I pulled out the latest issue of Green Futures for a bit of light relief. It instantly lifted my mood as it reminded me just… how exciting sustainability issues can be.
A coalition funded by the European Commission has sketched out the way to smart energy neighbourhoods.
The vision of creating districts that act as an ‘internet of energy’ is still a way off. But when it eventually comes to pass, some credit may have to be given to a European Commission project that has already sketched out what Europe’s energy systems may one day look like. The ICT Roadmap for Energy Efficient Neighbourhoods (IREEN), was launched in September 2011 to encourage energy-positive buildings, and eventually whole districts by emphasising the role of technology in delivering energy efficiency at a neighbourhood level. The project has received funding from the European Union Seventh Framework Programme.
IREEN was created over a period of two years with the help of over 200 experts representing the ICT, energy and construction sectors across Europe, coordinated by Manchester City Council. It makes a number of recommendations: flexible and pay-per-use pricing schemes; “modular and configurable monitoring control systems” to manage neighbourhood energy services, such as LED public lighting; and using chargeable electric vehicles as storage for microgrids. It also recommends the use of web and mobile applications to engage the local community, and e-learning and gamification to raise awareness of energy usage and encourage participation.
Mari Sepponen, an Energy Systems Research Scientist at the VTT Research Centre in Finland who contributed to the IREEN Roadmap, believes early engagement of all stakeholders is critical in planning an effective energy system: “All too often, city planners just make the plans by themselves without taking the energy aspects of the whole neighbourhood into consideration. There’s a need for more collaboration and information-sharing between planners and energy experts from an early stage. Architects’ plans should be sent to an energy engineer who knows how energy efficient the building is likely to be, how energy efficient the neighbourhood is, and how the building will affect this.”
But with so many factors to take into account, where should a planning committee begin? “If I was advising someone who wanted to look at this”, says Sepponen, “I would say the first principle is to minimise energy demand in the area, and the second is to minimise distribution losses. Then you should look at what kind of energy sources could be used, and how you can optimise the energy system. What are the different energy demands within it, and what’s needed to meet them? This strategic thinking – matching the energy sources with demands – is what we really need.”
Knowing what to ask is one thing, and who to ask is another. In future, we’ll likely be looking to algorithms. - Will Simpson
The IREEN Roadmap and Reference Guide offer some answers and are available at www.ireenproject.eu
Photo credit: Yao Meng Peng/iStockphoto/Thinkstock