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
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.
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!!
When we hear energy efficiency, we always think in improving productive process in facories where we work, in the means of transport we use to move… but never in daily chores in our home. Actions as common as choosing an appliance or the cooking way, establish the degree of our awareness with energy efficiency at homes.
Reflecting on this aspect, these common activities are associated with energy consumption, and therefore, any action aimed at making them more efficient will affect the consumption of our houses. In addition, this concept takes on special relevance in the current context of a growing escalation in the prices of the energy we consume, which is proposed to last over time.
Some measures imply an economic investment, which in many cases presupposes a negative attitude, although we need a reflection on them or a good awareness campaign about it. For example, there are few homes with an incandescent bulb, and the use of bulbs with LED technology is already very common. In the same way, progress in being made in the introduction of more efficient electrical appliance in our homes. These are classified with a letter (A,A+ …) which indicates the consumption of the equipment. Although those that consumes less tend to have higher cost, it must be considered that over time this investment is compensated with a lower cost of electricity.
But not all these soluions that improve our energy efficiency necesssarily imply an economic cost. Thus, for example, we can save energy by acting on:
The control of the heating and cooling temperature setpoints, maintaining adequate comfort values, and although, currently, we are more aware, surely, we all know homes where tenants usually find themselves in winter with summer clothes because they prefer to select a higher temperature setpoint than necessary.
The way we air out our homes. It is not necessary to do it for a long period of time, as is very common to see, and to carry it out at the appropriate times of the day (example: in winter, when the outside temperature is higher or in summer, in the early hours). This measure, complemented by a proper use of the blinds,opening them in sunny hours in winter and closing them in those periods in summer, allows a considerable reduction in air conditioning consumption to be achieved. It is true that with the current pandemic situation and the COVID19 measures to increase the ventilation of closed places, it is difficult to apply efficiency.
When cooking, trying to take advantage of residual heat from glass-ceramic hobs by “turning of the fire” a few minutes before finishing cooking or planning our menus and taking advantages of the ignition of ovens to bake several dishes.
Turning off lights in areas where you do not stay, or disconnecting standby equipment that is not going to be used for a long periods of time or at night.
Wash properly, using the economic programs of both washing machines and dishwashers, and preferably do it at full load, which not only saves energy but also water, a good in many cases scarce.
These and other small measures are a good starting point to save energy in our homes. We have to think that not being efficient does not only mean a higher energy expenditure or an increase in our electricity and gas bill, but it also means a damage to our society and the environment that surrounds us.
At CARTIF, we investigate in many areas of energy efficiency in buildings, developing multiple projects in this field, and we consider that the energy awareness and training of the end users of buildings, even in measures as simple as those indicated, is an important aspect and it has repercussions in progress and social benefit for all.
It is a reality that the building stock, not only in Spain, but in Europe in general is outdated. Although this can be a positive indication that cities have years and history, and buildings can be heritage with high historical value, the reality is also that a large part of them are not energy efficient. Approximately 85% of European buildings were built before 2001 (according to the Renovation Wave Strategy document)
The specific regulation on thermal insulation of the building envelope appear for the first time around the 70sm which means that buildings over 50 years old (more than 40%) were built without any requirement on energy performance. In general, buildings are responsible for 40% of total energy consumption in the EU, and for 36% of greenhouse gas emissions. It must be taken into account that the current regulations for new construction are strict enough in terms of energy efficiency and emissions (through theEnergy Performance of Buildings Directive, the EPBD): since 2019 it is mandatory that all new public buildings be nearly Zero-Energy Buildings (nZEB), and, since the end of last year (2020), it is mandatory for all new buildings. Therefore, the focus is now on meeting better energy efficiency standards in the rest of the building stock.
The COVID-19 crisis that we are experiencing has also put the focus on the buildings, which have become an office for teleworking, a nursery or classroom for children and students, even the main place for entertainment and (online) shopping. Europe sees this as an opportunity to join forces and, while addressing the way to overcome the COVID-19 crisis, also take advantage of the effort that has been made for years in retrofit, to rethink, redesign and modernize the building stock, adapting it to a greener environment and supporting economic recovery.
The European Commission already set in 2018 the long-term objective of being climate neutral in 2050, and last 2020 it established a medium-term objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 by 55% compared to 1990 level. To achieve this objective, buildings must make a great contribution, since they are responsible for a high percentage of these emissions, with approximately a 60% reduction; in addition to a 14% reduction in final energy consumption and 18% in energy consumption for heating and cooling. These are the premises of the Renovation Wave Strategy to improve the energy efficiency of buildings, with the aim of at least double the renovation rates over the next 10 years, thus promoting energy renovation in buildings throughout the European Union.
Furthermore, to support this, Europe is trying to ensure accessible and well-oriented financing, through initiatives within the framework of Next Generation EU the post-pandemic recovery plan, aimed at rebuilding post-COVID-19, which will also have a part for energy refurbishment in buildings.
In view of all this transformation that will take place in Europe, the European Commission has also begun to worry about aesthetics (because, as we said at the beginning, it is about transforming the old building stock, but paying attention to its historical value and as heritage). This is where the new European Bauhauswas recently born, a policy lab to work with citizens, as a participatory initiative to create resilient and inclusive cities, co-designing and co-creating a new style to provide more harmonised and sustainable future; materialising the European Green Deal and accompanying it with an aesthetic that characterises the sustainable transformation.
Is it true that these existing initiatives in the European context help and facilitate the definition of strategies for renovation of the building sector, but, if we were the politician responsible for improving the building stock in our region or municipality, where would we start?
First, it would be necessary to generate the most detailed knowledge possible of the building stock. Well, in this way, the policies on renovation and energy retrofitting in buildings will be more precise and specific to the real problems, and the solutions and financing offered adjusted to the status of the building stock in each case.
For this, we can make use of the public databases of existing buildings. At European level, the Building Stock Observatory (BSO) stands out among others, where information is collected digitally on the status of European buildings, providing a better understanding of the energy performance of buildings through reliable, consistent and comparable data. A relevant data source at European level is also TABULA/EPISCOPE, two European projects, one as the follow-up of the previous one, which provide a database of residential buildings based on defined typologies according to the size, age or other parameters, providing a set of examples for each of the countries analysed representing these building types.
Another important source of information for the characterisation of the building sector is the Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) (more detailed information on this in a previous entry) of buildings, by analysing the documentation provided in the general registry of each region (autonomous community) or at national level, depending on the country. This certificate, beyond obtaining a label on the building’s energy consumption and its CO2 emissions (with letters from “A” to “F”), contains specific data on the year of construction, the construction characteristics of the building’s thermal envelope, energy systems, proposed measures to improve the energy rating, etc. So it becomes valuable information to know the status of buildings and the actions that could be carried out to improve that status, and to be able to extrapolate it to neighbourhoods, cities, regions and countries.
At CARTIF we participate in different projects aimed at improving knowledge of the building sector, and to support in decision-making that help in the definition of future renovation strategies. For example, in BuiltHub a data collection of the European building stock is carried out, as well as a roadmap is established on how to obtain reliable and useful data for the development of renovation strategies. Other projects, such as ELISE Energy Pilot, MATRYCSand BD4NRG, use the data from the Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) to get a better knowledge of the status of the building stock in different regions (autonomous communities in the case of Spain), while it also participating in the development of a common certification model for Europe. Or the TEC4ENERPLAN project, where advanced techniques for multi-scale energy planning (from building to region) are developed, and support for the development of tools that serve as the basis for meeting the 2020-2050 energy efficiency goals.
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