Cities and Smart Grids: latest from US and China


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The internet, distributed renewable energy, electric
vehicles and energy management are ready to coalesce: the impact on cities and
our lives will be profound. The US-China
Green Energy Conference (sponsored by the US-China Green Energy Council) held Friday in the Silicon Valley took a deep bi-national dive
into what smart grids are and what they will mean for so-called smart cities,
their wired citizenry and the future of global carbon emissions.

Smart grid specifics are finally starting to emerge from
the marketing haze. They will rely heavily on smart buildings, and are a
critical solution in making renewable energy more scalable through more
efficient energy transmission systems. Cities
like Dubuque, Iowa are working with 1,000 residents to test smart grid
applications and have reportedly lowered their water use by 6% in early trials
with IBM
.

Elsewhere, China is testing a four-square kilometer smart
grid pilot area in its national urban eco showcase, Tianjin Eco-City. The smart
grid includes a 30kw PV solar microgrid on the roof of the Tianjin “Eco-City Business Hall,”
where residents will be able to charge their electric vehicles while they view
virtual reality demonstrations of how the smart grid works, including its
“self-healing” capabilities within the Eco-City’s network.

In terms of renewable energy, smart grids will be a killer
app. Right now, when the wind completely dies in larger areas of wind power
generation, such as the West Texas plains, the transmission system supplying
electricity to cities, including Austin and Dallas, suffers a “mad scramble,”
according to Liang Min, of the US Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). In fact, according
to Chuck Wells from OSISoft, such power hiccups are currently so disruptive, that 45% more fossil fuel is
needed to back up regional energy grids having large-scale wind and solar
generation versus regional grids that rely only on fossil fuels.

On the home or business side, people are responsible for
about 30% of a typical building’s energy system performance, said John Skinner,
Managing Director of Intel’s Open Energy initiative. The more reliable information people have,
the more likely they can make smart decisions about energy use, and the more
likely they can pay less for energy than they do with analog meters (the ones
with the wheels turning inside them).

Energy transactions will become more transparent through
next-generation smart grid transaction languages, such as TeMIX which was
presented to the US-China energy conference by Edward Cazalet, CEO of TeMIX. Cazalet’s presentation reminded me of how the internet
was optimized when TCP/ IP, the unifying data transfer protocols behind the web,
were created. The capability for energy systems to use a unified language
around energy use and transactions will be critical. This language will allow governments,
businesses and residents to better manage their energy consumption. Currently,
energy costs can  vary tremendously based
on factors including climate, usage and equipment, costing as much as five times or more during
peak hours. Few people outside of large businesses realize they can
cut energy costs dramatically by changing their behavior, which can be as
straightforward as running energy
guzzling appliances during off-peak hours.

None of this means that smart meters are a panacea. In
cities throughout California, smart meters have been rolled out clumsily by the
utility Pacific Gas and Electric
.
After four years of replacing residential and business analog meters with wireless smart
meters, a vocal and well-organized group
of citizens are objecting to the continuous signals they transmit. Others
object based on invasion of privacy or fear the new meters would overcharge
them. PG&E has finally gotten around to a public education program extolling
the benefits of smart meters, which they say are mandatory for their
customers. Besides the heavy handedness,
even with the new PR campaign, PG&E has not made the case for compelling
consumer benefits.

Consolidated Edison of New York City, on the other hand has managed their
smart meter pilot program more effectively. Con Ed ran an extensive public
education program and transparent opt-out option for those that did not want
smart meters (2% did not want them) on their home or business for their New
York City pilot program
. The
utility offered participants in its pilot program rebates of $25-50. Six rate
structures with hourly rate changes and a web-based consumer dashboard
explained and demonstrated different rates, according to EPRI’s Liang Min.

Many companies including Microsoft, Cisco, Intel, General
Electric and Google are eyeing the nascent smart grid for its potential not
just to make cities more eco-efficient, but for also for lucrative smart-grid
revenue streams as they penetrate the last major untapped digital pathway into our lives.

“We are cooperating with many high tech companies,” Kai Xie,
General Manager of the US Office of the China State Grid told the US-China Energy
Conference. “We have also developed some in-house products for our customers,
including a dashboard (with Intel) as part of a two-way communication combined
smart meter and consumer portal. “

Our information, communications, photographs, entertainment
and medical industries are all now increasingly digital, and soon our energy
will be digitized, too. Let’s hope the planet and our cities will benefit from a smooth and well thought out transformation.

Warren
Karlenzig is president of Common
Current
. He is a fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute,  and co-author of
a
forthcoming United Nations manual on global sustainable city planning and
management. 
 

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Urban Sustainability Focus of Shanghai Expo

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Danish Pavilion, Shanghai Expo

Sure, the Shanghai World Expo might be the largest World Fair in history, with more than 70 million expected, the majority of visitors coming from China. With the theme of “Better City, Better Life,” the Expo will also be thick with urban sustainability related proceedings and exhibits during its May to October gestation.

Shanghai is officially China’s largest city, a metro area of more than 18 million that competes with the capital for national prominence (Beijing has an official metro population of 13 million). From Opium Wars and cunning “Green Gangs” (not those Greens!), Shanghai’s economy has emerged as the international polestar for service and information industries

Like other cities approaching 20 million, planning for global climate change and adaptation is of concern. Shanghai is examining how information and communications technologies (ICT) enable low-carbon management; Seoul, Amsterdam and San Francisco similarly have piloted “Connected Urban Development” projects designed by Cisco and MIT over the past few years, mostly in transportation demand management (broadband enabled work centers, handheld transit alerts).  

The Expo marks the first time that buzzing Shanghai, and thus China, has publicly focused so much attention on the issue of urban sustainability, in one venue. China’s urban population is expected to go from more than 600 million in 2009 to more than 1 billion by 2030.

Shanghai Expo Bureau events are orchestrated by China’s national leaders. The Bureau addresses climate change and low-carbon development through the exploration of applied information and communication technologies in the service of sustainability management. The event, referred to as the “Economic Olympics,” is a happening staged with great investment: $55 billion

During a soft launch period in April, officials examined how to make nearby Chongming Island into a low-carbon development. An Expo “ICT and Urban Development” forum earlier in May covered “social responsibilities” as they apply to smart + digital (IT-driven) urban areas.

IBM and Metropolis will be exploring ICT enabled urban management solutions as part of a “Smarter Cities” forum in Shanghai (loosely affiliated with the Expo) on June 2-3. Topics of consideration will include: energy and utilities, water, transportation, healthcare and public safety.  

The Climate Group, Metropolis and Cisco–in conjunction with the Shanghai Expo Bureau– jointly host Partnership for Urban Innovation (PDF) on June 17-18. The two day invite-only confab will cover “Urban Design and Networked Development,” “Sustainable Cities: Challenges and Solutions,” and “Smart and Connected Urban Mobility.”

San Francisco will highlight its urban best practices in sustainability on June 17-25 at the Expo. As a sister city of Shanghai, it is the only US city that Shanghai provided a week for a dedicated display (though Vancouver also boasts an Expo pavilion, also green themed). A delegation from the Bay Area including US Senator Dianne Feinstein and Fog City Mayor Gavin Newsom will be part of a Green Energy Seminar in June that will be broadcast throughout China on China Business Network TV. 

Forums on transportation, energy, waste management, water, health services and housing will occur throughout the Expo, leading to a green exit. A thematic week ending October 31, 2010, is devoted to sustainability management in megacities. The Expo finale will also consider the role of an ICT-enabled green economy as it simultaneously emerges in global markets, developing nation cities, and of course, Shanghai.

Warren Karlenzig is president
of Common Current, an
internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is
author
of
How Green
is Your
City? The SustainLane US City Rankings
and a Fellow at the Post
Carbon
Institute
.

 

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Preparing for 2014-15 “Oil Crunch” Forecast by UK Industry Group

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A new report by a United Kingdom industry taskforce predicts steep oil price rises and gasoline supply shortages by 2014-2015, which will put the global economy at similar risk to the 2007-2008 rapid rise in oil prices that helped trigger the Great Recession.

“The time period would be 2014-2015 when the oil market would be starting to experience rapidly rising prices and tightening oil supplies…It is notable that the CEO of Total, Christophe de Margerie, is already warning of such an outcome in the 2014/15 period,” says the report, “Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil & Energy Security,” funded by Virgin Group, Arup Engineering, Foster and Partners, and Scottish and Southern Engineering.

What can cities, businesses and individuals do to prepare for such energy price volatility, buy hybrids? Actually, the report asserts, “there is real danger that the focus on technological advances in cars is making consumers and government complacent.”

More urgent steps need to be taken by policymakers in particular to avert this impending crisis:

  • Support greater planning and funding for public transit, including taxation to benefit public transit and allocate road space based on most fuel efficient modes (i.e., congestion pricing).
  • Support planning for less energy-intensive forms of development (less sprawl, more transit-oriented housing, retail and businesses).
  • Transition to more energy-efficient transportation fleets or vehicles.
  • Coordinate policy mechanisms and organizational practices to create a behavioral shift from private car use to other more sustainable forms of mobility, including public transit, car sharing, cycling and walking.
  • Encourage, enable and practice smart green city tactics: telecommuting, video conferencing and public work centers, such as those being piloted in Amsterdam with Cisco.

At the state and national government level, preparations for another “oil crunch” similar or worse than 2008 and 1980 should include: 

  • Ending subsidies for oil in order to reduce economic dependence on oil-based industries.
  • Transition agriculture and food production from operations highly dependent on the use of oil-based products such as diesel fuel, fertilizers and crop treatments, while encouraging bio-regional food production from urban foodsheds for nearby population centers. 
  • Planning and support for high-speed rail networks (though this would be a longer-term preparation for post-carbon transportation era beyond 2020)

Daniel Lerch of the Post Carbon Institute authored a guidebook for cities and local government on how to prepare for an oil crisis. I have also written a study looking at US oil crisis readiness in the largest 50 US cities, “Major US City Post-Oil Preparedness Ranking” (second publication from top).

Whether, it is called “peaking oil” or an “oil crunch,” many experts
see total global oil production reaching a plateau of around 91-92 million
barrels a day by 2012-2014 unless, as the report says, “some unforeseen
giant, and easily accessible, finds are reported very soon.”

With fast-growing demand for oil in developing economies such as China
(which overtook the US in 2009 for total automobile sales), India and
the Middle East, developed nations in North America and Europe need to consider wholescale industrial and societal shifts.

The United State and Canada in particular should start reducing oil dependency now in preparation for oil price volatility and possible supply disruptions that would force such shifts without warning, with dire consequences for the economy, nationally and locally. Many cities (New York, Toronto, Vancouver, Washington, D.C.) are already somewhat prepared to make this shift because of infrastructure for public transit and other oil-free mobility options.

The world is heavily dependent on 120 oil fields that account for 50
percent of world production, and contain two-thirds of remaining
reserves of fields in production. New discoveries of oil fields off
Brazil’s coast, under the Arctic and elsewhere, will not be enough to replenish the
“drawdown” that is occurring. Besides, many of these fields take investments
that require oil to be priced over $100 or $120 a barrel, so they will not be
producing for a number of years after such investments are made: in other words, far beyond 2015.

“The challenge is that if oil prices reach the levels necessary to justify these high-cost investments, economic growth may be imperiled,” says the Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security.

Another so-called energy “ace in the hole,” oil sands deposits in
Canada, are not a viable option. Oil sands produce at least three times
the amount of atmospheric carbon over conventional oil when they are
processed and used, which would exacerbate global climate change
significantly, while also fouling the region’s water supply.

What is being raised by this report is that the era of cheap oil is over, and that the consequences will be ugly, unless we start preparing for this profound change.

“Don’t let the oil crunch catch us out in the way that the credit crunch did,” said Virgin CEO Richard Branson and other corporate executives in the introduction to the report

Warren Karlenzig is president
of Common Current, an
internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is
author
of
How Green
is Your
City? The SustainLane US City Rankings
and a Fellow at the Post
Carbon
Institute
.

    

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European Union Meeting Recap: IT, Sustainability and Climate Change

Almost two weeks ago I presented to the European Union’s Committee of the Regions special meeting on “Green and Connected Cities” which was held in Brussels. I also presented on the same theme at an event in Paris the same week.

(Please excuse the late post).

I was struck by how much more advanced Europe is in policy as it relates to the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) to acheive sustainability, and that naturally includes economic dvelopment. The EU has an official mandate to use ITC to help not only reduce climate change through greater energy efficiency, but to:

“stimulate the development of a large leading-edge market for ICT-enabeled energy efficiency that will foster the competiveness of European Industry and create new business opportunities.”

The event was oragnized by ACIDD, the European association for communication and information for sustainable development, and it featured 31 other presenters from Europe and Africa.

Two of my fellow presenters on my panel were notable. One was Charles Secrett, of the London Development Agency, who guided sustainability policy including but by no means limited to the congestion pricing scheme implemented by outgoing London Mayor Ken Livingston.

Though Livingston lost in a recent election, congestion pricing has been a great success reducing traffic congestion and air pollution in the range of 20-40 percent. Secrett told me it’s anyone’s guess whether incoming mayor elect Boris Johnson will maintain congestion pricing or Livingston’s other well-laid plans for carbon reduction.

Also on my panel was Leda Guidi, head of Iperbola. She described in detail the electronic participatory democracy of Bologna, Italy, which has been garnering citizens votes and feedback on sustainability planning since 1995, with impressive participation rates (30k visits per day).

Cisco presented on its Connected Urban Development initiative which is working with cities such as San Francisco, Amsterdam and Seoul on everything from wireless building networks and transportation systems, to teleworking centers for commuters to use in lieu of driving. Madrid, Lisbon, Hamburg, and Birmingham, England are the next locations for pilot projects. 

A dose of realism was brought to the proceedings by Ronan Uhel from the EU’s Environment Agency, as he said the EU’s 27 countries and countless regions and cities will need to develop common data methodologies and processes to make these scale up across the EU.

“Stop exchanging data,” Uhel told the Brussels audience. ”And start sharing data, ontologies, multi-lingual websites, metadata and formats. Success will be predicated on the work that goes on backstage.” 

EU Commissioner Nicholas Hanley gave paticipants the big picture of why cities should be the focus of sustainability and climate change policy engineering: “Cities concentrate the problems related to sustainability, but they also concentrate the capacity for response.” 

 

 

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Korea Green Cities Tour

Sunday, I leave on a tour of Korea sponsored by the US Department of State’s Economics, Trade and Global Issues office, to lead discussions and presentations on measuring and developing Green Cities.

It will be my first trip to Korea, and my packed schedule includes meeting and lecturing with officials from the United Nations, national government, including the Environmental Minister, mayors and other officials in four cities (Seoul, Busan, Seungnam and Changwon, “The Environmental Hub of Asia”), the Korean Land Corporation, The Korea Energy Research Institute, and professors and researchers from numerous Korean universities, including the pre-eminent Seoul National Unviersity.

Non-profits and non-governmental groups I’ll have discussions with include the Korea Green Foundation, the Green Women Federation, Green Transport and the Eco Plan Research Center.

Looks like there’s much interest in greening new development and greening existing cities in Korea. We’ll see next week how much of that interest translates into tangible progress.

I also am meeting with Cisco officials on their “Connected Urban Development” initiative, which provides PDAs with transport information in Seoul, as well as communications tools for plit projects in Amsterdam and San Francisco.

More to come while in Korea, or upon my return next Saturday.

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