In a recent article, I explained the 7 actions that are essential to create a "smart energy city". These 7 actions are the founding pillars of any energy policy of a city. These included the establishment of local energy governance, a public exemplary plan, a plan for carbon-free mobility, and an energy renovation plan for buildings.
At the same time, other actions do not have this foundation status, but they are no less important. They are very useful and even unavoidable in many cases, but they all have to be defined within the framework of local issues that are always specific. Here are nine energy action plans, which are essential in smart cities:
The commerical building energy plan is a complement to the building renovation plan. The stakes on commercial buildings go far beyond simple thermal performance.
First, each building can be a power generation unit. Depending on the geography of the city, it is necessary to transform each of them or each group of buildings into a power generation unit, for example by hosting photovoltaic solar panels. We shouldn't consider each building separately.
It is then important that each building is controllable so that the main equipment and devices inside can be modulated or remotely shedded according to shared rules.
These developments will in parallel allow the development of highly differentiating services within each building.
The role of a city is not necessarily to define precise specifications but to push for high energy standards. Many existing technologies will develop the day such standards are imposed.
It is important to fix and enforce them in consultation with the chain of actors: Urban planners so that the buildings are integrated in a consistent and services-oriented city, the real estate developers because the standards imposed on the builders must be salable, the architects to ensure their implementation.
The industry is an energy-intensive business: it is difficult to talk about smart energy city without engaging the industry through an energy plan dedicated to it.
The main objective of industrial consumers is to improve their productivity; it is inconceivable to degrade it. The implementation of such a plan is therefore delicate because it requires specific energy skills, which manufacturers do not often have. Manufacturers are not spontaneously inclined to accept the intervention, however slight, of energy specialists on their process. In addition to these difficulties, such a plan has also to deal with the protection of industrial know-how and manufacturing secrets that makes external interventions undesirable. Such a plan has several objectives:
Poverty is a growing social issue in cities. Energy poverty is the direct declination in the field of energy. Declining incomes do not mix well with rising energy costs.
In addition, low-income households often live in the least energy-efficient housing: this feature worsens their precariousness and does not contribute to accelerating the rate of energy renovation of older dwellings.
It is the responsibility of cities to create local support mechanisms to support this precariousness: by reinvesting part of the public energy savings, by capturing a part of the revenues of the flexibility as an example.
Individual behaviors, in homes and offices as in the industry, are a source of energy savings. They do not represent the most important potential of savings but the one that is the most difficult and the most uncertain to achieve.
They are, however, the first cause of drift of a performance already acquired. Often, a achieved saving is considered, unconsciously, as a contribution and a result allowing less attention or a small “drift”.
The education of consumers, the animation of a virtuous behavioral dynamics does not only go through the school and the younger generations. It has been proven on many occasions that local events, in buildings or neighborhoods, led by volunteers known for their knowledge and results, are essential and must be implemented in a sustainable manner.
The main difficulty of this type of operation is not being sufficiently rigorously led and results-oriented : The necessary friendliness and volunteering should not exclude the need for a search for permanent efficiency.
A common vision, a common cultural envelope, i.e. common knowledge, language, shared experiences facilitating exchanges and collaboration through better mutual understanding, are important factors of an ecosystem performance.
This generality applies perfectly to the energy players of a city: to act together more quickly and more efficiently, consumers and energy professionals must share the same energy “culture”.
Large cities have every interest in setting up an “energy academy”, place of learning and exchange for ALL actors of the energy of the urban area.
As with the previous plan, it is essential for such a structure to be more focused on results than on means. It is not enough to implement such an organization, even less to be satisfied with the communication about its opening, its action must be continually measured and improved.
I have had the opportunity, in previous articles, to emphasize the now obvious need to profoundly modify our mobility habits. For this, the city must reorganize because its organization conditions a large part of our travels.
Commuting is an important part of the issue. The setting up of an increasingly efficient digital infrastructure in the city, the development of collaborative platforms and remote working tools, opens the door to the development of co-working spaces.
These spaces offer a flexible workspace that can be used as needed, is increasingly local and close to their clients’ homes, encourages informal but often very fruitful exchanges, and significantly reduces commuting. It can be useful to organize and stimulate the multiplication of these spaces, in consultation with the economic actors of the place.
In the cities, financing the development of renewable energies and energy efficiency actions are often considered as almost insurmountable obstacles.
A partnership with investment funds specialized in infrastructures offers a solution for investments of more than 5 to 10M €.
For smaller investments, the use of contracting models is to be considered with great interest as they allow leverage on private investment and reduce the need for subsidies. In addition, they help to speed up the launch of private initiatives. A partnership with one or more local ESCOs then becomes a powerful tool: the city guarantee can secure investors; the assistance of an insurer can further reduce the risk.
But it is important that these structures, requiring a very sharp management, remain independent in their operation and are not considered as public services.
In terms of power generation and, more generally, energy generation, the empowerment of consumers is a tendency, indeed a deep aspiration, of which I have already mentioned a few reasons.
The unbridled deployment of such infrastructure can lead to higher energy costs for consumers and unnecessary extra operating costs for energy companies. It is vital to coordinate, while stimulating.
The need for an “autonomy” plan is proven in almost all Smart Energy City cases.
Sharing production or mobility resources, on a very local level, is also a universal need, bringing significant performance gains. A “sharing” plan is therefore an indispensable complement to the previous one.
All the actions, which we have just identified as contributing to the construction of a Smart Energy City, are based on the development of a digital infrastructure leading to the multiplication of sensors, the development of communication networks (pay attention to considering electro-sensitive people) and the development of data storage centers, paradoxically very energy-intensive.
Each smart energy city cannot avoid, from the first years, to have a “data” plan to rationalize and share sensors and communication networks in order to reduce the associated investments, guarantee a secure data management and ensure an equitable access to these data.
This plan is all the more important as the quality of the digital infrastructure deployed has a major impact on local economic dynamism. The challenge is therefore double!
None of these actions is truly independent: the “autonomy” plan requires a data management infrastructure; contributors to this plan will need funding and skills from the Energy Academy.
Three words characterize the deployment of these actions:
These three major characteristics are exactly the opposite of the political world we inherit: How should we act to create smart cities that we urgently need?
Eric Morel is a worldwide recognised expert of energy transition and digitalisation. In the past, he has served as VP Corporate Business Strategy and VP Global Smart Grids and Energy Efficiency at Schneider Electric as well as CEO of Ilevo, a telecommunication start-up. He is a founding member and a former Board member of the Gridwise Alliance, the main professional private/public association dedicated to Smart Energy.