Europe’s desire to become the world’s first climate-neutral continent is ambitious, but not unattainable. With the Cities Mission for 100 Climate Neutral and Smart Cities by 2030, 100 EU cities – with 12 more from associated countries – are taking big strides to achieve climate-neutrality by exploring innovative pathways that will lead to smarter, more resilient cities. 

Glasgow, Scotland, Rotterdam in the Netherlands, and Umeå, in Sweden, are among the cities chosen to forge Europe’s path to climate-neutrality. These three cities also participate in RUGGEDISED, an EU-funded project that accelerates the smart city model across Europe. Their experiences implementing smart energy solutions helped secure their Cities Mission selection and are already being put to the test in fellow cities Brno, in the Czech Republic, Gdańsk, Poland, and Parma, Italy, the latter of which was also selected to take part in the Mission. 

“The work done in all of these cities has been strengthened by close cooperation across borders,” shares Ruud Schuthof, Deputy Regional Director of ICLEI Europe, a network of local and regional governments committed to sustainable urban development that supports both the RUGGEDISED project and the platform for the Cities Mission: NetZeroCities.

“City cooperation helps local and regional governments play a more decisive role on European and international stages by connecting them with the relevant platforms, peers and tools to drive sustainable action. Through our work in RUGGEDISED and NetZeroCities, we can see first-hand the important steps cities are taking towards an equitable energy transition,” says Schuthof. 

Examples of Glasgow, Rotterdam and Umeå’s smart energy solutions not only demonstrate their capacity to spearhead urban transformation, but they also highlight ways for other European cities to advance Europe’s mission to become climate-neutral. 

Advancing climate neutrality with smart solutions

Glasgow is living up to its name – meaning ‘Dear Green Place’ – by introducing climate solutions that protect citizens and the environment. Its approach to energy underscores the importance of emissions savings and creating active energy citizens. At a local high-rise block the Wheatley Group seeks to give residents more control with the installation of smart energy metres in every apartment. This solution has significantly reduced costs for residents, in addition to providing higher levels of comfort, according to satisfaction surveys. The metres have even been shown to cut total energy use by up to 30%. The smart metres’ success has led to plans to upscale the solution in at least 10,500 households across Glasgow. 

Meanwhile, the implementation of a Smart Thermal Grid in the Hart van Zuid neighbourhood of Rotterdam is advancing the City’s reputation as an innovative energy leader. The grid fulfils local energy demands by extracting energy from wastewater, pavements and more. Hart van Zuid is already experiencing positive impacts as a result: the geothermal heat-cold storage reduces energy consumption by 924.000 kWh per year, resulting in a CO2 emission reduction of 70 tonnes per year. 

Rotterdam is also cooperating with local stakeholders to boost buildings’ clean energy production: more than 18,000 m2 of solar panels are being installed on rooftops in the area and connected to the grid. The benefits for local businesses are clear: energy bills are shrinking, jobs are being created for local energy infrastructure companies, and businesses, such as the Rotterdam Ahoy Convention Centre, are now independent from fossil-fuel based energy sources thanks to their connection to the grid.

The renovation of existing buildings is another key part of achieving climate neutrality in Europe. In Umeå’s University District, a smart energy project offers valuable lessons on intelligent building control systems as a way to reduce energy consumption. 

Sensors controlling air flow, climate and lighting across the university campus have been connected to a smart control system. The design of the system allows the air flow, lighting and climate adjustments of each room to be determined by the degree of current and expected occupancy. A local hospital is testing similar sensors to see how the smart control system could be integrated into existing energy systems, an obstacle that many buildings in Europe will have to overcome. Initial findings demonstrate that the smart control system can save up to 10% of energy consumption and reduces energy usage during peak demand by 25% at a very low cost.

One step closer to urban resilience 

Smart city innovation is a critical component of any climate neutrality strategy. Glasgow, Rotterdam and Umeå’s effective smart energy solutions provide useful blueprints for their peers. With initiatives like smart metres, smart thermal grids and smart control systems, these cities move one step closer to resiliency, while Europe is one step closer to realising its climate-neutral ambition.

By Schuyler Cowan, ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability

The post Smart cities show why a climate-neutral Europe is now on the horizon first appeared on Innovators magazine.

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