When we think of decarbonisation, the type of activity that comes to mind first and foremost is the implementation of large wind farms or solar farms that generate large amounts of clean energy. Or the much-needed refurbishment of buildings, which would drastically reduce overall energy demand due to our energy deficient building stock. However, in urban environments, another of the main sectors that generates emissions and where action can also be taken is mobility. Although depending on the source and the way emissions are accounted for the value may differ, it is estimated that between 25% and 35% of CO2 emissions in a city are due to mobility-related aspects.
The city where most of us who work at CARTIF technology centre live, Valladolid, is one of the cities participating in the European Mission on Climate Neutral and Smart Cities (Mission of Cities) promoted by the European Comission. Valladolid is one of the 112 cities from all over Europe and several associated states that were selected by the European Commission. In Spain, it is joined by Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, Zaragoza and Vitoria. In accordance with the objectives of the cities mission, these 112 cities have voluntarily committed to becoming climate neutral by 2030. This is 20 ahead of the climate neutrality target set globally for the entire European continent in 2050. This requires encouraging the implementation of sustainable solutions and advanced technologies, also in areas such as sustainable mobility.
However, cities cannot walk this path of decarbonisation alone. This is why they are seeking the complicity not only of citizens to act individually, but also of companies to implement actions that will have a greater impact. At this point it is necessary to remember that climate neutrality is achieved by combining two type of actions: those that directly reduce emissions and those that capture those emissions and either regenerate the oxygen we need to live or use the CO2 as raw material in production processes. Both types of actions are necessary. It is their optimal combination that will achieve neutrality.
In this blog, CARTIF proposes a concrete action that contributes significantly to achieving these ambitious decarbonisation objectives. This action is the implementation and deployment of sustainable mobily plans for companies (PMS). These plans, complementary to the city´s own sustainable mobility plans, seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions produced by a company´s means of transport, which are one of the main sources of pollution in cities, especially in emission areas 1 and 2. These emission areas consist of the direct and indirect emissions of companies produced, in this case, by the transport of employees, materials and products and by the type of fuel used in each case.
Companies, through the deployment of sustainable mobility plans that promote a change in the way their employees commute, for example, can contribute to reducing the overall volume of emissions in cities. In order for these plans to be accepted and therefore fully deployed, they must not only be agreed upon, but also co-developed between management, employees and all other necessary stakeholders. It is therefore highly advisable to develop them through co-creation strategies, which allow the effective participation of all these groups, so that they become direct participants in the change. Support (probably indirect) for the implementation of more sustainable and less polluting modes of transport, such as collective transport (ideally without emissions), cycling, walking and electric vehicles are clear measures, but other indirect strategies such as the promotion of teleworking, improved shifts, more effective routes, the promotion of shared mobility, the implementation of canteen areas or the installation of electric charging points are another series of measures that can be proposed. No journey generates fewer emissions than the unnecessary journey that is avoided.
In addition, the municipalities themselves must participate by committing to improving the necessary infrastructure to carry them out, such as connected and safe cycle lanes, improved urban transport, etc. It is also key to mention the indirect benefits that these types of activities can generate. In general, sustainable mobility plans seek to reduce mobility-related greenhouse gas emissions, but this benefit in turn will reduce energy dependence on fossil fuels, improve the global energy system and its stability, which will contribute to mitigating the effects of climate change and, more importantly, to improving air quality in cities and the health of the people who live in them.
You have probably heard or read in the news that many villages in the so-called “Empty Spain” are offering housing and work for those seeking new opportunities away from the big cities. Perhaps it may seem a desperate measure by these areas to cope with the the continuous loss of population they have been suffering over the last decades but, in reality, it is another measure to face the territorial challenge in which we are immersed due to the existence of two opposing processes; one of concentration of population and activities in urban areas and the other of decline or stagnation of rural areas.
For all these reasons, there is no longer any doubt that the demographic challenge must and is acquiring unprecedented notoriety in the political, economic and social agenda of our country, as the reflection of the current territorial model requires an integrating vision from the State. Even more so if it is tackled jointly with the ecological transition and the objectives established in the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement on climate change or the New Urban Agenda, all managed by the Ministry for Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge.
But what is the demographic challenge?
The demographic challenge is a “complex” and multifactorial idea that encompasses population dynamics, i.e. changes in the structure population (birth rate, average age, masculinity rate, etc.) as well as the settlement pattern (how population is distributed in the territory), including both depopulation and overpopulation.
Although in the case of Spain the focus (at least in the media) has been placed on the rural areas more affected by depopulation, the demographic challenge also covers urban areas, where the problem is the opposite, i.e. a large concentration of population in a small territory. Both processes, depopulation and overpopulation, have effects on the structuring of the territory, the consumption of raw materials,the employment rate or economic development, and accesibility to resources.
But let´s stop to understand why this is a challenge in our country. In Spain,83% of the population is concentrated between Madrid, the coast, and in the valleys of large rivers such as the Ebro and the Guadalquivir, as a result of a historically greater economic development, thus concentrating numerous companies from different sectors (industrial, technological, etc.)
As a consequence, the remaining 17% is concentrated in the rest of the territory, where, to highlight some figures, they are affected by negative vegetative growth (6,300 of Spain´s 8,000 municipalities, i.e. 80% are losing population). Although it is true that this process of population loss is not new, it has worsened over time.
Is easy to identify ,then, that these territories stand out for their very low population density values; almost half of Spain´s municipalities have a population density of less than 12.5 inhabitants/km2, the threshold that the European Union classifies as “demographic risk”, and most of them have less than 8 inhabitants/km2, i.e. they are extremely depopulated. The provinces most affected include Soria, Cuenca and Teruel.
Once the demographic and territorial challenge we face in Spain has been contextualised, it is necessary to go further and identify its causes and consequences in order to tackle it more efficiently. Fortunately or unfortunately, this is a clear example of what is commonly known as “fish that bites its own tail”, i.e. a factor that motivates population displacement between territories produces effects or consequences that eventually become the cause of the same.
One of the main causes and consequences of the migration of the population residing in these areas is attributed to several factors. The first one is the predominant economic sector, as technological progress in predominantly agricultural areas has led to a higher level of automation, with a consequent reduction in the labour force, and therefore in the labour supply. Secondly, and closely relately to the first, is the lack of job diversity, and last but not least, the lack of services (housing, education, leisure, transport, etc.) that meet the needs of a 21st century society.
All of the above is aggravated by the declining birth rate, which, although it is a nationwide problem, is more acute in regions with smaller populations.
A direct consequence of population decline is a reduction in demand for public services, such as education, health care, transport and social security. This, in many cases, leads to cuts in the budget allocated to their management, as they become less economically sustainable. As a result, the supply of essential services may be compromised, particularly affecting the most vulnerable groups in society.
Fortunately, we are not alone, and the demographic challenge is not only a problem in Spain, which is why the European Union, aware of this problem, has carried out a zoning of European regions in order to apply more specific and effective policies and measures in each area, taking into account the level of economic development, population density, availability of natural resources, and geographical location, among other aspects.
Also at European level we find the Southern European Sparsely Populated Areas Network (SSPA Network). This agency focuses on the economic sector and aims to promote, together with the agents of the territory, specific policies and measures that contribute to tackling the main structural challenges affecting the least populated rural regions of Europe. The provinces of Soria, Teruel and Cuenca are part of this network, territories that according to European Union criteria are at high risk of depopulation, so it is important to try to stop and reverse their situation as a matter of urgency.
With regard to the policies developed in Spain in relation to the demographic challenge, there have been numerous and all of them focused on alleviating the effects of depopulation, all of them with the aim of tackling Article 174 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), which seeks to reduce the differences in development between the different regions.
Broadly speaking, the measures or strategies included in these policies are the creation of employment, the improvement of infrastructures and services, and support for entrepreneurs and small businesses. In addition, better access to housing and essential services, such as education and health.
Despite the fact that depopulation is a serious problem, there are several regions that are making an effort to curb it and even gain population, such as the Scottish Highlands or Artieda (Zaragoza).
Thanks to the creation, more than 60 years ago, of an economic and community development agency, with autonomy of action and depoliticised, they have managed to reverse the trend in the Highlands of Scotland, with the population expected to increase by 10% by 2035 compared to 2010. This is due to providing infrastructure and housing, as well as trying to improve the availability of basic services, commerce, culture, leisure and connectivity.
Another success story, but on a national level, can be found in Artieda, which started with 67 inhabitants in 2017, and thanks to the promotion of housing policies, employment, improved leisure and internet access, has managed to increase its population to 82 inhabitants in 2022, with 15 young people having settled in the municipality. In order for the initiatives and projects being carried out in this region to have had an effect, citizen participation and the ideas contributed by the population have been key.
At CARTIF we are aware of the challenge, not only because of our location in a region suffering from depopulation, but also as an active part in tackling it. In particular in theSPANDAMproject, in which we work on the development of integrated evaluation tools and models that allow us to quantify the impact of policies that seek the fixation of population through actions in search of local development and the promotion of its attractiveness.
Universal acces to sustainable energy is an indisputable objective for the human development and the fight against poverty. Electrical energy services are vital “satisfiers” of human needs such as cooking and refrigeration, lighting, heating, trasnport, communication, among others. It is therefore possible to state that access to energy reduces poverty, improves health, the environment, increases productivity and promotes economic growth. However, there are still more than 1,100 million people in the world without access to electricity supply -nearly 15% of the global population-1 , of which, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), 34 million live in Latin America and the Caribbean, which represents 5% of the total population. In addition, what remains to be electrified are poor, hard-to-reach locations, which require new service models and new actors, and for which sustainability and affordability will require special attention and support.
These, among other points related to access, equity and quality of energy sources to meet the basic needs of the population, constitute a number of challenges yet to be addressed. In areas with precarious electricity supply, power cuts represents a serious threat to the well-being of communities and their economic development. The cascading effects after an electric interruption can cause major social and economic losses.
Traditionally in the Ibero-American region, the solutions for electrification, either in emergencies or due to lack of access, have been the extension of the distribution grid, the use of fossil fuel generators for a limited number of hours and, lately, incentives and support for projects based on Non-Conventional Renewable Energies (NCRE). It can sometimes be difficult to extend the electricity grid to these locations due to: remote locations, low population density or lack of existing infrastructure. Consequently, electricity must be supplied locally using stand-alone household systems or microgrids that make use of the local resources at their disposal (a microgrid is basically, a local electricity service that produces energy by means of a generator and distributes it through several wires to surrounding households and businesses).
The importance of implementing local renewable energy systems, whose operation doesn´t entail high costs for the different users, helps to transform the vicious circle that exist between economic development and energy supply into a virtuous one, in a relationship where the lack of the former makes the latter impossible and vice-versa. However, these projects boosted by the State and/or private entities often depend tehnically and economically on external agents, and therefore, their continuity is often subject to continuous contributions from entities outside the area where they are installed, relegating the beneficiaries to a primarily passive role vis-à-vis the installed technology, and to high additional costs for the installer for maintenance actions, which on many cases makes them “forget” about the installation, as their business is oriented towards investment and not towards operation.
Therefore, the implementation of this type of systems not only requires an economic effort, but it is also necessary to incorporate new innovative models fso that the implementation is socially, economically and environmentally sustainable, with the participation of new actors. Thus, the actors providing the energy service must necessarily involve the beneficiaries, in line with their traditional ways and uses.
Therefore, in isolated rural communities where grid extension isn´t the most appropriate solution in terms of time or cost, it is necessary to install local microgrids to help meet the energy needs of the rural community. For their design and plannning, it is necessary to use planning tools that assess the coverage of demand, recommending which technology would meet this requirement. This type of planning, which takes into account the different technologies available and local renewable resources, allows for a coordinated organisation with distribution companies, preventing private initiatives for isolated electrification from being overtaken in a short time by grid supplies, thus wasting valuable available energy resources2.
The selection and sizing of the most appropriate electrification technologies for each user and each community based on geographical, natural, technical, socio-economic and other large-scale environmental variables for energy planning and investment analysis is a fundamental challenge.
In systems with controllable generation, adjustment to demand can be made, so balancing the grid is simpler. However, in grids with a high penetration of renewables, it is necessary to complement them with storage systems or demand management systems to balance the availability of non-controllable renewable energy with needs that can often be shifted over time (demand flexibility). Design tools, on the one hand, and control strategies, on the other hand, are different in both scenarios.
In consideration of the above, with the aim of providing a quality energy supply solution in isolated, non-interconnected areas of Latin America, CARTIF, together with the other partners in thePLADEMI project, has developed a tool that allows the dimensioning of microgrids, taking into account both energy parameters of renewable and indigenous origin, and social parameters, so that the energy-social development nexus can be evaluated in a coordinated manner. Without energy there are no services, without services there is no development, without development there is no quality of life. Within this framework, CARTIF researchers have travelled to Colombia for several days to hold meetings with theTAYEA research group of the National University of Colombia, Medellin, and theUPB Smart Energy Center of the Pontifical Bolivarian University, in order to share information, knowledge and experiences, visiting their pilot facilities focused on the development of communities in the context indicated. On the other hand, we also visited the community ofIsla Fuerte, a small island (3.25 km²) located in the Colombian Caribbean, with a population of 2500 inhabitants living in approximately 500 houses, energetically supplied by a micro-grid consisting of a 400 kW diesel generator set, a 175 kWp photovoltaic plant and 432 batteries of 3850 Ah. Thanks to conversations held with the island’s community, an exercise of understanding and analysis of the social aspects to be taken into account in this type of project has been carried out, and which need to be included in the tool developed in the PLADEMI project.
New European directives on energy efficiency, targeting a 55% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to be achieved by 2023, are triggering deep renovation building projects, which are largely responsible for these emissions. This high demand for the transformation of the existing building stock makes us consider the need to execute this type of renovation projects in the shortest period of time. Furthermore, it is important to offer an adequate cost/benefit balance for the proposed interventions.
And in this process of transition towards climate-neutral buildings, how can the use of new technologies and the application of methodologies such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) help in the implementation of deep renovation projects? The adoption of BIM models, traditionally used for new buildings, can provide important decision support when selecting solutions to be implemented in renovation projects. This was one of the main objectives of the H2020 BIM-SPEED Project, to improve deep renovation projects of residential buildings, reducing the time and costs associated with them, and promoting the use of BIM among the different stakeholders involved. To this end, standardised processes, with the creation of Use Cases, and different BIM‑based tools were developed as part of the BIM‑SPEED web platform ecosystem, as well as training materials on how to use these services1. To address interoperability issues, different ETLs (Extract, Transform and Load) and BIM connectors were implemented.
It was also possible to see how beneficial the combination of Machine Learning techniques with BIM models is for decision making in deep renovation projects, allowing the automatic selection of the most appropriate renovation option. This selection is based on national building envelope regulations, and also takes into consideration a number of user-defined input parameters on the limitations of its application2. The combination of the Scan to BIM process with the automatic creation of walls in BIM, using point clouds as input data, was also of great interest to end users3.
And now, what else?
The possibilities of using BIM models do not end with the renovation phase of the building. These models can also play a key role in the Operation and Maintenance phase. The development of Digital Building Twins based on BIM models can help in the optimisation and control of buildings to improve their energy performance. In line with this, projects such as BuildON, coordinated by CARTIF, and SMARTeeSTORY, the latter focused on monitoring and optimisation of the energy performance of non-residential historical buildings, are starting. We will keep you updated on further developments in future posts.
2 Mulero-Palencia, S.; Álvarez-Díaz, S.; Andrés-Chicote, M. Machine Learning for the Improvement of Deep Renovation Building Projects Using As-Built BIM Models. Sustainability2021, 13, 6576. https://doi.org/10.3390/su13126576
3 Álvarez-Díaz, S.; Román-Cembranos, J.; Lukaszewska, A.; Dymarski, P. 3D Modelling of Existing Asset Based on Point Clouds: A Comparison of Scan2BIM Approaches. In 2022 IEEE International Workshop on Metrology for Living Environment (MetroLivEn); IEEE, 2022; pp 274–279. https://doi.org/10.1109/MetroLivEnv54405.2022.9826964
We are currently witnessing a profound transformation of the global energy model, driven by the need to curb the steady increase in the Earth’s temperature caused by climate change. The EU´s commitment to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 and to reduce GHG emissions to 55% of 1990 levels by 20301means a huge challenge and requires a radical shift from a traditional centralised, fossil fuel-based energy system to a decentralised, decarbonised and renewable energy system.
In this context, the figure of Energy Communities emerges as a key actor that promotes the territorial deployment of renewable energies, empowers citizens and facilitates the generation of new services, consolidating local economies and fighting against energy poverty and climate change.
How can an Energy Community be set up?
In most cases they are generated by a group of citizens with support of a public entity. This support can come through the transfer of land or a building roof for the installation of photovoltaic panels for collective self-consumption. But something more is needed, it must be given a legal aspect. In this sense, there are two types, Renewable Energy Communities (REC)2 and Citizen Energy Community (CEC)3 . REC is focused on the production and consumption of renewable energy, while CEC is more aimen at the electricity sector, inlcuding electricity agreggation and storage, as well as the provision of recharging and energy efficiency services.
Next step is to decide what type of legal entity best meets the community needs. The options are: cooperative, association or commercial company (S.L or S.A), the first two being the most common, and in particular, the association, the simplest to implement because it does not require a public deed to be constituted. A constitution agreement is made between three or more natural or legal persons, and a founding act is drawn up. In addition, it has the advantage that the participation of its members is open and voluntary, with no minimum capital requirement.
Finally, nothing would make sense if there is no concrete project behind it. This could be collective self-consumption, a heating and cooling network, a citizen photovoltaic park, the provision of energy services, shared electric mobility or electric vehicle charging services, mainly.
To make any of these projects a reality, technology plays a key role. It is about to electrifying the grid without using fossil fuels and Energy Communities are a very valuable tool to change the current energy system and move in the direction of energy transition ,promoting distributed generation. Renewable generation technologies are already mature and are constantly evolving. Storage batteries, an indispensable complement to renewable generation, are competitive and constantly improving. In addition, smart management tools allow Energy Communities to be independent from the grid thanks to the intelligent data management and the implementation of decision-making tools based on Artificial Intelligence, machine-learning and predictive knowledge of user behaviour, environmental, socio-economic and electricity system elements.
Climate change is a phenomenon which has been scientifically observed for several decades, but it was not until the 1980´s that the term became widely popular and it has been growing ever since. Nowadays, not a week goes by without a new alarming headline appears, warning of record temperatures, decreasing rainfall, and the more frequent and damaging natural disasters.
Against this backdrop, mass media and public awareness of climate change has increased and, consequently, the pressure on governments and companies to establish more effective policies. Thus, climate and sustainability policies are created as actions and measures adopted by companies and policy-makers to face the climate change challenges and foster a sustainable future.
Although it was in 1972 when the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was created at the 1st United Nations Conference on the Environment, concern for environmental security is not a recent topic, but it is estimated that as early as 1750 b.C the Mesopotamian Hammurabi Code established penalties for those who damage the nature.
From then until today, climatic science has changed a lot and, currently, the Conference of the Parties (COP) are held annually. They are summits held by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in which the 197 member parties reach a consensus on climate measures for the coming years. Out of the 27 COPs that have been held, the most relevant have undoubtedly been COP3 or the Kyoto Protocol and COP21 or the Paris Agreement.
Climate policies are mainly focused on cutting Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, which are the major drivers of global warming. To achieve this goal, governments promote renewable energy sources, improved energy efficiency as well as independence from fossil fuel in the main economic sectors (e.g. transport, buildings and industry).
Climate policies ofthen have a specific objective when they are implemented, but they might sometimes generate unexpected effects, both positive (co-benefits) and negative (trade-offs). These co-benefits may not only be reflected in the environmental situation, but can also generate economic and even social benefits.
This interrelationship among economy, society and environment eas not taken into account until the emergence sustainability concept. Sustainability policies focus on promoting the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are a total of 17 specific targets that address global challenges in the three basic pillars: environmental protection, social development and economic growth.
Though the application of climate measures in the most “traditional” sectors is essential to reduce our environmental impact, both policy-makers and the society have realised that a deeper redesign of our daily habits is needed. As a result, new regulations are continuously promoted in order to shift consumption trends and even to implement new approaches to educate future generations.
Nevertheless, all that glitters in not gold and it should be borne in mind that sustainability and climate policy implementation might be a complex process that requires a careful planning and assessment of the expected effects. Therefore, how can policy-makers be sure to establish a measure if there is a possibility of further damage? This is where “Integrated Assessment Models” (IAMs) are introduced.
IAMs are analytical tools for assessing and estimating the impacts of diverse climate policies in various areas such as the economy, the environment or the social awareness, by selecting which sectors and regions to focus on. With these models, policies can make scientifically supported decisions to address climate change or they can use them to justify previous measures.
The usefulness of IAMs is immense as long as they are well-used, but if the right optimal conditions are not met, they can become simply incomplete representations of the future. The correct functioning of these models requires the effective involvement of politicians and other stakeholders in the IAM development stage, as well as the correct definition of the policy to be modelled (what is the issue to be addressed and the objective of its implementation, what is its spatial and temporal resolution, etc.). Once these conditions have been met, it is essential to ensure that the chosen policy and model are compatible, as not all IAMs have enough capacity to forecast the impact of such a measure, either because it does not include the sector of application, because the geographical location cannot be specified, or because the temporal horizon is too long to be considered by the IAM. Currently, the efforts are focused on creating IAMs with greater diversity and capacity to implement policies that are not only related to the economy, but also to social and environmental factors.
At CARTIF we have been actively involved in IAMs for a long time and, in fact, together with our colleagues at UVA, we have developed an IAM called WILLIAM. We are also involved in several European projects, such as IAM COMPACT or NEVERMORE, which aimed at improving the assessment, transparency and cosistency of models.