SmartEnCity, main character of the Europe Congress Palace

SmartEnCity, main character of the Europe Congress Palace

We have already spoken on numerous occasions about the impact of cities on energy consumption and emissions generated to the environment. And consequently, also of the important role that they have to play in the necessary transition towards climate neutrality, the ultimate goal of the European Green Pact for our continent (as my colleague Rubén Garcia pointed out in a previous post, the aim is for Europe to be carbon neutral by 2050).

The road to this neutrality is paved with many interventions, larger or smaller, and covering a wide range of areas (mobility, energy, building rehabilitation, citizen involvement; digitalization…). District or city scale projects -Smart City- funded by the different European Union programmes (from the 7th Framework Programme, through Horizon 2020 and the current Horizon Europe) work on all these dimensions with the idea of generating real demonstrations, and showing the path (or possible paths) that other cities can follow. Obviously, experts in different fields are needed to cover the various areas of competence covered by these projects.

In CARTIF we have been coordinating and working for many years in numerous projects along these lines, and also participating in many of the areas of work of these giants, which are so much in variety of activities as in the breadth of the time scale.

Recently one of these “lighthouse” project in which we have been working during years has finished, SmartEnCity. 78 months of work shared by 38 partners of 6 different countries in a project funded by the Research and Innovation Programme Horizon 2020 of the European Union, and coordinated by Tecnalia, in which it has been intended to make real the vision of convert our european cities in intelligent and zero carbon emissions.

In the project SmartEnCity three lighthouse cities has participated: Vitoria-Gasteiz in Spain, Tartu in Stonia and Sonderborg in Denmark. In all of them different intelligent and innovative solutions have been deployed in different areas with the idea of reaching the desired neutrality.

Discussion table of the Final Conference of SmartEnCity
Discussion table of the Final Conference of SmartEnCity

As a finishing touch, the last 14th and 15th of june, the project celebrated its Final Conference at the Europe Congress Palace, in Vitoria-Gasteiz. More than 120 participants attended the two-day event during which project results and plans for a carbon-free future were presented through keynote speeches, presentations, discussion sessions and moments of interaction by thematic areas.

Julia Vicente and Javier Antolin at the Final Conference of SmartEnCity
Julia Vicente and Javier Antolin at the Final Conference of SmartEnCity

I had the honor of participating and moderating one of the discussion tables that focused on one of the aspects in which CARTIF has been working for years and in which we have extensive experience: monitoring and evaluation. A key aspect to quantify the real impact that these projects achieve. In this case we tried to address these often difficult aspects in a way closer to the audience, sharing the experiences of different experts and projects around the most important aspects to take into account when evaluating project activities, the major problems encountered, solutions implemented and, finally,main lessons learned. I was lucky enough to share the debate with my partner Javier Antolin, who represented the REMOURBAN project, coordinated by CARTIF and which counted with Valladolid as one of its lighthouse cities. MAtchUP, ATELIER, Replicate and Stradust were also present.

One of the common aspects that we could all see is the enormous importance of citizens in the viability and success of these projects. This has a direct impact on the evaluation results and process itself. The transition to emission-neutral and sustainable cities in the broadest sense of the word can only be achieved if we, the citizens, are involved in the transformation process. If we are not barriers but vectors of change. If we go from being spectators to main characters.

From CARTIF we continue and will continue working on projects of the Smart Cities area with the idea of moving towards the horizon of sustainable cities. Will you join us on the way?

How to get citizens with energy-consciousness ?

How to get citizens with energy-consciousness ?

‘Or from how to cultivate the energy consciousness of the tomorrow’s citizens through the education of today’s children’

Working in a technological centre where is made R & D & i is far from being the case of living in a futuristic bubble far away from the reality that is lived at grassroots level. On the contrary what we have in our hands day by day are challenges that any of us could meet. In my case, as a researcher working on issues of energy efficiency and sustainability, that is more than evident.

As you may have already seen in previous posts of my colleagues if you’re a regular reader of this blog, in the energy area we work on numerous projects that address energy efficiency in different fields and at different scales. We approach the problem from building level to city level, going through community and district or neighbourhood scales. These projects have a multitude of more or less complex technical implications that we analyse from different perspectives and profiles (architecture, engineering, computer science or telecommunications among others) seeking the optimal solutions for each case, but as would Ende, that is another story and shall be told another time.

Today I want to focus my attention on a necessary pillar to achieve efficiency and sustainability that is not a technical one: the user, the neighbour, the citizen. In short, people. You and me that after all are the ones who make things work as they do. As we have seen through the results of the DIRECTION project, in which they were built two buildings of very low energy consumption in Valladolid and Munich, the behaviour of users of buildings and their awareness have a great influence on the consumption and comfort final values.

Although there is an increasingly widespread awareness on energy and sustainability, in many cases it remains somewhat generic and fails to lead to changes in our habits. As my colleague Ana Quijano commented in his post, a key element is to ensure that the actions at a certain scale are profitable. This is certainly true in general terms, but in day to day life something more is needed. Social acceptance is an aspect that affects more than we might think. It is necessary that each of us become aware of our effect of our ability to act when it comes to getting energy savings and of our responsibility. For this to be so, it is necessary knowledge, mainly about the possibilities each one can have, and of course education. At this point it is when it starts to make sense the title of this post.

If the awareness of each of us as today’s individuals is essential, educating those who will be tomorrow’s citizens it is crucial. Only in this way it will be possible to find a way out of the energy and environmental crossroad where we have placed our planet. For those like me who have already reached a certain age, to act accordingly to energy consciousness might require changes in our traditional habits, and that’s not always easy to assimilate. It would have been simpler if we had them assimilated from childhood as normal, and this is where we can influence to improve the future from the present, through the education of children. The importance of teaching children in energy efficiency and energy and natural resources saving, lies not only in the transmission of adequate personal and social values, but in that they can assimilate as their own some behaviours that most adults have had to acquire belatedly, if we have done it.

There are increasingly more initiatives in this line in which the smallest of the house are the focus of attention. In schools, camps and other activities are routinely included resources relating to recycling and the reduction of the use of natural resources and their efficient use. How the energy is produced, transformed and used, as well as the consequences of each step are already part of the curricular itinerary. Recently, our colleague Laura López was speaking us in her post about an event organized by CARTIF in collaboration with the Municipality of Valladolid with the aim of raising awareness to children about recycling, specifically about the plastic named expanded polystyrene (EPS). Such initiatives are very important in strengthening on the education of children their awareness and responsibility. However, as a mother, I cannot fail to recognize that in this matter (as in many others) education at home is essential even more through the example. Our children reflect on their habits what they see in us, what they live every day, so we must strive to also (and especially) at home act with environmental and energy consciousness.

To achieve energy savings we can basically act in two ways, through solutions to reduce demand or consumption, or through energy efficiency solutions. Or to put it another way, spending less and spending better. It is no longer difficult to reduce the amount of energy we use by choosing devices and services of low or lower consumption and avoiding the waste of energy (holding lighted only the necessary lights, completely turning off electronic devices in the home, adjusting thermostats to suitable temperatures …).

Although it can seem difficult to see, children can also help us in these tasks. What might be more complex for us is to convince ourselves that such actions should not be a sort of imposition of our times but rather that saving energy is beneficial to us, both as individuals and as a society. Beyond the potential economic savings, reducing the general pollution with its consequent health benefits and reducing emissions of greenhouse gases that helps reducing the effects of climate change are positive consequences for all derived from individual appropriate attitudes and behaviour.

Among all and for the common good, we must help our children to take responsibility and behave in a critical way and have energy and environmental consciousness, to make it real that they are the kind of citizen of the future “our” planet needs. Particularly as a researcher in energy efficiency and sustainability, as a citizen who aspires to be part of a conscious and committed to energy efficiency and environmental protection society, and as a mother of a little citizen, I hope so.