Universities learning from Cities – Systems Thinking

In a recent blog “Universities learning from cities” Dr Paul Greatrix acknowledges the article published by The Chronicle of Higher Education on what cities can teach Higher Education. The article itself makes comparisons between universities and cities in terms of their activities and the type of things you might expect to see in both, for example, sport clubs and ‘A clear focus on the essentials of civic life—safety, security, cleanliness, sanitation—made our cities strong and, where that has worked, allowed urban dwellers to flourish in the ways we associate with successful cities. 

As cities have developed around natural resources such as minerals, water, ports, fish stocks, fossil fuels, they have developed and grown their intellectual capacity so that new outputs and and outcomes are achieved within cities. By developing increasingly stronger intellectual capacity, resources and finance (of which universities are a part) the ‘product’ from cities now go way beyond their original purpose. Those northern textile towns of the north of England have grown into larger cities and metropolitan areas and have achieved a scale and economic diversity unimaginable 200 years ago. The pattern has repeated itself globally so that cities are now defined not only by their ability to exploit raw materials but by their ability to harness the intellectual capacity of their citizens.

It is, therefore, impossible to imagine a successful city without a thriving, competitive, intellectual hub at its heart that creates and adds value, new markets, and is part of any city’s DNA. 

As the article in The Chronicle of Higher Education suggests, universities, like cities, can and should take a longer term view and plan not just in the typical 5 year cycle, but in decades (at least). Afterall, to look back and boast of the longevity of a university but to only look forward 5, 10 or perhaps 20 years seems almost folly.

Local authorities, often a proxy for ‘the city’, are afforded that longer term view at least at a strategic level because they have to deal with long term infrastructure needs that transcend political timeframes. Whilst they are continually hung up on balancing this years budget and coming up with a plan for next years (with cuts often driving the agenda), they can take a longer view still.

Universities can draw upon that approach. Take The University of Nottingham, where I am employed, as an example. Its origins can be traced back to 1881 when Nottingham’s first civic college was opened thanks for a donation from an anonymous benefactor who had offered £10,000 for a college on condition that a suitable building be erected by the Council and that the college should be provided with £4,000 a year. In 1928 The University moved to the estate offered by Jesse Boot and ‘University Park’ has developed ever since in to a high tech, award winning campus. 

Did those pioneers in 1881 imagine that the University of Nottingham would now have 44,000 students across not only 4 campuses in the UK, plus a medical school and associated medical teaching and research bases, as well as campuses in China and Malaysia? Probably not. 

As the cities in which these civic universities have formed, developed and matured, have grown they have become central to the success of their host cities. They are inherently part of their city’s culture, success and opportunity. They continue to demand of their city in terms of resources but also contribute so much at both the local, regional, national and international scale. My blog in April 2014 referenced the response from the HEFCE that “present[ed] new analysis of the return on the public investment in knowledge exchange through Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF). For every £1 of HEFCE knowledge exchange funding over the period from 2003 to 2012, £6.30 has been earned in gross additional income, and the report acknowledges that the total benefits to the economy and society are likely to be greater.”

In short, universities are net contributors to the economy of their cities and, therefore, vital to their city’s success. Increasingly, cities are backing the growth of their native universities as engines of the economy – not as intellectual powerhouses, but as consumers of goods, services and a creator of jobs and ancillary service sector needs: bars, restaurants, galleries, theatre, cinema, transport, food, retail. 

This is where further lessons from cities can be drawn. Universities are, indeed, a microcosm of a city. They are both complex, organic, systems that have evolved in response to external factors and internal drivers to make them what they are today. Understanding that system better is central to success and to be successful both need good governance and often value democratic and consensual decision making to enable that system to continue to evolve. In cities the governance is clear and elected decision makers and representatives are their to run the city. Comparisons may be drawn with those governing structures of universities.

Like their host towns and cities, university systems need inputs to enable them to provide the basic needs of their community – shelter from the weather (residential and academic accommodation), heat, light, power, food. To do that they require a whole range of inputs: gas, electricity, water, food in the same way cities need those inputs. Successful cities identify how they can meet the needs of their populations from within their own carrying capacity. Increasingly western cities rely on global supply chains and just-in-time deliveries to achieve this, leaving them vulnerable to failures in those chains. Universities are no less vulnerable.

As universities grow their demand for those input resources has steadily risen. The UK university estates turnover was £27 billion and, in comparison to FTSE listed companies, the University sector would follow Tesco (£63bn*), Vodafone (£38.3bn), SSE (£30.6bn) into fourth spot with Sainsbury’s just behind with a turnover of £23.9bn. In terms of capital expenditure on University estates, excluding residential, the spend was £2bn between 2012-2013. As a proxy measure for the efficiency of the sector, despite growth and throughput of ‘product’ energy and emissions continue to rise with no absolute reduction with efforts to minimise the sector’s impact effectively keeping it capped with its own carbon reduction strategies. 

The ability to achieve success at both the university and the city scale is dependent on both working in partnership. There is a clear, symbiotic, relationship where both can significantly contribute to the success of the other. Universities should be brave in taking a longer-term view of their future and plan accordingly. Cities should recognise this and work with their universities to understand where the opportunities for maximising output and minimising inputs through efficiency can be achieved.





Will mayors one day rule the world?

BBC News – Will mayors one day rule the world?

Mayors running mega-cities like Istanbul, Dhaka or Sao Paulo have budgets far in excess of many countries. But they also have a whole range of problems – from potholes to gargantuan traffic jams – that need sorting out here and now.

Different democratic systems (or otherwise) afford some mayors direct and indirect influence way beyond the geo-political jurisdiction. If that influence changes it could send ripples across the nations, continents and globe. This could be particularly significant where primary cities far outweigh the economic powers of secondary and tertiary cities – for example, in London. The @corecities recognise this and are grouping together to make an alternative and, most likely, a more sustainable proposition for their own good and for that of the nation as a whole.

4th Generation Heat Networks

In an earlier blog I discussed how cities in the UK were finally stepping up their investment in energy generation and distribution with a particular emphasis on heat networks in Sheffield, Nottingham and Stoke.

The presentation I made in July 2013 set 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 presentation made in July 2013 set out a city-wide vision for heat networks across Sheffield, blending together heat sources from domestic and commercial waste incineration (Veolia) biomass (E.ON), industrial waste heat (Forgemasters), gas and oil (Veolia, Sheffield City Council and others).

At the time of writing, it is encouraging to see the links between E.ON’s 25MW heat plant at Blackburn Meadows being built out to connect to South Yorkshire Police, Sheffield International Venues and Forgemasters. More disappointingly is the apparent inertia in connecting to the Veolia and Sheffield City Council plants. The potential to reduce carbon emissions, cost and develop greater resilience can only be delivered if ambition, long term vision and commercial differences can be resolved. The City has a key role to play in making this happen and the City Council has a significant asset base to de-risk this investment, including the 50KM+ network operated by Veolia on its behalf. So, it is disappointing that connections proposed originally 3 years ago to Veolia and the Greenland housing estate in Darnall are still to be connected.


Cities Take the Lead on District Heating

We are 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.

In the past 10 days, we have seen announcements about investments in local energy generation at a significant scale in Sheffield, in Nottingham and in Stoke. The drivers for this are many – it is not simply a carbon issue, nor is it solely an energy security issue. Nor is it just a revenue generating exercise or an investment in crucial business infrastructure. In fact, it’s all of these things – and more.

Whilst government debates whether nuclear is really our only solution for power and how fracking is our only solution for gas, there has been a quiet revolution underway in our towns and cities. Slowly, almost silently, cities such as Leicester and Coventry have invested in district heating networks, to join more established players like London, Nottingham and Sheffield.

The Government’s contribution, arguably, has been limited to developing some new policy frameworks (albeit without any real teeth) and seedcorn funding some (important) feasibility work in cities that have shown competence and ambition.

Why? Because 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.

In 2010 Sheffield households consumed 3,405GWh of gas. This figure includes gas used for cooking but the majority of this gas was used for heating and hot water. Using the carbon conversion figure of 0.1836kg/KWh[1] this equates to 625,158 T/CO2. District heating has the potential to create large carbon savings. For example, if 25% of this load, some 56,250 properties, were connected to district heating this could save up to 851GWh of gas which would reduce the cities carbon emissions by 156,290 T/CO2 per annum.

In most cases in the UK heat is something that is generated on-site in individual buildings, with customers buying fuel, such as gas, and converting that gas to heat through a boiler system. It is less common to buy heat itself. In other parts of the world, heat networks that transport heat to consumers through a network of insulated pipes are more common and here in Sheffield we have a long track record of creating heat at a commercial rather than domestic scale. A heat network – sometimes known as District Heating – is therefore a distribution technology rather than a heat technology, and its associated carbon emissions depend on the mix of sources for the heat in the pipes.

Heat networks are best deployed where the following conditions are satisfied:

  • long term low/zero carbon heat sources (or stores) are available; and
  • heat networks are capable of meeting average and peak heat demand without depending on fossil fuels in the future. 

Where these circumstances exist, heat networks can play a critical role in helping buildings and industry decarbonise their heat supply. Some pioneering local authorities, such as Sheffield, have already established heat networks in their city centres and are realising the benefits; better resource efficiency, new jobs and contracts, lower energy bills, and reducing fuel poverty.

Heat networks supply heat to a number of buildings or dwellings from a central heat production facility or facilities through an insulated pipe network. Most networks distribute heat using hot water at temperatures between 80-120°C. Where higher temperatures are required, such as for industrial applications heat energy is transported over shorter distances using steam at a few hundred degrees at a range of pressures depending on usage. Heat networks are best suited to areas with high heat demand density which influences how much pipework is needed to supply a given heat demand. They are most likely to be economic in areas that not only have concentrated demand but have fairly consistent demand over time (potentially for twelve months a year).Tower blocks represent a high heat density, as do dense urban communities bordering commercial or public sector buildings such as hospitals, schools or universities.

Because heat networks are able to deliver heat at scale and for a mix of uses, locating heat networks in areas with a mix of sources of demand also allows for the balancing of loads, e.g. housing with night-time peaks and swimming pools with day-time peaks.

Usually, heat networks start small and expand over time, potentially connecting to each other as they grow, creating larger networks that span city centres and a variety of building types. When networks are sufficiently developed, additional heat sources can be connected. As networks become more sophisticated, it may be that customers could have the choice of more than one supplier of heat, making competitive local markets possible.

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.

Key drivers for the expansion of heat networks in Scandinavian countries were concerns about cost and security of supply following the oil price shocks of the 1970s. With no ready source of natural gas, these countries switched from oil boilers to heat networks in cities (and often to biomass and heat pumps in rural areas).The lower level of heat network deployment in the UK reflects the choices made in the past – most significantly the UK’s decision to access affordable natural gas from the North Sea, which provides a cost-effective and reliable source of heating.

The Government recognises that almost half (46%) of the final energy consumed in the UK is used to provide heat. Of this heat, around 75% is used by households and in commercial and public buildings with the remained used for manufacturing in industry. It is recognised that cooling currently accounts for only 0.5% but that it is recognised this is likely to change as a the UK grows warmer as a result of climate change.



The Government’s Heat Strategy recognises heat networks offer a way to supply heat directly to homes and businesses through a network of pipes, rather than supplying the fuel for people to generate heat on-site. Under some circumstances, heat networks can be the most effective way of supplying low carbon heat to buildings, and can offer greater convenience and reliability to consumers. Heat networks also offer flexibility over time, as a number of different heat sources can supply the same network.

It also recognises that heat networks are best suited to areas with high heat demand density (such as cities with a compact urban form) and that in urban areas they can, with individually controlled and metered heat, be  as reliable as gas boilers. Smaller scale heat networks can also serve buildings like blocks of flats where individual gas boilers may not be an option.

Heat networks are compatible with a wide range of heat supply options and provide a way to distribute low carbon heat, which makes them easily upgradeable, creating flexibility to make the transition to low carbon heat over time with less disruption for consumers and businesses. Most of the cost and disruption occurs at the point of initial construction and installation.

Heat networks need to be considered as a long term investment in the city. The economics mean that a return on investment will be over decades and it is essential to build in future-proofing  to ensure the supply of heat is easily upgradable, provided low/zero carbon sources are available. So in the near term, we can expand existing fossil fuel based heat networks and upgrade them to low carbon fuel supplies to deliver more substantial carbon savings and help to meet the UK’s emissions and renewable energy targets.

Fuel sources for heat networks will need to change over time. Gas CHP may represent a cost-effective and resource-efficient option to develop and supply district heating networks now, but is unlikely to be acceptable in the long term. Government needs to set a framework that encourages the replacement over time of generating plant with increasingly low carbon alternatives. In the right conditions, changing a central heat source for individual buildings is likely to involve less hassle and cost overall for customers than changing stand-alone technologies. Pipes also last significantly longer than individual heat-generating technologies.  Because pipe infrastructure is not fuel specific, a range of technology options can be used to generate the heat which is transported through the network, and each network can have generation plants in multiple locations. This means:

  • networks offer a solution to the problem of limited space in homes and buildings for low carbon technologies like heat pumps or biomass boilers and their accompanying hot water tanks. In urban areas in particular, where space is at a premium, this can be a big advantage; 
  • they can be upgraded over time according to local and national priorities, without impacting on consumers. For example, it may be economic in the short term to power a network with gas CHP, and to replace this with a lower carbon alternative such as biomass CHP in the medium to long term. In-building heat sources can also be replaced over time, but in many cases it may be easier to replace in-building heat sources once, to switch to district heating, and then replace the central heat source when appropriate, than to frequently replace the in-building heat source; 
  • they can take advantage of economies of scale to realise greater efficiencies and keep costs down for consumers; 
  • heat networks themselves can provide seasonal as well as daily storage using large water tanks, offering a simple and practical option which takes up less space than a water tank in every home. This could be important in city centres where land values are very high; and 
  • they can be integrated with Local Authority plans on waste management, air quality, urban regeneration, regional growth, fuel poverty and other social and environmental issues. This is why so many cities already have plans involving the construction of heat networks. 

Heat can also be recovered from industrial sites that generate a lot of excess heat that is usually lost to the atmosphere, or from locations where excess heat is a problem, such as underground tunnels. This heat may be able to be redirected to where it is useful, eliminating the need for further fuel combustion.

In the same way, heat networks can be used to provide cooling which is likely to be required more in the future as a result of climate change, consumer comfort and customer expectation.

The three schemes in Stoke, Nottingham and Sheffield are all funded in different ways – some using ‘City Deal’ funding, others using private sector investment or public money – but the rationale isn’t too different wherever the funds come from.

Don Leiper, Director of New Business at E.ON, said: “Building on the construction of our renewable energy plant at Blackburn Meadows, this is a substantial investment in Sheffield’s energy future and I’m delighted we’ve already been able to secure customers to our network, organisations looking to reduce their carbon footprints and benefit from a secure and locally-produced heat energy supply.

“Blackburn Meadows is already designed to be an efficient and sustainable power generation source, fuelled by waste wood and providing carbon savings the equivalent of taking 20,000 cars off the road each year. By capturing the heat and providing it for use by nearby businesses we are effectively almost doubling the efficiency of the plant and the environmental benefits to customers.”

In Stoke, a similar figure to Sheffield, around £20 million, will be spent creating the Stoke-on-Trent District Heat Network, with £5 million going to Keele University’s smart energy network demonstrator and another £5 million on boosting skills.

The drivers for this are many – it is not simply a carbon issue, nor is it solely an energy security issue. Nor is it just a revenue generating exercise or an investment in crucial business infrastructure. In fact, it’s all of these things – and more.

DECC announce £6 million funding for local authority heat networks

Great to see Government’s commitment to heat being supported through a new £6 million grant funding programme to help Local Authorities (LAs) in England and Wales to develop new heating and cooling networks, and expand existing networks. 

To win a share of the funding, local authorities must bring forward ambitious and innovative proposals to develop and deliver heat networks that – as much as possible – draw their heat energy from renewable, sustainable or recoverable sources. 

This could include any system in which heat is generated off-site by renewable or recovered sources such as waste heat from industry, energy from waste plants and biomass combined heat and power.  Many university campuses, new mixed commercial and residential developments and high rise flats draw their heat from these systems. 

“Local authorities are at the heart of creating new city centre district heating schemes, and this welcome announcement shows that central government is serious about supporting them in this task”.

This is a great opportunity for cities in the UK to deliver projects and align with the EU Funding programme in development across the local enterprises across the country. Currently, District Heating only provides about 1 to 2 per cent of the U.K.’s heat demand, yet analysis has shown, that it could supply as much as 14 per cent of the U.K.’s heat demand over time. This would be a cost-effective and ultimately viable alternative to individual energy efficient technologies and also help reduce energy bills for customers.

Best suited in urban areas with a mix of varying building types and a high heat demand, district heating has the ability to generate heat at minimum costs and thus, in effect, can contribute towards the ultimate aim, of a reduction in fuel poverty and an increase in the U.K.’s overall energy efficiency as a result. Around 200,000 dwellings in the UK are estimated as being served by the district heating scheme to date.

The scheme is currently used, in the main, by buildings with an area of community ownership, such as a university campus or hospital site. Further use has been seen in the non-dwelling sector, one example of such a scheme being in Sheffield. This is the U.K.’s largest district heating schemes, consisting of 44 Km of pipe work, serving 140 buildings across the city, including two universities and various municipal buildings.

DECC announce £6 million funding for local authority heat networks.

More about Sheffield’s District Heating.

Heat Mapping and Development in Sheffield

Open Calls for Solutions – A Must for City Success?

Open calls for solutions is a phrase I hadn’t heard up until 12 months ago. Since then it’s become a regularly used term to describe a new approach to solving those wicked issues (and some much more mundane ones too).

As the economic recession continues to bump along the bottom and, perhaps even more importantly, public sector spending is cut, local authorities (cities in particular) are finding themselves unable to directly fund or commission services. They can now no longer pay for some of the things they might have done, or liked to have done, in the past. In many cases, this has hit the ‘nice to do’ areas of regeneration and development first in order to protect frontline services. But even they are now at serious risk and there simply isn’t enough funding to cover the very basic and important services that citizens have come to expect.

When you cant fund directly but the demand for that service remains it is time to remain fixed on the outcome you are trying to achieve. The most forward thinking cities are doing this. The ‘market’ for that service remains – there is still a value there for others to invest in provided you can demonstrate where, and who, that market is.

This is where ‘Open Calls for Solutions’ might assist.

Open Calls require you to do two things. Firstly, you must accept that your role as a city authority is going to be different in the future. You will no longer be in a position to simply agree an amount of cash you are willing to spend, define what you are going to buy, go out and procure it and then do it all again at the end of the contract. Forward thinking cities are emphasising their role as an enabler, facilitator and agent – focusing on the outcome, not the inputs.

Secondly, and importantly, city authorities need to be able to adequately define their challenges and be brave enough to admit they don’t have the solutions – but are willing to go out and find those who might. And in that process, cities will need to remain open-minded, accept that the solution might be technical, political, economic or an issue of ownership.

Like more traditional forms of procurement, there remains a need to manage the process appropriately and to identify and deal with the risks.

Rather than write lots about the process involved, because they are all nuanced and often quite different, take note of the organisations that are embracing this approach such as The City of York, Barcelona and New York. Take a look at the very interesting case study of the call from the City of Boston, who used the data collected from Boston’s Street Bump app to determine that Boston’s road bumpiness is primarily driven by metal castings that are no longer flush with the road.

These cities have all participated recently in the Living Labs Global process run by Citymart – who use a 7 step process. Others are embracing similar approaches. Closer to home in the UK, the Technology Strategy Board has designed a similar process through their SBRI approach which uses the power of government (local and national) procurement to drive innovation. It provides opportunities for innovative companies to engage with the public sector to solve specific problems.

And that is the key word: specific. The first challenge for any city (read Place) is to be able to define that challenge specifically well enough. The most successful applications of this approach have been able to specify the challenge and the outcome they are looking for. In short – they have been clear what they are looking for. That makes it a whole lot easier for the solutions providers to respond to.

Of course, my view of this is very much from the perspective of ‘commissioning city’ and not as a provider of those solutions. I would be interested in hearing from those organisations (businesses, academic institutions, entrepreneurs) who have sought to provide the solutions. What do you see as the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities afforded by this approach? And what are the pitfalls? How could cities make it easier for you to respond and provide the best solution?

You can see an early example of Sheffield’s experience of this approach in the work we have undertaken with Citymart.com and the Living Labs Global process in 2013. Sheffield has a large amount of industrial waste heat which is currently not utilised and in many cases, ejected into the atmosphere and simply wasted. Our call was to identify solutions to this and we were enthused by the large number of responses we received. Some good, some great. We’re now working with two solutions that we hope will work hand in glove to capture heat from our steel works, sports centres and other heat generators such as energy from waste plants, biomass energy centres and not emit it to atmosphere. You can read about the solutions for Sheffield and the other cities that participated in 2013 here.  

It’s still early days for the ‘open calls for solution’ approach in many cities in the UK. But early experience is promising and presents great opportunities for innovation, product and service development and the creation of new markets that will create employment opportunities and export markets because if it can work in one city the chances are, it will work in another.

Sustainable Cities Need to be Climate Resilient

John Metcalfe of the excellent The Atlantic Cities site wrote today that ‘unprecedented high temperatures pushed the planet to one of the top-10 warmest years on record; in the United States, it was the hottest year known to humankind, with a particularly brutal heat wave punishing citizens in the summer. Dozens of people died, highways buckled, and farmers kicked at barren fields during the worst drought in 50 years.’

We 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.

An estimated 650 people may have died prematurely due to the current heatwave in England, according to research by Professor Ben Armstrong.

Figures produced by Prof Armstrong for the Times looked at the number of premature deaths attributable to heat in England for 6 -14 July 2013. The estimate was calculated using a model published in 2011 research from Prof Armstrong and colleagues that used region specific estimates of risk due to heat for the period 1993-2006*.

– See more at: http://blogs.lshtm.ac.uk/news/2013/07/18/premature-deaths-from-heatwave-in-england/#sthash.w54yv2Tp.dpuf

And whilst heat has been a problem, along side that we have seen flash flooding on a scale that has seen people lose their homes, their livelihoods and their possessions. In upland hill towns in Calderdale, England the effect has been devastating: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leeds-22960628
What does this mean for cities? Climate change puts a magnifying glass on all the issues of social, economic and environmental inequality. Increased temperatures, storminess and rainfall will only widen those inequalities. Those who cannot afford to keep their properties dry, cool (and warm) and protected from structural damage will suffer more. It is these communities that should be given priority, particularly where there is evidence of poor health that compounds these issues.
Here in Sheffield, the ‘State of Sheffield 2013‘ report says ‘There is clear evidence that the climate is already changing, and the years ahead will be about adapting Sheffield to a different environmental future, and mitigating the impacts of global ecological change. Many of the significant factors that contribute to a sustainable environment remain largely invisible – the quality of the air, the release of carbon into the atmosphere, the use of energy. ‘
Direct effects of climate change on cities and citizens are, without doubt,  beginning to be clear and policy makers must take that into account. You cannot, and should not, plan for yesterday’s climate. You have to consider the evidence and the projections of climate change 20, 30, 50 years hence. Observations in 2013 largely mirror the projections put forward by scientists in recent years – so let’s start to implement the measures we need to protect our citizens and the infrastructure of our cities. That will mean new strategies for managing water, with city authorities having a greater say in the capture, storage, movement, treatment, use and disposal of water – with an emphasis on efficiency, reduction and re-use. We certainly cannot continue to treat all water to drinking standards for flushing toilets or watering lawns.
Urban areas need to be un-sealed so that hard surfacing is replaced with exposed soils, green spaces and water: green and blue spaces for leisure, recreation and urban cooling and flood mitigation.
Of course, lessons can be learnt from other cities where, over time, cultures, expectations, lifestyles, housing, diet, education, clothing and fashion, take into account climate.
It is time to learn those lessons – and fast.

Sustainable Cities Need Low Emission Vehicles

As a follow on to an earlier piece on air quality – great to see examples of electric adn hydrogen technologies being applied to transport systems. Today I’ve read some great pieces on ‘Hybrid Van Man’ – see https://www.innovateuk.org/-/meet-the-hybrid-van-man and the ‘Try before you buy’ approach being adopted in the UK, to build confidence in electric vehicles. Worth looking at the most recent posts from the Energy Savings Trust:  http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/blog/2013/07/17/evs-looking-to-volt-higher/

Also great to see increasing investment in hydrogen and delighted that Sheffield’s ITM Power (www.itm-power.com/clean-fuel/) are leading the way in that respect.

So, whilst EVs are phasing in ever-quicker in the private car and light van market and hydrogen is catching up, it leaves a gap for the heavier vehicles. Which is why we’re working with fleet operators to develop refuelling stations across Sheffield City Region supplying compressed natural gas and biomethane. This forms part of the South Yorkshire bid to the Dept for Transport’s Clean Bus Technology Fund.

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Sustainable Cities Need Great Air Quality

Industrialised, and rapidly developing cities, are faced with an invisible killer. Whilst, on the whole, the developed West (and particularly in Europe) environmental regulations have made a significant impact in controlling and reducing emissions of pollutants to the air, cities continue to suffer from the emissions of nitrous oxide, particulate matter and even sulphur and ozone, as a result of road traffic. Not all traffic though. Only traffic that happens to be fuelled with fossil fuels and, in particular, diesel.

A recent report ‘Public Health Impacts of Combustion Emissions in the United Kingdom’  (http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es2040416) states ‘Combustion emissions are a major contributor to degradation of air quality and pose a risk to human health. We evaluate and apply a multiscale air quality modeling system to assess the impact of combustion emissions on UK air quality. Epidemiological evidence is used to quantitatively relate PM2.5 exposure to risk of early death. We find that UK combustion emissions cause 13,000 premature deaths in the UK per year, while an additional 6000 deaths in the UK are caused by non-UK European Union (EU) combustion emissions.

This isn’t the only study saying this – there’s significant amounts of academic research from a range of disciplines being undertaken worldwide, looking at the causes and effects of poor air quality. Simply, they all say there is a massive social, environmental and economic cost. Here in the city of Sheffield, we suggest the costs of poor air quality in the city costs our local National Health Service provides hundreds of millions of pounds every year, treating those who suffer chest and lung ailments as a result of the pollutants in the atmosphere. Those more exposed (often living, or working closer to the sources of poor air quality) are more likely to suffer. Those who are young, or old, or in poor health are more vulnerable.

So, what’s the solution and who is charged with delivering it? Well, in truth there is no one solution – it will be a combaination of many, many interventions. Every city taking this issue serviously will be looking at a range of options to tackle this problem – and some are easier to introduce than others. To inform those choices, it is important to understand in fine detail the sources of your air quality problem. Locally, we have undertaken an assessment of the vehicles running on Sheffield’s roads and have monitored emissions on key arterial routes to understand the actual (rather than modelled) emissions from passing vehicles. It is helping us to better understand whether all vehicles are equally responsible, or whether we need to target particular fleets (HGVs, buses, taxis, private vehicles, light goods, etc).

Despite all that, the solution is well understood. We need to move away from diesel towards ever increasing cleaner fuels. Increasingly, we see two short-medium term winners – for lighter vehicles electric hybrid and electric plug-in solutions are likely to fair well and, given the improvement in battery technology and capacity the concept of ‘range anxiety’ (that awful fear that you might be left stranded somewhere without a hope of plugging-in) will become a thing of the past. More and more of these lighter vehicles appear to have switched from petrol to diesel in recent years as subsequent UK policy incentivised the uptake of diesel through reduced road tax as a way of reducing carbon emissions. For once, what’s been good for carbon dioxde (and only very marginally) hasn’t been good for local air quality.

For heavier vehicles, electric is less likely to play a significant role for some time to come, the smart money is on the use of gas as an alternative to diesel. Whilst governments across the world are now faced with the prospect of fracking shale gas, provided there is a (more) sustainable solution, such as biogas, this could be a significant player. Of course, the concept of range anxiety still remains, so investment in gas refuelling technology is essential if gas is to see widespread adoption. Networks of gas refuelling stations on key routes on motorways and arterial roads and in depots up and down the country will be needed and public intervention is needed to achieve this.

Across South Yorkshire we have idenitifed a number of key sites for the development of gas refuelling infrastructure and are working with the fleet operators and the industry more generally to begin its development. Over coming weeks and months, I’ll post updates on this important programme of work.