As a Technology Centre devoted to R&D&I and at the head of projects whose main goal is the innovation, in CARTIF we have been active in the clear evolution of the challenges or objectives that the European Commission has set to our cities and urban environments.
During this journey, our cities have transitioned over different concepts or topics from which we can highlight the next ones: they have been asked to be efficient, be smart, be circular, develop districts with positive energy balance and, more recently, to be climate neutral.
In this post, we intend to put in order all this evolution and clarify the reasons for all these ambitious objectives.
The beginning: near zero-energy buildings, districts and urban areas
The departure of our trip started with the last calls of the 7th EU Innovation Framework Programme (known as FP7). During this period, in between 2010 and 2013, the Commission recognised in their policies as the Directive 20/20/20, the EPBD or through the decisive impetus to support successful initiatives such as the Covenant of Mayors, that the European cities, being huge consumers of energy, could help to alleviate, mitigate and even compensate, the growing energy needs that the member states were suffering.
This high and increasing need of energy supply was mainly due to daily direct or indirect business activities developed in the cities and began to raise a clear problem of stability of the European energy system, highly dependent of a fossil-based energy generation, increasingly exhausted and expensive, as well as highly polluting.
The EU innovation programmes were of course not disconnected to this problematic. Among the main objectives of those, in that moment incipient calls, some new urban transformation projects where launched. The Commission challenged us to make the buildings of our cities more efficient and smarter, to use clean energy sources and also, to work on the energy systems preferably at a district scale, considering a district or neighbourhood as the perfect representative of a fully functional urban unit and the perfect environment for the implementation of a range of solutions capable to provide a higher impact. And finally, to reach these objectives in a reasonable but short period of time.
These incipient calls for innovation projects were complemented with regulatory aspects, such as the request of individual metering systems of energy consumption to promote energy savings in common energy systems or the need of implement digital systems in the construction sector (such as BIM technology) with the objective of reaching a more efficient and error-free construction process (first in public buildings and later in the rest). These concrete measures tried to accompany, as enablers, the necessary transformation of the construction sector, the energy sector and therefore our districts and cities, increasing the low renovation rate. With regards to smart and efficient mobility, incipient projects promoting the electro-mobility or intelligent transport systems in urban areas completed these firsts (and certainly far now in time) initiatives.
The next step: urban regeneration and renaturing
The next stop of our journey met with the beginning of the recently finished innovation framework programme, the very well-known Horizon2020 or H2020, operational since 2013 and that called for projects until 2020. Although several projects are still in its full execution regime, there will be no more calls for projects under this programme. The Commission continued this process through the whole H2020, emphasizing the need to deploy large-scale pilot projects in a more systematic and holistic way of transformation: the so-called urban regeneration and lighthouse projects approach. These projects meant a real (r)evolution due to the need to avoid working in silos, integrate different stakeholders of the local innovation ecosystems around the cities and with a clear leadership of the municipalities and of not from the industry providers. Therefore, the integration of solutions belonging to different economic sectors, such as the retrofitting of the built stock, efficient new construction, clean energy systems, ICT solutions (including urban decision-support platforms), electro-mobility, new governance models and urban planning strategies were promoted in these projects. To meet such ambitious goals, the municipal leadership in this process in co-creation with the citizens was absolutely essential.
Obviously, this clear “jump” towards a holistic urban regeneration concept led to more systemic and ambitious projects, in a public-private financial scheme tailored to the local business ecosystem when possible and with the objective to be potentially scalable and replicable at different contexts but always with the main focus on the benefit of the citizens.
Moreover, the European Commission also raised us the need of returning the nature to our urban environments, as a main element to create healthier and more friendly urban spaces for the citizens, improving their life quality direct and indirectly as well as their perception of their urban environment.
The penultimate step in the way: positive energy districts
A new twist of the screw to this concept of urban transformation came up in the last calls of H2020. The design and deployment of the so-called positive energy districts (PED). These initiatives, that started in 2018 towards 2020, were more specific, proposed us to transform existing districts or complete neighbourhoods in urban units that generate an energy surplus in its annual balance. This means that after balancing the energy flows between exported and imported energy from and to the district in a complete annual basis, our district should consume less energy of the one it generates. The underlying objective under this incipient, ambitious and ground-breaking concept is to implement this PED concept in the neighbourhoods that have a better potential of implementing fossil-fuel free clean energt systems and, therefore, reducing drastically the global energy needs of the city. Thus, this surplus of some PEDs in a city could compensate other neighbourhoods in which, because of their characteristics, a high level of energy reduction is not feasible.
This simple-to-explain but extremely-complex-to-implement concept requires the deployment of innovative business models, such as the energy communities, to ensure that the surplus of energy is managed and shared among the different actors involved, that can range from individual owners or tenants of residential buildings to large companies owning big shopping malls or offices buildings. This model has to face difficulties, not only due to technical requirements but also due to the existing local, regional or national normative or regulation.
All these projects have enabled our cities to reach a first and important stage in the process of transformation of our cities, generating a huge amount of experiences both positive and lessons learned.
Particularly focused on CARTIF experiences, we could highlight the case of Valladolid, Spain. CARTIF has successfully accompanied Valladolid in this transition, through the deployment of a relevant number of innovation projects already in place. Projects such as R2CITIES, CITyFiED, REMOURBAN and UrbanGreenUp have transformed our city and province.
In Valladolid, the journey started with several buildings of the Cuatro de Marzo neighbourhood that were energy retrofitted. The trip continued with the FASA district that benefitted from a complete regeneration accompanied by the deployment of multiple mobility actions across all the city (45 electric vehicles, 22 recharging points, 5 electric buses). This trip was complemented by the renaturing of diverse urban spaces that they are still on the move across the whole city area. A parallel trip was carried out in the Torrelago neighbourhood in Laguna de Duero, a very close to Valladolid village, that was transformed into a more efficient and sustainable, being also in their moment, the biggest energy retrofitting intervention in Europe.
The last and definitive challenge: the climate neutrality
However, despite providing great individual results, all this (r)evolution hasn´t been enough to cope the most important challenge we have faced in our existence as human beings: the strong need to mitigate the effects of climate change. It is necessary a second twist of screw to deal with it with decision and optimism.
In line with the recent approved Green Deal in which the European Commission established as an objective for Europe to be the first climate neutral continent in 2050, our cities have to progress on the same way to be climate neutral. But, with their exemplary power and potential, they have to be as soon as they can.
Again, the EU innovation programmes are aligned to these global policies and as a result of it, the brand-new innovation programme Horizon Europe has created in their words “a new way to bring concrete solutions to some of our greatest challenges”, the innovative Horizon Europe Missions.
The Missions are multi-disciplinary actions launched with the aim of reaching an ambitious and at the same time quantifiable objective (the mission). Moreover, they have to be deployed in a specific timeframe and with the final goal of achieving a big impact in the society. Inside the 5 missions recently launched by the European Commission, it appears the Climate Neutral and Smart Cities mission, totally aligned with the objectives raised by the 2030 Agenda, the SDG and the EU Green Deal.
This Cities mission has raised as an objective to reach an extremely ambitious and complex goal: speed up the necessary transformation process and reach, at least, “100 climate neutral cities in 2030, by and for the citizens”. These 100 cities shall be pioneers and exemplars for the rest, leading the way of the necessary process of systemic transformation. The pivotal element of this process is the Climate City Contract (CCC), a new planning, governance and financial element that will regulate the objectives, stakeholders’ involvement and governance processes that will allow reaching those climate neutrality objectives in the cities that adhere to the process. The development of CCCs requires a deep understanding of the local contexts, the development of a good planning structure to try to secure the necessary funds, which does not have to come only from public funds. Most on the contrary, the access to private capital is essential.
CARTIF is part of the consortium of NetZeroCities1, the EU Cities Mission Platform that will support the Climate Neutral and Smart Cities Mission in the process of co-creation, co-design, implementation and evaluation of the climate city contract in EU cities. In NetZeroCities, CARTIF will make available all the experience gained throughout the participation in city regeneration and transformation projects to the cities participating in the initiative. CARTIF will collaborate in the concrete definition of the contents of the Climate City Contract, will define the technological solutions necessary to realize the systemic transformation and, also, will participate in the definition of the indicators framework that will allow to follow the evolution of the initiative and the degree of accomplishment to the objective of reaching 100 pioneer cities being climate neutral in 2030.
In CARTIF we are ready to be part of this process, ¿ARE YOU READY?
1 Horizon2020 Green Deal topic 1.2. Grant agreement number: 101036519
The theme that the World Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has given to the World Food Day of this year 2021 is “Our actions are our future”.
And so it is, like everything in life, each step and each action that we undertake, determines our future. We,all of us, are an active and responsible part of a complex, living and moldable system called food system.
FAO defines food systems as a set of actors and the relationship of the set of activities established between all of them through the different interrelationships that make possible the production, transformation, distribution and consumption of the food.
The elements that make up food systems are multiple and integrate both aspects of the production, storage, processing, packaging and logistics as well as issues related to quality, nutritional, safety and price related aspects, even issues such as information and behavior of the consumers. Given all these factors- and many others!- and their interrelationship, it is not unreasonable to think that food systems are of crucial importance to many of the challenges and goals we must address globally, inlcuding the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Among these objectives, and particularly two of them, are those aimed at achieving “Zero Hunger” (SDG2) and “End Poverty” (SDG1) on which we must place special emphasis today.
Most of the current food systems are not capable of adapting, anticipating or being resilient to stressful situations or of supplying the present needs, in some cases, or to anticipate the needs of a growing population.
There is a clear need to transition to more inclusive, resilient and sustainable food systems
A sustainable food system integrates varied and sufficient, nutritious and safe food with a fair price for all, where there are no forms of malnutrition and no hungry. Policies and strategies are necessary, but also our personal contribution as active members of the system. Every time we choose foods, we make mutiple decisions and do our part towards our healthy, but also, more sustainable diet, which contributes to the restoration of natural resources. Towards an equitable trade, leading the way towards the eradication of poverty and malnutrition, thus protecting human rights.
On World Food Day, every October 16 since 1979,the collective action of a large number of countries is promoted to carry out events, communication and dissemination activities with the aim of promoting the need to eradicate hunger and guarantee healthy diets for all the members of this planet.
We must address challenges related to world population growth, climate change, diet-related diseases, depletion of natural resources and associated specific situations such as pandemics or natural disasters.
Each October 16 since 42 years ago, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations promotes the celebration of World Food Day.In this case under the slogan “OUR ACTIONS ARE OUR FUTURE”
The European Union proposed to address the challenge of food security and nutrition through research and development policies aimed at guaranteeing the future of our food systems so that they turn into more sustainable, resilient,responsible, inclusive, diverse and competitive within the FOOD 2030 strategy and it is intended to provide solutions to four major general priorities of the food systems:
NUTRITION: ensuring healthy and sustainable diets.
CLIMATE: achieve climate-smart and sustainable food systems that adapt the climate change.
CIRCULARITY: reducing the use of resources and improving the efficiency of food systems, including zero food waste.
INNOVATION: fostering sustainable and accessible food sharing for all communities, cities and rural areas, developing data-driven food and nutrition systems that meet societal needs.
At CARTIF we work in different pathways of intervention that allow us to advance in this direction, such as the shift to more sustainable and healthy diets, the identification and use of new sources of protein, reduction of food waste, food security or urban food systems.
In this sense, FUSILLI project (Fostering the Urban Food System transformation through Innovative Living Labs Implementation, funded by the European Union´s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme) general aim is achieving an integrated and safe transition towards food systems in pan-European cities and their peri-urban areas by creating a sustainable urban food plan, with environmental, social and economic aspects that integrates actions in the four pillars of the FOOD 2030 strategy.
Yes, we hold the future of food in our hands. Each step that each of us takes in the right direction ensures food and nutrition for healthy and sustainable diets while maintaining the environment, our health, equity and social inclusion, and the economy. Be part of the change that you want to see.
It is well know that more than a third of the total final energy consumed in the European Union is consumed in residential and tertiary sector buildings. For this reason, in recent years, various directives and calls for proposals have tried to promote the renovation of buildings under energy efficiency criteria.
In addition to the validated energy certification tools on the market, there are many tools for modelling and simulating the behaviour of buildings. This is the starting point for the design of building renovation projects, since before the selection of the measures that could improve their consumption and emission parameters, a quantitative assessment of the building stock as realistically as possible is necessary. However, most of the tools available on the market works on a small scale (building,house,premises,etc.) and the generation and simulation of models for grouos of buildings (districts or cities) is a huge task. Undoubtedly, the problem of scale is one of the weak points of current tools when analysing districts or cities.
In CARTIF, for years, we have been working on the automatic generation of models to be able to characterise as automatically as possible the buildings of a certain location (district, municipality and even region) by calculating demand and consumption values using public information sources (cadastre and catalogue of constructive elements mainly) and different calculation engines. In addition, it has been proven that one of the fundamental aspects is certainly the addequate presentation of the results in an attractive, interactive visualisation that is able to provide all relevant information.
As a result of several projects in this line, CARTIF has designed and developed the visualisation tool GIS4ENER that offers the visualisation of several approaches:
(1) The estimation of demand calculation based on the automation of the CE3X certification tool for the calculation of large-scale buildings (neighbourhood or city)
(2) The generation of estimated values of demand, consumption and CO2 emissions through the application of automatically generated typologies with the study of the results reflected in real Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs). It also allows the results of both approaches to be compared with these EPCs.
You can access to a demo of the GIS4ENER tool. In this demo the functionalities of the tool are presented with results obtained for the municipality of Tordesillas in the province of Valladolid (Spain).
At the moment the tool has been tested in several municipalities but it has the potential to be applied in any municipality in Spain, except those located in Navarra and the Basque Country.
There are many user groups that could benefit directly from this tool. Among them: regulatory bodies; public administrations; consultancies and energy companies; engineers, architects and urban planners; and construction companies. Our tool would allow to obtain a mapping of energy demand and consumption (as well as CO2 emissions) associated with buildings in a district or region, in much shorter time compared to obtaining the same with conventional methods. Undoubtedly the simplification of this step could bring a great benfit to al these users in their energy planning processes at various scales, development of strategic and business plans in certain districts or cities.
From CARTIF, we will continue to work on the research and development of tools that can continue to help reduce the impact of human beings on the environment.
Most likely, the word photonics is not part of yourusual vocabulary, but the technologies developed in this field are increasignly used in the daily course of our lives.
If we pay attention to the definition of photonics given by dictionaries such as Merriam-Webster´ s:
“A branch of physics that deals with the properties and applications of photons especially as a medium for transmitting information”, perhaps this means nothing to you, unless you know research works such as those of the great pysicist Albert Einstein. Specifically, his explanation of the photoelectric effect discovered by Hertz in 1887 and for which, curiosities of life, Einstein received exactly 100 years ago (1921), the Nobel Prize and not for his famous theory of relativity.
Photonic is better understood if we use other definitions, such as the one described by the French scientist Pierre Aigrain in 1967:
“Photonics is the science of the harnessing of light. Photonics encompasses the generation of light, the detection of light, the management of light through guidance, manipulation, and amplification, and, most importantly, its utilization for the benefit of mankind.”
Therefore, light is the center of photonics, a physical phenomenon whose explanation has needed hundreds of years and great geniuses for its understanding, at least to a high degree. From the Greek schools with Aristotle and Euclid as outstanding exmples, numerous scientists, such as Al Haytham, Newton, Young, Maxwell or Einstein himself dedicated part of their lives to answering the question What is light?.
If we summarize some of the conclusions of these parents of photonics, we can say that light is defined by both a wave and a particle, which has been called the wave-particle duality of light. This duality was the source of fierce discussions like the one carried out between Huygens and Newton in the 17th century, Huygens defended the wave nature of light, while Newton only understood light as a set of luminous corpuscles. In the 19th century, it was Young with his famous double slit experiment and Maxwell with his treatise on electromagnetism who confirmed the wave nature of light, while in the early 20th century, Plank and Einstein demosntrated the need to quantify light in form of discrete packets of energy to be able to explain the radiation of a black body and the aforementioned photoelectric effect. In 1926, Gilbert Lewis called this “quantum” of energy a photon.
On the other hand, light is not only the radiation that we can see with our eyes, namely, the visible spectrum, but it is also associated with infrared, ultraviolet, microwaves, radio waves, X-ray and gamma radiation, since these ones are of the same nature as demonstrated by Maxwell. In fact, the International Society of Photonics and Optics (SPIE) in its 2020 annual report states that photonics covers the entire range of the electromagnetic spectrum, from gamma rays to radio waves.
We could say, in a simplified way that:
“Light is made up of a set of particles, called photons, propagating in ther form of electromagnetic waves with a wide range of frequencies.”
Photons interact with matter at the subatomic level. If these particles have the right energy value, defined by the frequency of the wave, they will cause the electrons of the atoms to absorbb their energy and position themselves at higher energy levels. In the same way, these particles of light are released when electrons returns spontaneously or stimulated to lower or more stable energy levels.
Well, these phenomena that occur at the suabtomic level are tha basis for the velopment of devices such as LEDs or LASERs, without which we could not, among other uses, improve the energy efficiency of our homes or have better bandwidth in fiber optic communications. These are a small part of the applications of photonics, but it gives an idea of the magnitude of its importance since it is present in a myriad of application sectors.
So when you turn on the lights, hear the news on the radio or watch them on television, connect to the internet via fiber optics or via wireles with yout tablet or smartphone to watch your favorite series, activate your home alarm sensors, take pictures, heat your breakfast in the microwave and other countless daily actions, think about how photonics has changed our lives. It is not surprising that the 21st century was the century of the electron and that photonics is one of the key technologies for humanity to continue its development and overcome many of thec omplicated challenges that has to face today and in the future.
Since 2020 CARTIF is part ofPhotonHub Europe, a platform made up of more than 30 reference centers in photonics from 15 European countries in which more than 500 experts in photonics offer their support to companies (mainly SMEs) to help them to improve their productionprocesses and products through the use of photonics. With this objective, training, project development and technical and financial advisory actions have been organized until 2024.
In addition, to be aware of what is happening in the worl of photonics, we encourage you o be part of the community created in PhotoHub Europe. In this community you can be aware of the activities of the platform as well as news and events related to photonics.
There are two things that have nothing to do with each other but that in real, they have to: the perplexity of a roe deer in the foothills of the Torozos hills when she founds a fence surrounding a photovoltaic park and that the 64%1 of the Spanish people do not know if our electrical supply contract is from a free or a regulated market.
The roe deer ignores the fact that the place where he walks is going to be subjected to radical changes. Tens of thousands of hectares are going to be covered with photovoltaic panels and closed by fences. We will have to see how this will afect to biodiversity, what will become of the bustards and of the foxes that walks throguh those places and if roe deers will learn to see fences before they colide with them.
But we have to take in count that human activity will be affected. All those hectares will be excluded from agriculture, shepherding will be limited and the landscape will be radically transformed, what could affect to local business of the rural tourism. In exchange of this destruction, energy will be generated without emitting greenhouse gases, energy that also will be cheap and that will help to decrease the price resulting from the daily market matching. But the sun does not usually shine at night, at least in our latitude, and what could happen with the electricity price and with the electric system stabilisation from the time of sunset or the days without sun is something that we will have to talk about in other moment.
Spanish consumers may be just as unaware as the roe deer, because it seems that manyof us are not informed about the possibility of choosing between a regulated rate and non-regulated one, and surely we are far less conscious about the changes that decarbonization of the electric system brings.
This situation of unknowledge raises the fear that it is going to be hard to let people know that they have in their hands a powerful weapon for combating the problems that could appear as a consequence of the massive introduction of renewable energies.
It is the flexibility or capacity of consuming electricity at different times than initially desired without having a loss of comfort or utility. To complicate things further, the household consumers could take better advantage of their own flexibility if they offer it on a joint basis. And this offer should be made in energy local markets, still non-existent, but already in development.
To imagine that a consumer that does not know if he has a free rate or a regulated one may become involved in the energy local market seems harder to achieve than a herd of roe deers jumping the fences of a photovoltaic park.
Several things are required for demand flexibility to be useful. On the one hand, it is necessary that all flexible electricity-consuming assets, such as air conditioning, should be able to accept external signals that allow regulating its operation automatically. Also, it is necessary that control systems that generates these signals are available and acting in an aggregated manner on a significative number of air conditioning systems, to mention a flexible load. In addition, it is necessary to define business models that will allow users to be remunerated for their flexibility. And finally, rules and regulations must be developed to define new market agents, such as the recently created independent aggregators, and to regulate the consumer participation in the new local electricity markets.
But all of this is not going to be possible without a change of mind. Consumers have to realize that there are ways to actively participate in the electricity system that go beyond switching companies when the bill seems too high. One of these ways could be energy communities, which are already opening the door to collective self-consumption and will hopefully soon also open the door to flexible, consumer-centered demand-side management.
Perhaps these communities allow the consumer to adapt to the new electricity system in the same way that roe deers of Torozos hills will have to adapt to a new environment full of unfamiliar things.
On 2o July I could not stop myself from thinking about Jeff Bezos. He made a short journey to space, organizing his own private trip. There were plenty of headlines. And many different opinions on the subject.
Was the issue that was of concern to me if he was returned from space safe and sound?. Well, not exactly.
My concern was not in how much the space trip cost (or maybe yes), not in thinking if his decision had a coherent basis (or maybe yes) or in the high-impact maedia coverage (or maybe yes). The problem was that I couldn´ t get out of my mind the environmental impact of the trip, from a life cycle perspective.
After the trip, Jeff Bezos said its spaceflight revealed the fragility of Earth.
But was his trip a sustainable initiative for this fragiel Earth?
Sustainable development is a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, shifting its focus towards the economic, social and environmental development.
To be able to say that the environmental part of the sustainability is being considered, it is needed to evaluate the impact and communicate the result through effective and transparent communication indicators, such as the carbon footprint. It estimates the total amount of greenhouse gases emitted during the production, processing and retailing of goods and/or services, considering their life cycle and using the global warming potential as the only indicator.
It seems that we are becoming aware of the importance of improving energy efficiency at home or using the pblic transport, but we continue to maintain many unsustainable practices in our day to day. For instance. I would ask you to think about the energy consumption required by your daily interactions on the internet. Then, multiply this number by 4,200 billion Internet users.
“Houston, we have a problem!”
Knowing which activities are the largest sources of GHG in our everyday lifes, we can change them towards more environmentally friendly actions, and thanks to the information shared by the International Energy Agency (IEA), I would like to tell you three steps to take a digital detox that will minimize your carbon footprint.
Cleaning: delete emails and online files that you no longer need. This action frees up space on the servers. And the social media accounts that you no longer use. The simple fact of existing and occupying space on the internet generates an environmental impact.
Unsubscribe from the newsletters you are not reading: whilst the carbon footprint of an email is not huge, cutting down on the number of unnecesary emails you receive is one important way to reduce the CO2 eq emitted by these emails. And in a matter of emissions, each email counts.
Choose carefully what videos you would like to play, maybe a pocast would be better.
Applying the equity principle to the environment, each person in the world has the right to us the same amount of environmental space, so if we commit ourselves to use efficiently our resources with minimal environmental impacts, the whole society will benefit.
Because this implies that the responsability is shared by everyone. That is to say, it is not only from Jeff Bezos.
The technological offer at CARTIF is varied, we are not dedicated to space tourism but we do evaluate the sustainability and calculate environmental footprints.
Therefore waiting for Jeff Bezos call impatiently!!
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