A year ago, at the beginning of 2023, at CARTIF we started one of those great projects that leave a footprint (although if we talk in terms of emissions, the idea is actually to reduce them), NEUTRALPATH. In it, the cities of Zaragoza (Spain) and Dresden (Germany) are developing PCED (clean and positive energy districts) with the aim of becoming pioneering cities in the European Union in terms of climate neutrality and zero pollution by 2030. Istanbul, Vantaa and Ghent join the two aforementioned cities in NEUTRALPATH with the idea of scaling up and replicating methodologies and results in their own city plans.

For those of you, seasoned readers, who are loyal followers of this blog, the idea of climate neutrality and zero pollution in Europe with a target date of 2030 will surely ring a bell. Indeed, NEUTRALPATH is one of those few projects funded by the EU under the umbrella of the “100 climate-neutral smart cities by 2030” mission. The EU has set out to become climate neutral by 2050, and this Mission aims to support, promote and showcase the transformation of 100 pioneering European cities to become climate neutral by 2030, turning them into centres of experimentation and innovation for all other European cities, acting as a mirror for them to look up to and learn from.

Within this framework, research and innovation projects are funded that address:

  • Clean mobility, e.g. through the use of non-greenhouse gas emitting means of transport, such as electric vehicles or hydrogen or other alternative fuel vehicles, the use of bicycles, scooters and other non-motorised means of transport.
  • Energy efficiency through the use of technologies and practices that reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in buildings and industry through equipment and envelope renovations and the use of renewable energies;
  • Green urban planning with measures related to the promotion of green spaces, the use of sustainable building materials or the promotion of biodiversity among others.

With these mission projects, the EU also aims to encourage the creation of joint initiatives, cooperation between projects and increased partnerships in synergy with other EU programmes.

Among the 100 cities finally selected to participate in the mission, seven are Spanish: Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Valencia, Valladolid, Vitoria-Gasteiz and Zaragoza. In CARTIF we are fortunate to have worked directly in different smart city projects with many of them: Valladolid, through REMOURBAN among others, Vitoria-Gasteiz, within SMARTENCITY, Valencia, as part of MATCHUP, or the aforementioned Zaragoza of NEUTRALPATH.

Well, with the recently launched 2024, CARTIF is also launching another of these great reference projects of the mission: MOBILITIES FOR EU, in which two cities that already have the hallmark of mission cities, Madrid and Dresden, will carry out different actions over the next five years to contribute significantly to their transformation towards climate neutrality. I think the name of the project leaves little doubt about the scope of these actions, don’t you think?

For a long time now, we have been hearing various messages about the importance of implementing changes in the form and means of transport we use on a regular basis. So-called sustainable mobility is nowadays a key issue, especially in cities, where transport is responsible for a large part of greenhouse gas emissions. This is why the decarbonisation of transport is one of the main strategies to reduce emissions and combat climate change. Sustainable mobility can help achieve this goal, among others, by reducing dependence on fossil fuels and promoting the use of cleaner and more efficient means of transport.

But in addition to the overall impact in terms of CO2, implementing sustainable mobility measures and policies can also have other direct benefits for citizens, such as improving air quality or reducing noise pollution. Moreover, the impact on people’s quality of life by reducing traffic and improving road safety is also positive.

Sustainable mobility includes a wide variety of actions and strategies, to be developed by both public entities and private companies or initiatives, that seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the quality of life in cities and their environments. Some of them could be the promotion of public transport, which is an efficient and sustainable way to move around cities, cycling and walking, which are not only sustainable but also healthy, as well as the implementation of policies that encourage the use of electric vehicles and the necessary infrastructure for their charging and maintenance. Electric vehicles are a cleaner and more sustainable alternative to internal combustion engine vehicles that directly impact air quality in cities. In addition to these, the development of vehicles using other types of fuels, such as hydrogen, is also an avenue of work. The involvement of companies through the generation of their own sustainable mobility plans for staff is also essential to maximise the overall impact. We must not forget that when we talk about mobility, we are talking about people as well as goods. In terms of logistics, it is also necessary to implement measures that make transport sustainable at different stages of the supply chain. In medium-sized and large cities, it is also necessary to take into account the traffic management policies employed at the global and zone level, as these can help to reduce congestion and improve transport efficiency in the city.

In the case of MOBILITIES FOR EU, the focus is on both passenger mobility and freight transport, and its aim will be to demonstrate that different innovative concepts in the field of mobility designed and implemented in an appropriate way and following participatory principles and focusing on users and their needs can help to achieve the desired goal of climate neutrality, and to do so not only with economic viability but also with profitability.

Madrid and Dresden, acting as lead cities of the project, will implement 11 pilots covering 23 highly innovative demonstration interventions for mobility of people and goods, exploiting the combined potential of electrification, automation and connectivity. These include, among others, interventions with autonomous electric vehicles, innovative charging infrastructures, green fuels, electric buses and H2 vehicles, and advanced connectivity infrastructures, 5G and 6G, for connected and autonomous driving. In both cities, they also aim to build on multiple existing citizen cooperation and social empowerment initiatives by integrating them into what we call “Urban Transport Labs” (UT-Labs), conceived as innovation hubs that will aim to foster faster replication at European level. The five replicator cities, Ioaninna (Greece), Trenčin (Slovakia), Espoo (Finland), Gdansk (Poland) and Sarajevo (Bosnia) will be the first to follow the path set by Madrid and Dresden, first as direct participants in the processes of these two leading cities, and in parallel through their own UT-Labs, and later as main protagonists of their own designs. With the same idea of generating impact beyond the framework and the cities participating in the project itself, the aim is to establish collaborative relationships with the Cities Mission Platform to promote the exchange of knowledge and experiences, as well as with the main EU initiatives in this area such as 2Zero and CCAM.

On 30, 31 January and 1 February, all the project partners will meet in Madrid to jointly kick off this challenging project with which we aspire to improve the environment and the lives of citizens. The MOBILITIES FOR EU social networks will soon be launched as the first means of communication and information through which we will share our progress. Stay tuned!

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.