On Tuesday, Google unveiled a new independent startup called Sidewalk Labs with the goal of making technology that can fix difficult urban problems like making transportation run more smoothly, cutting energy use and lowering the cost of living. The company will be based in New York City and run by Dan Doctoroff, the former CEO of Bloomberg and former Deputy Mayor of Economic Development and Rebuilding for New York City.
There is no shortage of innovation in Google products but they recognise it’s how these products and services are integrated that will accelerate the speed at which we transition from ‘dumb’ to ‘smart’. Of course, Google aren’t the only player in this space – but they are a key one. I would like to see cities utilising these tools but also working with their home universities to deliver smarter cities which tackle issues of governance, democracy and transparency as well as tech-savvy IT.
In January this year DECC funded a number of innovative projects to support heat networks in the UK. Today saw the E.ON ‘s project announced: UK-first renewable heat network demonstration wins DECC funding. It’s encouraging in a week that has been dire for those of us in the sustainability profession, given the Government’s stance on zero carbon homes drop like a stone in the same way its commitment to on-shore wind has fallen, to see something good come from the coalition Government. Ed Davey was clearly able to keep some emphasis on low carbon investment when the Liberal Democrats were in charge at DECC.
E.ON have stood alone as one of the ‘Big 6’ that have recognised the longer term value in heat networks and the scheme in Exeter and the investment in Sheffield are testimony to that. It’s good to see further investment that will decarbonise the heat in the Exeter network through the use of solar thermal energy.
A presentation I made in July 2013 set out what a 4th Generation, 21st Century, heat network should achieve. The scheme in Exeter is clearly edging in that direction. In a previous blog I suggested heat networks should seek to achieve a number of things, including:
- Greater resilience, through heat storage, back-up and optimisation;
- Lower carbon heat, through the adoption of lower carbon fuel sources, such as geothermal heat, biomass, biogas, solar;
- 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).
You can read previous blogs on heat networks on consumer protection; the Nottingham city scheme; the use of rivers for heat; the role of cities in heat network development;
In a previous (re)blog that was drafted by Brad – The Mancunian Way or the Highway – it was clear that Manchester was very much at the heart of what Government (and George Osbourne) considered to be the ‘Northern Powerhouse’. Personally, I think it’s up there with ‘hardworking families’ as the most over-used and un-understood(!) phrase. But, as The Guardian says, “George Osborne has confirmed Greater Manchester as the golden child of his “northern powerhouse” in a budget which promised hazy devolution deals to Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, the Midlands – and Cornwall – but left out the north-east of England almost entirely.”
In a blog posted in late 2014 Peter Heterington, writing in The Guardina wrote: “English councils will soon have lost almost a quarter of their funding in five years. Those most in need, such as Sheffield, are being hit hardest. It has happened on the watch of the MP for Sheffield Hallam. Since 2010, £238m has been removed from Sheffield city council’s budget, with a further £60m likely to be slashed next year. “We are facing the worst financial crisis in our history,” but authorities in the leafy south are faring far better than big cities such as Sheffield.”
Nine months on there remains a sniff of devolution, provided you play by the unwritten rules not in DCLG but in The Treasury. Manchester, with first mover advantage, has not only given Osbourne confidence because of its united front and its history of the Greater Manchester Authorities working in partnership, it has cleverly influenced his thinking from the inside. Nothing wrong with that of course. It’s only to be applauded that local government, albeit big authorities, are influencing ‘upwards’. But behind Manchester appears to be dawdling, indecision, infighting and a series of internal debates that amount to the phrase ‘turkeys voting for Christmas’ to be echoing around town halls in the north and the midlands.
Osborne referenced the city regions of Sheffield, Liverpool and Leeds – a particularly disputed region which includes York and parts of North Yorkshire – which he said were “working towards further devolution deals”. The government is also “making good progress towards a deal with Cornwall” and had also received proposals from the West and East Midlands, he said.
The one rule that seems to be a sticking point is that devolution needs an elected mayor, despite the appetite for this being zero in the cities who seek it. The Treasury’s insistence on an elected mayor had been a stumbling block throughout the process. Will mayors one day rule the world?