it. We need to find ways of keeping what is in the ground there for longer and ways of putting what has already been liberated back there, safely out of the atmosphere whilst we figure out a low carbon solution to our needs.

 

Is this the greenest public sector ever in the UK?

In a blog published today by The Carbon Trust, Tim Pryce, Head of the Public Sector at the CT asked “Is this the greenest public sector ever in the UK?”.

“Over the past five years it has often been repeated that the current government is aiming to be the UK’s greenest government ever. Over the same period we have seen a focus on austerity result in cuts to public sector budgets and jobs, which has directly impacted on the amount of resource and support available for improving environmental performance. So where has this left the public sector in its own drive for sustainability? And are they playing their part in helping to meet the UK’s ambitions on reducing carbon emissions, tackling climate change, and addressing the challenges of resource scarcity?”

Without doubt Tim has taken a very positive, but guarded, perspective. Having attended the conference in London to which Tim refers, it was well attended and yes, the public sector has made strides forward in reducing its carbon footprint. I would suggest that those in the room had probably contributed more than average and that Tim was speaking, by his own admission, to the committed and the converted.

In the coalition’s period of Government we have seen a number of commitments to deliver the objective of the ‘greenest government ever’. Off the top of my head I would refer to the introduction of the feed-in-tariff, the renewable heat incentive, the creation of the Heat Network Development Unit and the sustained commitment to low emission vehicles through OLEV. However, we have also seen the culling of the CERT and CESP mechanisms for funding energy efficiency in domestic properties throwing the insulation industry in to meltdown and the outright failure of the laudable, but unimplementable, Green Deal. Only a handful of organisations of local authorities have had the will, clout or funding to really make it a success.

My suspicion is the public sector carbon emission reductions have been as a direct result of austerity on a needs-must basis which has led to the sell-off of un-needed properties or simply being more frugal in heating spaces. Whilst the outcome looks good (reduced CO2 and energy consumed) it was achieved by doing all the easy, very short payback projects leaving the harder yards to the next government’s term. To achieve more going forward will require a longer term approach, more capital investment in infrastructure, energy efficiency and process improvement. I don’t see the government handing out lots of cash for that in the near term. Already the EU carbon targets are being seen as undeliverable by some. The UK’s credibility in contributing to them is at stake.

 

£3 million funding to boost low carbon heating

The cynic in me isn’t surprised that this announcement comes less than 60 days before the General Election, but I am not a cynic really. It’s good to see DECC’s continued support for district heating. If there is one thing this Government can be applauded for its understanding of the importance of ‘heat’ and the opportunity for heat networks to reduce carbon emissions and provide cost-effective heat. Well done to Davey and his team in carving out £3 million of funding to boost low carbon heating.

DECC has done some useful enabling work to support the uptake of heat networks. It has established the Heat Network Development Unit (HNDU) to lead this and has produced some useful studies to demonstrate the untapped potential out there – such as the report produced in 2014 on heat opportunities from rivers.

The Government’s own Heat Strategy states that producing heat is the biggest user of energy in the UK and in most cases we burn gas in individual boilers to produce this heat. This is a wasteful method of producing heat and a large emitter of CO2, with heat being responsible for 1/3 of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. Household heat demand has risen somewhat over the past 40 years from 400 TWh/y to 450 TWh/y, despite a marked improvement in the energy efficiency of homes and a slight reduction in the severity of winters. The average internal temperature of homes has risen by 6°C since the 1970s, and this combined with growth in housing – the number of households has risen by around 40% since the 1970s – has offset energy efficiency gains in terms of total energy used to heat homes Some studies suggest these temperature increases are due to factors including the move to central heating, rather than householders actively turning up their thermostats.

Heat networks in the UK use a range of heat sources including biomass and gas boilers, combined heat and power (CHP) plants and heat from energy-from-waste plants and, where conditions suit, such as is the case of Southampton, a small amount of geothermal heat. Networks are currently estimated to provide less than 2% of the UK’s heat demand supplying 172,000 domestic buildings (predominantly social housing, tower blocks and public buildings) and a range of commercial and industrial applications (particularly where high temperature heat in the form of steam is required). Despite being of a significant size, Sheffield’s city centre district energy network is estimated to provide 3% of the entire City’s total heat needs.

By comparison, district heating is widespread in many other parts of Europe, in China, Korea, Japan, Russia, and the USA, although the level of sophistication and reliability is very diverse. While having an average market share of 10% in Europe, district heat is particularly widespread in Scandinavia (Denmark nearly 70%, Finland 49%, and Sweden around 50%). It also has a substantial share elsewhere in Europe. For instance, district heat provides around 18% of heat in Austria (and 40% of heat in Vienna). European networks are currently growing at around 2,800 km per year, about 3% of current installed length. With the right planning, economic and market conditions it is clear district energy can play a more prominent role.

Whilst this funding announcement is showing funding going to new players in the district heating community as well as some established ones (Coventry, Leicester, Manchester, for example) there is a need to put money in to those long-established networks in cities that were at the forefront in decades past (Sheffield, Nottingham, Southampton). These ‘4th generation networks’ need to be reviewed, refreshed and developed as much as those ‘greenfield’ sites where district heating is all too new.

All the schemes developed to date have been local authority led. This round of funding allocates £3m across 55 local authorities in England and Wales. I would urge DECC to look at other types of organisation who might exploit heat networks at a medium scale where the conditions are right to do so. Those organisations with a long term stake in the city or town in which they are based are well placed. For example, NHS Trusts, universities and colleges, whilst not as big as an entire city or town often have enough scale in them to warrant district heating networks. Indeed, some of them already do. My own organisation, The University of Nottingham, has two of significance as well as several smaller, interconnected systems on its campuses. Most of them follow the model of high temperature, high pressure systems and don’t allow for storage, cooling or consider CHP. 

In the recent round of HEFCE/Salix Revolving Green Fund projects awarded interest free loans there were a good number of CHP schemes and a smaller number of district heating schemes put forward. I believe there would have been more had these organisations had sufficient revenue to develop shovel-ready projects for capital investment. Like the public sector, universities are often capital rich and revenue poor. That means that complex, integrated and multi-faceted feasibility studies can often become un-affordable – even if the capital is available for it to be delivered in time. I would like to see HNDU looking to other large organisations and helping them in the way that they have helped local authorities. If they could do it in partnership with the funding council and with their established partners, Salix Finance, even better. 

 

 

How Smart Cities can combat climate change

In a blog published today Catherine Cameron sets out “How Smart Cities can combat climate change“.

Cameron opens with some well repeated facts: “Cities consume over two thirds of the world’s energy and generate over 70% of global CO2 emissions. Cities are centres of commerce and culture but over 90% of all urban areas are coastal, exposing them to sea level rise and storm surges. Climate impacts such as storms, flooding and drought have financial impacts, with major disruption to business operations and city finances.”

As cities become home to a greater proprotion of the planet’s human population it’s only expected that cities face some of the biggest challenges, but also have some of the best resources, in facing climate change. “Cities are rising to this challenge. Urban density provides an opportunity for a better quality of life and a lower carbon footprint through more efficient infrastructure and planning. Low carbon mass public transport, cycle hire and walking, with higher density urban living, smart grids, green roofs, rainwater harvesting and garden cities can all add up“.

Those of you who read my tweets and blogs will know I am an advocate of open data to support smart cities. By ‘smart’ I mean: resilient, adaptable, integrated, intelligent, low impact, high value. Only this week there has been recognition of the opportunity to use smart data to achieve integration not just at neighbourhood or district level but at city and between cities scale. 

In a piece published only this week ICLEI USA Executive Director Michael Schmitz said “We want cities to be able to see all the things that contribute to their overall carbon footprint … If they have accurate data, and the ability to measure it, smarter policy decisions will be made.”

But before we can expect cities to be inherently ‘smart’ there are many faced with huge challenges of facing fundamental needs. With more than half the world’s population now in cities, scientists are warning that inadequate surface water supplies will leave many at increasing risk of drought and cities are facing failure of their most important, but often neglected, infrastructure.

The argument put forward by Cameron is one of leadership and governance being devolved to the city scale through elected and accountable mayors. This, of course, is well played out policy discussion in the UK – albeit there is a long way to go before there are elected mayors in all UK cities. Indeed, the concept of the ‘mayor’ is directive in itself. What cities need are effective decision making by accountable individuals and collectives who can take a longer term view of their city’s needs.

In a blog I wrote last October I said The last century has seen unprecedented change. The next 100 years could me make or break for the human species” and it will be in our cities that this unprecedented change will be felt most. Cities, as Cameron acknowledges are responding – and they need to. Not only are they home to the failing infrastructure, they are home to an ever more demanding and constrained population. A population that houses the very rich and the poorest of the poor. As city populations become more diverse, younger, older and living longer, the pressure created by climate change will only exacerbate the widening gap between those who can adapt and those who will, simply, fail. Successful cities need to be climate resilientWe are seeing what some have referred to as ‘global weirding’ – with abnormally high (or low), dry (or wet) seasons across the globe. Significant rainfall, falling in extreme bursts that our landuse patterns and drainage systems simply cannot cope with, has caused massive damage in the Indian Sub-Continent, China, Australia, the USA and Europe in the last couple of years. Close to home, here in the UK, we have seen a warmer summer for the first time since 2006. But that has come at a cost” wrote John Metcalfe in the excellent Atlantic Cities blog.

In conclusion, Cameron suggests setting targets has been successful and the C40 are mobilising knowledge transfer, ambition and progress. Targets set out an objective for inherently competitive humans to achieve. In doing so we should remember that collaboration between cities is every bit more important than competition if we are to succeed.