Mediaplanet: Over half the world’s population currently lives in cities. By 2030 that number is expected to be two-thirds. How does this urban growth affect energy efficiency within cities?

Zoe Sprigings: Building energy consumption is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for nearly 50 percent of emissions in C40 cities on average. It can rise to 75 percent and 80 percent in cities like New York and London. Significantly increasing building efficiency is crucial for stabilizing emissions and avoiding the most disruptive climate impacts.

At the same time, the 2015 New Climate Report shows that key low-carbon measures in the buildings, transport and waste sectors, where cities have the greatest power to take action, could generate annual savings of 8.0 Gt CO2e in 2050.

If managed well, the potential benefits of urban growth are substantial, in particular allowing concentration of national economic growth and the roll out of innovative infrastructure and technologies.

"Significantly increasing building efficiency is crucial for stabilizing emissions and avoiding the most disruptive climate impacts."

Thus the infrastructure investments made in cities in the next several years need to be both low-carbon and climate-resilient. Cities themselves have much to gain from adopting more compact, connected and efficient forms of development: healthier, more livable and more productive cities.

Driven by urban growth, cities have a great opportunity to accelerate low-carbon development. And cooperation within structures such as C40 can encourage cities to raise their ambitions, and track their progress towards low-carbon goals and the “global best” standards.

MP: Building with smart technology has become a major player in the attempt to reduce resource consumption and improve energy efficiency. Could you explain some of the beneficial impacts of smart building in cities?

ZS: Note: smart technology should be seen as one part of the solution to energy efficiency and not an end in itself. Smart technology, such as smart meters, improves the efficient use of the building, but to reach optimal building efficiency, it needs to be accompanied by other measures, such as insulation and low carbon energy supply.

  • Higher efficiency of individual buildings: smart building management systems help to optimize the building services that make occupants productive (like air quality) at the lowest cost and environmental impact.

  • Improved urban energy supply efficiency: smart buildings can be connected to the smart grid, which enables better urban power and potentially district heating or cooling balancing, thanks to a more complete flow of energy demand and supply information

  • Indirect benefits through improved energy efficiency: through helping to improve building energy efficiency and requiring new technology installation and innovation, smart buildings also bring other indirect benefits, such as job creation, economic competitiveness, poverty alleviation, climate change mitigation and improved health and well-being.

MP: What are the current obstacles that are being faced with smart building?

ZS: Obstacles currently include:

  • Slow renewal of the urban buildings stock: this reduces the speed of uptake of smart technology in new buildings; however, installing basic smart technology in (e.g. smart meter, automatic lighting and heating management) in existing buildings might be less expensive than a complete energy efficiency retrofit

  • High upfront costs and sunk infrastructure investments: however, they can be shared between stakeholders or born by utilities or government agencies

  • Lack of regulatory support: while in some countries (e.g. UK) there is a broad government support for the roll-out of smart meters and utilities are mandated to help cover the technology installation costs, others have yet to develop a support scheme

MP: Could you explain how the energy efficiency of buildings is measured?

ZS: Most commonly, the energy efficiency of buildings is measured using the Energy Use Intensity (EUI) metric, which shows energy use per unit of floor area. EUI will vary based on a series of factors such as the climate, building type and size, occupancy levels and operational patterns of the building. The presence of special use areas (e.g. data centers and equipment) will also affect the measure.

At the moment, the availability of data on these factors is limited and data collection practices vary significantly across regions and within regions. C40 is working with a group of cities on understanding how they can improve and harmonize their data collection practices. Ultimately, cities want to identify top performance globally and implement policies that have been effective in driving down emissions in peer cities. A robust dataset is a first key step for achieving this and a harmonization of methodologies will maximize the exchange of best practices and policymakers’ ability to make informed decisions.

MP: Which cities are currently at the forefront of building smarter cities?

ZS: Vienna—Aspern Smart City Research. The flagship project in Aspern, embedded in the ‘Smart City Vienna Framework Strategy,’ seeks to create the first, large-scale implementation of a smart city district. It applies an integrative system that optimizes buildings, energy grids and ICT-based integration of these domains at three different construction sites with mixed use (student’s dormitory—300 rooms, residential building blocks—216 flats, a school building with an elementary school and kindergarten).

Yokohama—Yokohama smart city project. Initiated in 2010 as a five-year pilot, the Yokohama Smart City Project (YSCP) has since been deployed to the entire city with a project area covering about 435 km2. The project applies smart grids for the energy management of households, buildings and local communities through a Community Energy Management System (CEMS), introduces large scale renewable energy, promotes next generation transport systems and offers an incentive system for consumers to limit electricity use, thus contributing to the reduction of CO2 at a lower social cost. The project’s specific goals include: a) Introduction of EMS for 4,000 homes to achieve 20 percent energy reduction; b) EMS for offices and commercial buildings to control and reduce peak energy consumption by 20 percent; and c) EMS for factories. In addition, the city will provide 2,000 electric vehicles and charging stations for the transport sector, and will implement solar power generation in 249 locations, wind power generation in 2 locations, hydropower generation in 3 locations, and biomass power generation in 6 locations.

Barcelona—Urban Platform. In 2013 Barcelona developed a new ICT urban platform that interconnects the entire city and aims to manage efficiently different urban resources, including water, public services, temperature regulation, CO2 emissions, civil works, humidity and energy efficiency. The platform has three components: Sentilo (unified catalogue of raw source data), City OS (intelligence component) and Applications (City Council and third parties as output information providers). Their interconnection allows anticipation and more efficient response to emergency situations. The city has set out the following goals to be achieved by 2020: a) 20 percent reduction of total energy consumption from municipal services; b) 20 percent water consumption reduction; c) 15,000 additional sensors installed in the city; d) 30,000 consumption energy measures installed in 100 municipal buildings; e) 1,000 measures to remotely control irrigation in municipal parks; f) 1,000 environmental measures in civil works; and g) 5,000 parking spaces monitored.

MP: How does the United States compare to those cities?

ZS: Particular leadership in smart cities has been seen in Europe in recent years. However, the fact that “Smart Cities Week” is happening in September 2015, branding itself as “North America's first major smart city conference and exhibition,” suggests that more activity will be seen in the in future.