Sustainable innovation in cities PART 1: The challenge of energy and resource efficiency

Originally posted on January 28, 2013 by Clare Saxon on Agile Cities website

Kirsten Jack

Blog by Kirsten Jack, Acting Head of Smart Technologies, The Climate Group.

LLGA has a history of solving energy and resource challenges. As you’ll see in a moment, great examples include San Francisco and Barcelona, two cities that both found — and are piloting — solutions to improve resource efficiency through LLGA.

Energy and resource challenges are central to the work of our Agile Cities program for the following reasons:

  •  Improving energy and resource efficiency are key to promoting low carbon development trajectories.
  • Climate change is a number one priority for Agile Cities, on a par with economic development and jobs. Analysis by Agile Cities found 70% of cities surveyed were facing challenges in pollution and climate change over the next five years, with large cities particularly impacted, as this graph shows:
proportion of responding
  • Energy and resource efficiency are also critically linked with economic development and resilience, due to ever rising energy and resource prices, as well as the fact a large proportion of the world’s cities are located in areas with low water availability — or in countries that are hugely reliant on energy imports, such as India.

In this year’s LLGA there are four major challenges which focus on energy and resource efficiency. Just click the links below to read more about each city challenge.

Firstly there’s Rosario, Argentina, which is seeking to expand its Green Homes Network, both as an educational and an impact monitoring program.

The second city challenge belongs to Paris, France, looking to make outside seating more resilient by finding a solution to the excessive energy currently used to heat exterior social spaces – a problem common to many northern cities.

Next is Sheffield, UK, a city that is searching for solutions to capturing and distributing industrial heat.

And finally is Christchurch, New Zealand, which is pursuing transformational lighting systems that can support spatial and social development of its city spaces, in the aftermath of 2011’s devastating earthquake.

LLGA is a unique challenge program, as rather than simply publishing the challenge, it also tasks its multilingual in-house research team to explore potential solutions for challenges via niche methods, or coalitions of existing services.

I’ve taken the time to speak with Ana Paola López, currently researching solutions for Rosario, Argentina, which is looking for ways to involve more households in their Green Homes Network initiative and to monitor its environmental impact. She said: “Rosario currently conducts evaluations by asking ‘Leader’ families to monitor things such as the volumes of waste they produce, but this is hard work for the families and it is unlikely this will work if scaled further.

Through our research we’ve found apps and software to measure environmental impact which are aimed at businesses, and even though it has been harder to find those for individual households, some scoring and credit schemes have been developed, such as the LEED for Homes Scoring Tool. We’ve then come into contact with a number of environmentally-focused community groups such as GALA (Global Awareness Local Action), Practically Green, CitéGreen and Green Calgary Healthy Homes Program. These tools are more helpful in supporting people in making changes, while providing an element of monitoring. What is lacking however is an app that comprehensively monitors household performance while acting as a community-integrated motivational tool; we’d be excited to get submissions from companies who might be able to provide these types of solutions.”

The main benefits for cities participating in an open procurement process like this are demonstrated clearly by the successful LLGA pilots that are in progress, or those that are already completed.

One of these is San Francisco, an innovative city that developed intelligent lighting systems for implementing remotely managed street lights. Paradox Engineering, the small European company that implemented the pilot, have since had the opportunity to build working relationships with larger smart city players too.

Speaking about their work in San Francisco, Paradox state on the LLGA website: “Working closely with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), we also had the opportunity to build solid partnerships with notable industry players such as Philips Lighting and Oracle. It would have been much more difficult for us to find or build inroads in a city like San Francisco, and longer than it was to build partnerships like the ones we now have in place with Philips and Oracle.”

The pilot also allowed the company to set up a new base and pursue market opportunities in the US. They state: “We have recently inaugurated a new branch office in San Francisco, which will leverage our sales and marketing operations in North America and help us to provide effective customer support to the SFPUC and other prospects we are already approaching.”

Barcelona boasts an equally impressive story. Smart city company Urbiotica piloted their intelligent waste management system in Barcelona, which lead to new contracts and venture capital of $1.8 million. On they say: “The collaboration with the different stakeholders in the pilot has been constructive and fruitful. The results are positive and meet what we had expected initially: our system is now installed and running in a small area of Barcelona. We keep an active reporting with the municipality as well as the company in order to refine the whole process and extract valuable practices, which can then be used to extend the solution to larger areas of the city and/or to other cities.”

Be sure to return tomorrow, when for part 2 of the sustainable innovation in cities blog series, I will be exploring the role of information products in supporting cities that are at the forefront of the clean revolution.

You can submit solutions for LLGA 2013 current challenges until January 31.