‘Significant opportunities’ for low-carbon cities

Switching to a low-carbon economy offers cities ‘significant economic opportunities’, an assessment says. Low-carbon markets was worth US $33bn (£26bn) to London’s economy, the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) says in its latest report. The report, It takes a city: the case for collaborative climate action, added that the cities spread over 89 nations had identified more than 1,000 economic opportunities linked to climate change. Almost 300 cities featured in the report were also developing new business industries, such as clean technology.
Source: http://environmentjournal.online/articles/significant-opportunities-for-low-carbon-cities/

The secrets of Nottingham’s sustainability success

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 council, together with Nottinghamshire County Council and Derby City Council, are among the UK’s exemplar Go Ultra Low Cities, implementing a wide range of new initiatives to make electric vehicles and sustainable transport more accessible. This is also embedded in the recent Metro Strategy for Nottingham and Derby recently put out for consultation.
At the same time, more than 50 gas-powered buses are heading to the streets of Nottingham after a successful bid for government funding was confirmed to augment the 50+-strong fleet of electric buses in the city.
Nottingham City Transport, in partnership with the council, has been awarded funding under the government’s OLEV Low emission bus scheme, meaning £4.4m has been awarded to buy 53 bio-methane fuelled double deckers and to install the fuelling infrastructure at its Parliament Street garage. The city council was also successful in its bid for £920,000, which will fund on-street rapid charging infrastructure, improving the range and flexibility of the council’s electric bus fleet – currently the largest in the UK and Europe. This funding will also be used to construct the charging base for the 13 new electric buses which are shortly to arrive in Nottingham.
The new gas double decker buses will be quieter, smoother and cleaner and will ultimately provide an estimated carbon emission saving to the city of 23,204,856 kilograms over the lifetime of the vehicles compared to conventional diesel buses.
Councillor Nick McDonald, portfolio holder for business, growth and transport, said successful bids like this are ‘enabling Nottingham to become a centre for low carbon, future-proofed transport, shaping our future as the UK’s greenest transport city with environmentally positive transport’.
He believes it will have a knock-on effect on the local economy and skills base, providing local opportunities to develop local pathways into employment, with bus companies also offering apprenticeships and work experience connected directly to this new technology.

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/Nottingham Metro Strategy – Out for Consultation

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.

This first draft of our Metropolitan Strategy Action Plan outlines what we want to work on together over the next three years. It is based on the four themes of our Vision: Enterprise, Talent, Connectivity and City Living. As well as identifying areas for immediate collaboration, it lays the foundations for our longer term ambitions by exploring areas where a joint approach might bring longer term benefits.

 

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

Does BEIS signal a change in direction for climate change policy?

Will the relocation of DECC’s staff be more than cosmetic, or will they continue to exist under a different secretary of state doing largely the same things alongside colleagues from elsewhere in the civil service?
By folding it into the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and thereby creating a new ministry called the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) it goes back to the days before DECC existed and alignment of industrial strategy and energy strategy at least lived in the same place even if neither were particularly clear or coherent.

 

Read the full article here on the Environment Journal

Review: Eden 2.0 – Climate Change & the Search for a 21st Century Myth

Alex-Evans-Eden-196x300Eden 2.0 a compelling, accessible read, taking you on journey from the rational, but failed, science-led approach to challenging us as individuals and a global society to face-up to not just doing less damage but actually restoring the Earth’s health. Read my review here.

Brexit is the ultimate test of government’s environmental commitment

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.

Bristol Steps up to District Heating

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:

  1. Greater resilience, through heat storage, back-up and optimisation;
  2. Lower carbon heat, through the adoption of lower carbon fuel sources, such as geothermal heat, biomass, biogas, solar;
  3. 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.”

 

Universities as Drivers of Econmic Prosperity – The Israeli Experience

I recently had the opportunity to visit Israel for the first time and to experience the very different culture, climate, geography and politics in the country. I was there speaking on behalf of The University of Nottingham at the invitation of the Green Campus network active in Israel to speak at their conference at Ben-Gurion University of the Nagev.

BeerSheba, a mystical sounding desert city that has developed massively in the past decade or so. My knowledge of this city was limited prior to the visit but what became clear to me very quickly was the strategic importance placed on it by Israel’s first leader, David Ben-Gurion.

“Only through a united effort by the State … by a people ready fora great voluntary effort, by a youth bold in spirit and inspired by creative heroism, by scientists liberated by the bonds of conventional thought and capable of probing deep into the special problems of this country … we can succeed in carrying out the great and fateful taskof developing the South and the Negev.”

Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion

Ben-Gurion University

As the largest city in the Negev desert of southern Israel it is often referred to as the “Capital of the Negev” and is the centre of the fourth most populous metropolitan area in Israel with a population of over 200,000 people. It’s around a 90 minute drive from Tel Aviv which, by Israeli standards; is some distance in a small country of less than 8 million living in around 40% of the land space.

Whilst development of Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem has come about because of their geography (port cities) and their religious and historical importance, Beersheba has needed more deliberate investment. The Blueprint Nagev project includes the Beersheba River Walk, a 900-acre (3.6 km2) riverfront district with green spaces, hiking trails, a 3,000-seat sports hall, a 15-acre boating lake filled with recycled waste water, promenades, restaurants, cafés, galleries, boat rentals, a 12,000-seat amphitheater, playgrounds, and a bridge along the route of the city’s Mekorot water pipes. The plans include building new homes overlooking the park and neighborhood. Four new shopping malls are planned. The first, Kanyon Beersheba, will be a 115,000-square meter ecologically planned mall with pools for collecting rainwater and lighting generated by solar panels on the roof. It will be situated next to an 8,000-meter park with bicycle paths. Another mall will be a farmer’s market, the first ever in Israel. It will be an enclosed, circular complex with 400 spaces for vendors, and it will be surrounded by parks and greenery.

In recent years, some $10.5 million has been invested in renovating Beersheba’s Old City, preserving historical buildings and upgrading infrastructure. The Turkish Quarter is also being redeveloped with newly cobbled streets, widened sidewalks, and the restoration of Turkish homes into areas for dining and shopping.

Today, the city is undergoing a major construction boom, which includes both development of urban design elements, such as water fountains and bridges, and environmental development such as playgrounds and parks.

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Ben-Gurion University Library – its first building

A considerable part of the city’s regeneration plan rests on the university named after Ben-Gurion himself. Ben-Gurion University of the Negev aspires to be among the best inter-disciplinary research universities in the world, a leader in scientific innovation, inter-disciplinary research and applied sciences – all of which impact daily life. It is committed to social and environmental responsibility and is working to develop the Negev, Israel and the world. As one of Israel’s leading research universities it has around 20,000 students and 4,000 faculty members in the Faculties of Engineering Sciences; Health Sciences; Natural Sciences; the Pinchas Sapir Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences; the Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management; the Joyce and Irving Goldman School of Medicine; the Kreitman School of Advanced Graduate Studies; and the Albert Katz International School for Desert Studies. More than 100,000 alumni play important roles in all areas of research and development, industry, health care, the economy, society, culture and education in Israel.

What struck me was the pace of development and the important regeneration benefits the university brought to otherwise deprived areas of the city. Whilst there was high-end development in the bio-tech disciplines, there was also massive infrastructure projects such as the relocation of the rail station to serve both the University and the forthcoming technology park on the other side of the rail line.

But the university isn’t all about buildings – it’s put people in its local community at heart – and is a University with a conscience, where high standards of research are integrated with community involvement. The Community Action Department bring BGU into the heart of disadvantaged neighborhoods while outreach programs make higher education accessible to all the residents of the region. I heard, for myself, about a great project where students of the university can live rent free in one of 70 university-owned properties across the city if they commit to give 8 hours a week of their time to community projects. These included dance classes, homework work support and community cooking. Alongside that, BGU is committed (like Technion University) to allowing its students to train guide dogs across campus and it’s not unusual to see them in lecture theatres, cafes or across the campus. Alongside this, more fundamentally, there are now over 500 Bedouin students – over half women – at BGU thanks to outreach and retention programs spearheaded by the Center for Bedouin Studies and Development.

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Satellite Image of Haifa

Leaving the desert and heading west along an increasingly green corridor towards the coast, via Tel Aviv, towards Haifa I came to the Technion University which sits amongst the northern reaches of the Carmel mountain. It’s an extensive campus with some impressive civil engineering and architecture to make a coherent and accessible campus across the terracing of the mountain. It’s certainly impressive and in any other city might be considered a real attraction but, then, it sits not far from the hugely impressive Baha’i Gardens overlooking the sea with immaculate, tended gardens with an army of devoted volunteers. On the slopes of Mount Carmel it’s certainly an impressive view towards the coast. Coach loads of tourists, from all over the world by the looks of it, gather to take in the art form of gardening to a new height.

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Haifa – The Port.

The Technion University vies for the status of Israel’s oldest/ first university with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Whilst these things matter to universities they are less important to guests and there is certainly much more to enjoy than age alone. The Technion University certainly knows how to greet its guests with a specially created visitor centre telling the history of the University, its notable academics (including Nobel Prize winners), and the University’s role in creating and building Israel.

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Guide Dog Homage

The Hebrew University, home to extensive correspondence from, and to, Albert Einstein, who was a frequent visitor, contributes to its city in a different way. Unlike Haifa and Beersheba, Jerusalem would still be its own city if its universities left. It’s not, in any way, a university town. But not because it’s universities are insignificant. Quite the opposite in fact – but what happens beyond the security fences and turnstiles feels a million miles from the hubbub and rush of the city. The HU has created a wonderful green lung in the city providing space for biodiversity, urban cooling, run-off suppression and spaces that people can enjoy. Its sheer mass of numbers, around 24,000 staff and students, create demand for services and pressure on infrastructure. It was great, then, to see investment in a light rail (tram) extension that will connect the city centre, its two main teaching campuses for science/engineering and humanities, and the Government Quarter.

Having visited all three universities in the space of just under 4 days, it would be easy to make assumptions, but I saw three universities who saw social, economic and environmental contributions to their local, regional and national communities as important and central to their mission. Whilst there are many questions still to be answered in Israel, there are some shining examples of good practice too.

 

Mitigating the impact of Shanghai’s rapid growth – Environment Journal

My blog re-blogged from the EJ – It’s one of the world’s largest cities and can amaze and appall in equal measure. But there are signs Shanghai has environmental ambitions to match its economic goals.

 

Source: Mitigating the impact of Shanghai’s rapid growth – Environment Journal

How to make a mess of the UK’s Energy Planning

Spot on summary Sandy

Green Urbanist

The Cabinet Office published a remarkable report today on energy “Red Tape”. Why is it remarkable? Because reading it closely and between the lines, there couldn’t be a more damning indictment of this government’s handling of UK energy policy since 2010.

To be frank it is a complete mess. And all caused by the huge policy disruptions, contradictions and plain stupidity engendered by DECC and HM Treasury. Of course this “Red Tape” report and Cabinet Office can’t use such language. That would be too honest, and totally off the agenda as far as this government is concerned.

But just look at what is said in the report.

  • “We have spoken to a wide range of businesses, from large and established energy companies to new starters and small and medium enterprises. We found the consultation process insightful and it was enlightening to hear views from such a variety of organisations”.

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