This blog was written for the Environment Journal in August 2016. You can read it here.
Nottingham is earning a reputation for being a city with sustainability at its heart. So what makes it different to the other core cities in the UK?
Newly published government data shows that since 2011-12 there has been a significant fall in the city’s carbon emissions due to a reduction in domestic energy use. It indicates a 33% reduction in carbon emissions since 2005, beating a target set by Nottingham City Council to reach a 26% reduction by 2020.
Councillor Alan Clark, portfolio holder for energy and sustainability, said of the news: ‘It’s a great achievement to have met this important target four years early. Nottingham is at the forefront of sustainability awareness and these latest figures maintain the city’s position as the UK’s most energy self-sufficient city.’
Without doubt, there is political commitment to the agenda in the city where Robin Hood Energy has become a pioneering and leading, if small, player in the domestic electricity and gas markets and has fast gained a reputation for value for money, as shown by a recent Which? report. Borne out of the council’s quest to tackle fuel poverty, it’s a not-for-profit success.
But providing cheaper fuel on its own doesn’t reduce carbon emissions. It’s investment in low carbon alternatives and improving building stock that’s achieving that.
It’s no coincidence that Nottingham’s carbon emissions reduction coincides with its programme of ‘energy saving investments in social housing such as external wall insulation programmes which have also been open to private owners and the installation of solar panels on over 4,000 of council house roof tops’, said Clark.
But here’s the real insight – Nottingham has been prepared to acknowledge that carbon reduction goes hand-in-hand with economic success. You won’t hear people in the city saying ‘we can’t do that it will scare off developers or investors’. Quite the opposite, it’s attracting the sort of businesses who want to be part of this responsible growth. Its confident approach follows from investment in human capital as well with a number of experienced and respected officers joining the council to lead the agenda and support its cabinet’s ambitions.
Councillor Nick McDonald, portfolio holder for business, growth and transport said: ‘A significant part of this reduction – around 13% – is due to the popularity of public transport, cycling and walking in Nottingham. We have Europe’s largest fleet of electric buses, the addition of the new Chilwell and Clifton tram routes and £6.1m invested in improving cycling routes to provide great alternatives to using cars to get around the city.’
It’s also galvanising the efforts of long-standing businesses in the city, like Boots and its two universities – both of which are considered to be amongst the most committed and highest performing universities in terms of sustainability.
The University of Nottingham has been placed first in the University of Indonesia’s Green Metric for the past three years and has never been out of the top two places since its inception. Nottingham Trent University consistently performs well in the index and, with a combined total of students well over 60,000, that’s a good proportion of the city covered.
Nottingham’s political commitment and clear strategy have brought confidence and a long-term approach that has enabled the city to invest its own money wisely as well as attract government funded programmes like Go Ultra Low.
The city is already making waves towards becoming a trailblazer Low Emission City through:
- Europe’s largest battery electric bus fleet with 45 fully battery electric buses in operation on our Linkbus network and 13 more electric buses on order
- Expansion of the electric NET tram system to three lines spanning 34km
- Inclusion of ULEVs as part of the council’s current fleet makeup
- Electric vehicles operating in our growing car club
- Electric vehicle charging infrastructure already in place at key Park and Ride services, workplaces and destinations
- Two local private hire companies operating six full electric and 150 hybrid vehicles
- Only Go Ultra Low shortlisted city to be awarded Lighthouse City status by EU. Funding secured for REMO Urban project for smart low carbon transport, energy and ICT projects
- Local commitment to the electrification of the Midland Mainline
- Local Authority owned, Robin Hood Energy and Enviroenergy generating and supplying local sustainable power for residents, businesses and transport
- The council has prepared a prospectus highlighting the key investment areas which will help to support Nottingham’s ambition for becoming a low emission city.
All of this is impressive. The city, led in the main by the council, has made the low carbon agenda a priority. It makes good business sense to reduce its own consumption and bills, to reduce fuel poverty and create an environment that business can buy-in to and support. While other provincial core cities have downsized their capabilities, Nottingham has invested and is clearly reaping the rewards in the triple bottom line. Reduced costs, happier citizens, better business.
Derby and Nottingham haven’t always been so prepared to work together. As cities, they have a reputation as rivals not collaborators. This manifests itself when the respective city’s teams play each other in football and in cricket but it’s also been felt to be an uneasy relationship between the leaders of both cities – both competing against each other for ever diminishing funding and investment opportunities.
That all appears to be coming to an end though. Whilst the football rivalries will no doubt be as strong as ever, the leaders of both cities have made a significant step in developing a shared ‘metro strategy’ that fundamentally recognises that the two cities can thrive together rather than strive apart. The publication of the first Metro Strategy, now out for consultation, invites comment and input from citizens, community groups and businesses and will, no doubt, further strengthen the offer the Local Enterprise Partnership, D2N2 presents. It shows ambition, acknowledges the challenges and isn’t ducking any issues. Skills, connectivity, economic growth and an a commitment to improving the environment sit together well in a coherent strategy.
The commitment to creating a ‘smart’ approach to urban living is welcomed. It is, in my view, the only way we will reduce the inefficiencies and increase the integration of systems – energy, water, waste, transport, data, good and services, etc.By committing to the value of information technologies to achieve this Nottingham and Derby can catch up on the cities that have taken the pacemaker’s role such as Bristol, Manchester and London.
Whilst many cities seem incapable of committing to a low carbon agenda for fear of scaring businesses, my own home city of Sheffield included, I was particularly pleased to see real commitment to reducing carbon emissions (something Nottingham has made significant commitments toward in achieving its 2020 target 4 years early) and for tackling poor air quality. With 40,000 commuters moving between the two cities on a regular basis there is a fantastic opportunity to create a low emission east-west corridor between the two cities linking into the Toton HS2 site through improved rail and tram services as well as further investment in electric and biomethane/biogas technologies to support low emission private vehicles too.
If I have one criticism of the document, it’s that, on the whole, it sees almost all of the key actions residing with either one of the city councils. If this strategy is to be delivered effectively it will require the commitment of the biggest and smallest stakeholders in the Derby/Nottingham conurbation. There is clearly a significant opportunity for all three of the universities to play a lead role in committing their buying power and operational scale to this agenda. More importantly, they have a significant intellectual contribution to make in shaping the metro strategy’s commitments to creating a climate resilient, blue-green space plan as well as supporting the challenging agenda to upskill and ensure opportunities for learning.
The strategy and action plan are here: http://www.derby.gov.uk/media/derbycitycouncil/contentassets/documents/consultationpapers/consultationdocuments/metro-strategy-action-plan.pdf
Read the full article here on the Environment Journal
The outcome of the EU referendum has divided opinion, but within the sustainability sector there appears to be real concern that the absence of legislation from Brussels could have long-term impacts on the local and global environment.
Of course, the uncertainty that exists now only adds risk to investment decisions, provides excuses to not implement and will, naturally, mean that investors will put their cash where they have greater certainty of cash value and policy. This limbo position won’t help the market for investment in renewables. Our own government has flip-flopped enough with energy policy for decades – now, with uncertainty surrounding trade deals and energy this will likely add cost to supplies and infrastructure investment.
Read more here.
A new district heating network in Sweden is based on a digital control system that allows for what its developers call virtual energy storage in buildings.
A control system manages the heat network, co-ordinating production and distribution with consumption through real-time analysis. Stored heat can be redistributed across the network, reducing peak load.
‘Through intelligent property controls the energy reserve can be put to better use in other parts of the network, thus reducing so-called peak load without affecting the indoor climate,’ the developers said. ‘This evens out the load on the grid over a 24-hour period, so the boilers do not need to work as hard and the flow through the district-heating pipes is more uniform.’
I wrote in March 2014 that cities were entering a new age of Victoriana, where cities, bereft of Government spending and failed by national energy policy, are returning to their roles of municipal leadership and investing in the infrastructure they need to serve not only voters in homes but those businesses that generate the ever important business rates. It’s great then to read that Bristol has committed £5m of capital expenditure to create a new district heating scheme in the city utilising biomass as the low carbon fuel of choice and, alongside other forward thinking cities such as Nottingham (Robin Hood Energy, etc) are genuinely delivering this vision.
The money is one thing. Well done to Bristol for committing £5m when budgets are tight and austerity means competing for budgets within frontline services is every more ferocious. But the really neat part of this is the way in which the Council’s Planning Authority has used its policies to drive demand for the heat network and de-risk the project.
Under current planning laws, all new building developments in Bristol within a designated “heat priority area” are required to connect to a heat network or be “district heating ready” unless technically unviable. Therefore, the new network scheme is also expected to significantly improve the green credentials of new developments in the city.
Of course, new build projects in 2017 and beyond, even without code for sustainable homes and a more proactive building regulations for commercial build will be low demand in terms of heat so the business case still has to stack up. But achieving the city’s carbon targets is serious for the Mayor and he’ll need a 4th generation heat network to deliver it.
Over two years ago I wrote about 4th Generation Heat Networks – setting out what a 4th Generation, 21st Century, heat network should achieve. It should seek to achieve a number of improvements on existing networks, 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).
The (new) Mayor of Bristol has approved the expenditure on the back of the city’s status of 2015’s Green Capital. He approved the city’s first major step towards becoming carbon neutral by 2050, giving the go-ahead for £5m in capital funding to build a low-carbon district heating network to serve the city.
The first phase of the heat network, which was approved earlier this week, will supply low-carbon heat to buildings throughout Bristol via a network of underground pipes connected to a number of energy centres, including biomass boilers and gas combined heat and power plants. Over time the city plans to phase out the use of natural gas in favour of renewable alternatives.
“One of my campaign promises was to put Bristol on course to run entirely on renewable energy by 2050,” Mayor Rees said in a statement. “Without a city-wide heat network this target will not be possible, particularly in a city with a historic centre, where solar and wind technologies are not always an option for technical or financial reasons.”
“This is a major infrastructure project that will connect parts of the city over a number of years and which will deliver substantial benefits to the environment, residents and businesses in Bristol,” Mayor Rees added. “In the meantime, we are already delivering low carbon, stable and fairly priced heat to council tenants, many of whom are currently living in fuel poverty, which is a cause that’s very close to my heart.”
Ayona Datta has written a human-centric case for smart cities for The Conversation. Read it – it’s a great summary, with solutions, on how three big challenges can be overcome.
The notion of the “smart city” has been gaining attention around the world. Also called the “wired”, “networked” or “ubiquitous” city, the “smart city” is the latest in a long line of catch-phrases, referring to the development of technology-based urban systems for driving efficient city management and economic growth. Read more here.