Smart Cities and Communities – Sustainable?

In the recent blogs I have composed about city ambitions for sustainability it seems the concept of a ‘smart city’ is falling between the cracks of silo-thinking when it has the opportunity to integrate, unify and deliver multi-ambitions and objectives. Too often the comment is ‘well, I am in charge of transport but the person in charge of ‘smart’ is over there in economic development’ … or, ‘we’ll do the smart bit when we’ve cracked this highways contract and decided what to do with the economic regeneration plan, I’ll have more time then’.

Big missed opportunities.

It was heartening, then, to attend the excellent Smart Cities and Communities conference last week in Manchester where several cities and agencies showed how they were actively integrating their ambitions for growth, quality, citizen engagement, transport, energy, asset management, governance and performance. Many were trialing things at a manageable (albeit still ambitious) scale – such as the work underway in the Manchester Oxford Rd corridor and across Peterborough.

One cannot help but be impressed by the commitment to the smart agenda in Singapore – a city half the size of Manchester but with twice the population. Culturally atuned to technology and acting smarter it’s invested heavily in the infrastructure needed to achieve its positioning in the global economy and to ensure that it is able to embrace opportunity.

I would like to see other cities, like Nottingham and Sheffield (where I work and live) embrace these opportunities so that they can achieve their ambitions for carbon reduction, liveability, traffic congestion, air quality improvements, etc. Birmingham and Bristol have embraced this in their ‘commissioned’ strategies. Sheffield‘s recent Green Commission report paid lip service to ‘smart’ but it showed a lack of understanding. In Nottingham, I hope, it will be seen as an opportunity to harness the collective agencies for transport, energy, planning, regeneration, business growth, citizen engagement, green and blue space management, healthcare, security, etc. But there is some catching up to do.

So the question posed by Cedric Price remains a good one. It’s not all about technology, of course, but without a vision, leadership, some projects, willing partners and a desire to make the sum of the parts add up a little better, you’ll not be smart. And that makes you ….

Addressing the Energy Policy Trilemma at Making the UK Energy System Work

The University of Nottingham today hosts a conference that challenges us to consider how we make the UK Energy System work. As the debate in Paris gets in to full swing at COP21 it’s pertinent to consider how the trilemma of carbon, cost and resilience can be resolved.

The University’s own Chair in Sustainable Energy and Director of the Energy Technologies Research Institute, Prof Gavin Walker, opened the conference and introduced Prof Paul Ekins – a leading expert and commentator on energy policy – from UCL.

The inclusion of decarbonisation as a challenge alongside cost/competitiveness and energy security has changed everything. As we transition from carbon intensive energy supplies of coal, oil and gas, where do we turn for our primary energy needs and do we have the infrastructure to generate, store and distribute energy to meet current and future demands.

Ekins recognised the challenge and opportunity afforded by cracking the energy storage solutions we need to meet our needs. New demand technologies, e.g. electric cars and electric heat pumps, need to be integrated into the existing systems, offering both infrastructure challenges as well as opportunities to store and transform our systems.

But transformational investments are needed. 4 key ones are:

  1. Large scale renewables
  2. Small Scale renewables
  3. Nuclear
  4. CCS

Possible opportunities, but with significant implications, include bioenergy – recognising the competition for space, biodiversity, food and energy.

Internationalisation, as part of the global system, is central to the debate around fuel supply (bioenergy, gas, oil), technologies and investment and, of course, achieving carbon emissions. Integration of international systems, notably across the EU, through inter-connected grids is uncertain.

These choices are, essentially, political. There is not always compatabiity between these technologies either. It needs to be seen as a whole system.

The 20/20/20 targets by 2020 across the EU is driving change and promoting carbon reduction, renewable energy investments and energy efficiency. The UK’s share is less than the EU average. So, what has been the UK’s response?

The Climate Change Act has created a framework of legal commitments which has led to sizeable carbon reduction but challenges to achieve renewable energy capacity remain. The process, overseen by the Committee on Climate Change, is science-led and has proved challenging for politicians.

The absence of carbon pricing is a barrier to driving faster and deeper change. It’s only the taxes imposed in the UK on carbon-intensive energy that contributes to this approach. Markets, therefore, by themselves, will not decarbonise.

So, what needs to happen to achieve the targets we have set? There are a large number of questions, but before anything is undertaken there should be a  trajectory of future demand needed first and foremost.

What’s the future of gas and their networks? Can they be re-purposed for biogas or hydrogen?

Ekins recognises this is an unprecedented policy challenge and recognised Stern’s work and recommendations to put in place carbon pricing; technology policy, and; promoting behavioural change and the need to remove barriers to that. Will carbon pricing drive investment in energy technologies and behavioural change.

Cities recognised as having a key role in this challenge.

Ekin’s analysis of the current UK Government’s policy is damning, recognising its response has been contradictory to the commitments mdade in law. We have moved from subsidising the most efficient and cheapest forms of energy (solar and on-shore wind) to heavily subsidising the most expensive (nuclear). In combination, the Conservative Government has undermined investor confidence such that we cannot be sure that the investment needed in new energy generation will be forthcoming.

 

 

 

Cities As Platforms

Gerard Grech is CEO of Tech City UK, a nonprofit organization focused on accelerating the growth of UK digital businesses. This piece is reblogged from TechCrunch.com: 

Cities As Platforms – To evolve, cities must be viewed as platforms, with populations encouraged to utilize technology to creatively disrupt and redefine core functionalities. Every digitally enabled citizen living in a city is a hub of real-time data. When analyzed in isolation, there’s no actionable intelligence. But when you view the data we produce on a macro scale, the possibilities for radical inventiveness are endless.

Read the full piece here.

City transport needs saving from itself

A really good piece on integration of systems and a smart city approach published by The Conversation (7th August 2015) “City transport needs saving from itself – here’s how to do it” by Yvonne Huebner. The piece covers energy, grid lock and smart traffic systems.

The desire for ever greater urbanisation is putting unrealistic demands on existing infrastructure, road and rail networks constrained by geology, topography, climate, land ownership, planning (or lack of it) and the unregulated freedoms afforded to personal mobility. Politically, gridlock (or congestion) is always topical and of great local importance to the economy, health, wellbeing and environment within our cities. Smarter cities with integrated systems of movement en masse have to be part of the solution.

Realtime, High Res, Open Data of a Changing Planet

This was another of those truly inspirational Ted talks that makes you realise that not everyone is out there to screw the world over. Fantastic stuff from Will Marshall and his colleagues to develop a floatilla of satellites to enable high-res digital photography of the earth in, virtually, real-time. Then to open that up to citizens of the world for their own exploitation and exploration. Watch the 8 min talk here:

Will Marshall: Tiny satellites show us the Earth as it changes in near-real-time | Talk Video | TED.com.

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.

‘Smart’ technology offers the prospect of cities doing more with less | Centre for Cities

Manchester has been promoting the concept of a ‘smart city’ for some time and has embraced the concept without the level of pump priming enjoyed by Glasgow, London and Bristol. So it’s great to see the launch of programme with carbon reduction at its very heart. Combining its cross-institutional approach into a defined geographical area, the Triangulum project, a smart city vision for three European cities was launched last week. Led by Fraunhofer IAO and funded by £4.5 million of European Commission funds, the project aims to create ‘smart quarters’ in Manchester, Eindhoven in Holland, and Stavanger in Norway. This scheme offers a new approach, bringing together a number of green initiatives in one area of the city to test the potential of new technologies.

Triangulum aims to transform Oxford Road in Manchester (also known as the ‘Manchester Corridor’, the city’s student district) as an exemplar for smart technology. There will be a particular focus on reducing carbon emissions, including technologies to improve energy use in buildings and encouraging the use of sustainable transport. An autonomous energy grid for heat and electricity will be introduced alongside a centralised control platform, which will allow Manchester to manage its energy in a localised, energy efficient manner. The system will also allow the city to identify new revenue sources and savings for the system, improving energy and resource efficiency.

 

‘Smart’ technology offers the prospect of cities doing more with less | Centre for Cities.