Blog :

Let’s stop being dumb when it comes to planning Smart Cities

If the term ‘Smart Cities’ feels like it’s been around for ages that’s probably because it has. Although local authorities are starting to understand what smart cities are, confusion still abounds – they are not one size fits all as a smart city is essentially a set of building blocks brought together to deliver additional value. The challenge is knowing which blocks to bring together, when, why, and how.

It is clear that many are still struggling with the “Why”. Key building blocks like smart parking are well understood, we now have smart city standards, and we will soon have a CCS procurement framework; but many are still failing to look at Smart City solutions and services holistically and are therefore not full grasping the additional value attainable through joined up thinking.

The elevator pitch for Smart Cities rejoices in how silos are broken down through connectivity and service integration. Yet despite this, procurement for full fibre rollout continues in parallel to procurement for EV charging, heat networks, and so forth. All of which are potential components of a Smart City, all have the capability to be smart in their own right, but crucially all of which could be integrated.

So why bother to join up the various strands of a Smart City? Well, consider the underlying infrastructure: fibre, power and heat all need to go in the ground so if deployment is co-ordinated, through shared trenching, disruption can be significantly reduced.

Furthermore, fibre rollout requires street cabinets, a number of which will be powered; this combination of trenching and power is ideal for EV rollout. Hence benefits can be achieved, for example, by designing the fibre route and powered cabinet positioning via taxi ranks and parking to support rapid charger deployment. Or consider heat networks, these require power, as do fast chargers. Can benefits be gleamed from co-locating e.g. around bus depots or charging hubs?

Due to increasing densification in city centres it is getting ever more difficult to reinforce the underlying power grid to meet demand. This can lead to situations where development potential is subdued by the prohibitive cost of providing power. However, operating heat, power and EV charging as part of an integrated energy system has the potential to alleviate some of these issues.

The above measures, coupled with adoption of new technologies, may well see power bottlenecks eradicated completely. SSE is currently trialling Graphene-based solar generation that can be panel, glass or building cladding. It has an efficiency of circa 54%. This is around three times the world best output from standard PV panels. Using this technology, buildings will become net generators, supporting neighbouring load, enabling rollout of Rapid EV charging and providing the power needed for heat pumps to warm the buildings. However, this can only be achieved by joining up silos through the introduction of smart systems that control assets, smooth peaks and troughs and manage customer behaviours.

Moving away from energy, more or less all cities have aspirations to rollout ultra-fast broadband yet the cost of reaching every home is challenging. To address this SSE Enterprise Telecoms has taken the innovative step of running fibre through the sewers, thus providing significant discount on trenching costs and improving viability. By breaking out of the sewer at key points and connecting to street lights the signal can be propagated using microwave technology daisy chaining down the street and subsequently beaming out into the home. Although not fibre to the home, the bandwidth deployable will be substantial.

Giving fibre investors the rights to commercialise the lamp posts improves the business case further by introducing wider smart city revenue potential such as 4G infill and 5G. Depending on how the deal is structured, this could also develop a further revenue stream for the authority. Where authorities have significant funding challenges, the fibre initiative could be integrated with a Lighting as a Service model (which sees the LED street light conversion taken off balance sheet). Both are safe asset investments and as a combined offer the potential is substantial.

Linking such fibre initiatives with smart lighting platforms presents further opportunities. Smart lighting providers, such as SSE’s Mayflower, are extending their offering into additional services such as smart parking, assisted living and air quality monitoring in order to exploit their underlying narrow band communications networks. For example, narrow band for sensors and monitors to support assisted living and fibre to support video GP appointments, diagnostics and counselling. Such communications into the home can alleviate loneliness by enabling social prescribing and befriending volunteer networks.

To answer the “Why” and fully grasp smart city benefits takes vision. The final challenge is then the “How” and most notably from a political and not technical viewpoint. Smart city building blocks span silos. To bring them together requires these silos to be broken down, which in turn requires strong leadership from the top.

 

“Cities making the difference—Giant batteries and power for the people after Oxford wins £81m in green funding

Author: Tom Hayes, Cabinet Member for Safer and Greener Environment, Oxford City Council

 

We have 11 years to limit climate change catastrophe. Urgent and unprecedented changes are needed to dent the mood of complacency that still stalks the corridors of national governments. Climate change may be a global challenge, but here in Oxford we have never left it to governments to fix and today my council can share news about £81 million of funding to accelerate our journey to a Zero Carbon Oxford and make our Zero Emission Zone a practical reality.

A £41 million project—which will include giant batteries with a total capacity of 50MW to balance more intermitted renewable energy on the grid—is a game changer for the city and a win-win for everyone. Whether you cycle, walk, drive, hop on the bus, or ride in taxis, everyone living, visiting, and working in Oxford will benefit from cleaner air and a faster journey to Zero Carbon.

A new Energy SuperHub consisting of the world’s largest commercial hybrid energy storage facility, electric vehicle (EV) charging points and ground source heat pumps is set to be built in Oxford, making it a model for cities around the world to cut carbon and improve air quality. My city council will invest some of the £41 million secured on new electric bin collection trucks, sweepers, tippers and vans. We are taking a hand-on-heart approach to how we deliver public services and electrifying more of our fleet is key.

The funding will support the Council to offer a ‘Try before you Buy’ scheme for the city’s Black Cab drivers. Our Black Cab drivers are a credit to the city, moving people around safely and working closely with the Council to make the Zero Emission Zone a success. Together we want to create a green and clean Black Cab fleet with the iconic London look, but drivers are eager for support to clean our air and earn a living. When taxi drivers aren’t on the road, they aren’t earning, so the City Council has begun servicing electric taxis to ensure drivers need not take long trips away from Oxford to get their cars repaired. By giving this practical ‘Try before you buy’ support, we can speed up our Black Cab fleet’s journey from 0% zero-emission capable to 100% by 2025, as provided for by our Zero Emission Zone.

Money-saving ground source heat pumps will subsequently be installed in around 300 buildings and homes to halve their carbon footprint from heating and reduce operating costs by 25% with innovative heat pumps that can be controlled via smart phones. Approximately 100 ultra-rapid and fast chargers will be installed initially at a public charging station on the A34 and at the council’s main vehicle depots. The network will also run past the city’s two main bus depots, providing the opportunity for their fleets to go electric.

This £41m once-in-a-generation downpayment on Oxford moves the Council closer to achieving this vision. Leading businesses are investing in Oxford because they recognise that we’re trialling new technologies exactly like Energy Superhub Oxford. Today’s announcement allows us as a city to embrace our technological future by working with partners in a consortium led by Pivot Power which consists of Habitat Energy, Kensa, redT Energy and the University of Oxford.

In other good news shared today, Oxfordshire will receive £40 million of funding to take back control of energy. Project LEO will return power to the people, so that we can generate clean energy for our own neighbourhoods. By creating opportunities for communities to trade the energy they generate, use, and store at a local level, Project LEO will empower people, companies, and local areas to build an energy system that works for people and planet.

The project will trial a smart local energy system – or ‘smart grid’ – which explores how the growth in local renewables, electric vehicles, battery storage, and demand side response can be supported and help in reducing charges to consumers. The system will balance local demand with local supply help test markets, assess the benefits of flexibility to the energy system, and, crucially, show the potential for people and communities to become active energy citizens in the future.

Critically, Project LEO will enable Oxfordshire based social enterprise, the Low Carbon Hub (which my council belongs to), to grow its existing portfolio of 40+ energy projects bringing another £16 million of community energy projects to the County.

Oxford City Council has been awarded £1.6m for its role in the project from the Government’s innovation agency, Innovate UK, as part of the successful £10.26m bid for the Oxford element of the overall £41m project. On top of this funding, Project LEO has been awarded £13.8m from the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and will be supported by £26m of private funding from the project partners. Carefully targeted government money can make a real difference to local clean energy projects. Our hope is that other councils will seek to follow Oxford’s example and learn from our projects. We all need to have smart clean energy as soon as possible.

By building partnerships to achieve more together than we can alone, my council is innovating to tackle our climate and public health crises. Two of the most radical steps that a council can take are embracing new technologies and welcoming them into our communities, and also driving wider debate about our energy future by testing new models that empower citizens. Our councils are not prepared to kick the can down a shortening road—every year that substantial action on air pollution and carbon neutrality is delayed is another year when hundreds of people will die preventable deaths and our planet suffers. That’s why these investments announced today aren’t just a game-changer—they’re also a life- and planet-saver.

Empowering local authorities in the clean energy revolution

Author: Carl Ennis – Managing Director, Siemens Energy Management

At the end of January, I spoke at a UK100 conference which brought together the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Leeds Climate Commission and UK100 to discuss how local authorities can be empowered to create a local energy system which is fit for purpose for its residents and meets climate change objectives.

 

The power to make this change is now well and truly with local authorities and with the right funding, from either private investment or central government, there are many ways they can position themselves as a leader in this shift.

 

It is well documented that the energy system in the UK has moved from centralised to decentralised power, and now more than a quarter of the electricity consumed across the UK comes from renewable sources.

 

This is one way we can shift to a cleaner, and greener economy, but more still needs to be done to meet climate objectives as well as the future increase in demand for electricity from the electrification of transport.

 

Siemens has the products, engineering know how and skills to be able to do this. From transmitting the electricity produced from a windfarm, to making sure it comes out of a plug socket we can help.

 

But we also know that a one size fits all approach isn’t the right way to go. Each local authority will have its own set of challenges and the options for generating their own electricity will depend on this.

 

What we do know is that risk is not something any local authority has the appetite, or finances to take on. De-risking a project and providing a clear business case, which may attract private financial backing will give local authorities the confidence to invest. Using clear examples of where there have been cost savings, emissions reduction and the time it would take to pay back the project is vital.

 

We’re currently working on an EU funded, Horizon 2020 project called Triangulum in Manchester. The energy strand is looking to create innovation to make the city’s Oxford Road corridor a ‘Smart Quarter’, with three key partners Manchester City Council, University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University.

 

The aims of these innovations are to reduce energy bills and carbon emissions, flatten peak demand on the power network and increase the use of renewable and low carbon energy within the city.

 

Projects such as Triangulum will not change the world alone though. They need to be scaled up across a whole city to have an impact. Our conservative estimates show that if one part of the project, the Central Controller, were to be scaled across Manchester, upwards of 42,000tCO2 could be saved each year – the equivalent of taking 18,0001 cars off the road.

 

But success isn’t just about selling technology, although that is helpful for my business. It’s about an attitude shift and how people interact and adapt these technologies and systems. Just think about how you consume energy in the home – you know that you should turn the lights off when you leave a room as it will cost you money, that servicing your boiler will make it more efficient. Doing this also means emissions aren’t being created.  But, when you do this on a much larger scale – across a hospital, or even a city, the benefits are much greater.

 

But we need to bridge the gap between small scale projects, such as Triangulum, and larger city and even county wide projects. We know that 85% of the kit we will need for a smart system is in the ground today – we’re just not using it efficiently. That could be because there isn’t the confidence to invest – but we need to change that if we’re going to decarbonise at the pace needed to meet the goals set.

 

The latest initiative from BEIS, which builds on its funding of Local Energy Strategies developed by LEPs and local authorities over the last couple of years, is the allocation of £4.8M to create five Local Energy Hubs across England.  These Energy Hubs will provide additional capacity for LEPs to take a more active role in the area’s energy ecosystem, addressing the challenges and commercialising the opportunities related to energy generation, storage, distribution and supply (including heat networks).  This is implicitly underpinned by the Industrial Strategy Grand Challenge of achieving clean growth.

 

Local government is in a great place to enable this transition and we can together work with these Energy Hubs to create an energy action plan which would provide the business case to de-risk investment, as well as giving them a bespoke plan for their communities.

 

Forward thinking local authorities who understand that working together across public and private sector boundaries are the only way to address the grand challenges set in the Industrial Strategy. The provision of energy doesn’t stop at county borders and making sure all parts of the country are looking at what they can do to enable their communities to play a part in the energy transition will be the way forward.

 

1 – https://www.businessgreen.com/bg/opinion/2462180/green-heat-on-the-whisky-trail

Clean Air Asks & Priorities

  • Adopt World Health Organization recommended air pollution limits as legally binding targets to be achieved by 2030 to guarantee the highest health standards that are supported by improved monitoring that assesses air quality and the powers to enforce.

 

  • Create an independent watchdog that is adequately funded and empowered to hold the Government to account, including through legal action and the levelling of fines, and review and be able to require action needed to reduce air pollution from Government and other public bodies such as Highways England.

 

  • Grant Local Authorities the powers they need, with necessary resources, to deliver zero emission transport networks.

 

  • Enable the setting and enforcement of ambitious standards for local air quality, including for solid fuel stoves. Including powers for regional authorities to control emissions from other fixed sources, such as boilers and combined heat and power sources as well as set energy efficiency standards including for existing buildings.

 

  • Establish adequately resourced local powers to set and enforce emission zones for Non-Road Mobile Machinery.

 

  • Require co-ordinated action from private and public bodies to improve air quality, such as: ports, Highways England, Network Rail, Homes England, Environment Agency and Directors of Public Health, and provide necessary resource to enable activity.