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Empowering Cities for a Net Zero Future, new report from IEA

image credit: IEA. All rights reserved.
Paul Hobcraft's picture
Innovation & Energy Knowledge Provider Agility Innovation

I work as a transition advocate for innovation, ecosystems, within IIoT, and the energy system as my points of focus. I relate content to context to give greater knowledge and build the...

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  • Jul 22, 2021

Today, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released a timely report on Cities and how critically important they are to achieve a net-zero world.

The report “Empowering Cities for a Net Zero Future” covers all aspects of the issues and challenges that Cities are facing on climate action.

The IEA states that “Cities are key to a net-zero emissions future where affordable and sustainable energy is accessible to all. The global population living in cities is expected to surge from 50% in 2021 to 70% in 2050. Cities today account for 70% of global CO2 emissions and 75% of global energy use. But with size comes opportunity.”

The report covers a wide range of opportunities, challenges and policy solutions that can help city-level governments capture the significant value of efficient and smart digital energy systems, no matter their unique context by illustration, through more than 100 examples and case studies,

The report also provides actionable guidance on ways national governments can help cities overcome barriers to progress and accelerate clean energy transitions using digitalisation.

Let me summarize some of the main findings here:

Recognizing the importance of having Smart Cities

Smart cities represent an important opportunity to reduce energy consumption while meeting service demand, improving grid stability and improving the quality of life for all. It is the solutions being provided that can accelerate this need.

Next-generation energy systems are leveraging big data and applying digital technologies to collect and analyse data in real-time. Through this data management understanding, can manage city services more efficiently. These solutions that are applying intelligence are transforming the energy landscape by creating new synergies to reduce emissions, improve energy efficiency and enhance resilience.

The need for digitalization in Cities is essential to any climate goals.

As pointed out by the IEA, today’s constantly evolving technology landscape creates new sources of rich data on air quality, energy consumption, geospatial information and traffic patterns, and new tools to manage that data. They can help cities make smarter, better-informed decisions, especially on sustainable urban planning and operations issues.

The concept of smart cities has expanded in recent years to include governance, access and inclusivity, economic and social innovation, and sustainability. Yet, to date, there is still no unified definition.

I like the OECD definition of smart cities as “cities that leverage digitalisation and engage stakeholders to improve people’s well-being and build more inclusive, sustainable and resilient societies”.

It is suggested in this OECD definition that digitalisation and digital innovation are not an end in itself, but rather aim to improve people’s lives to achieve greater inclusion, sustainability and resilience.

By synthesising these new information streams, they can help improve the operation and efficiency of energy systems and address challenges of equity and reliability, assuming that concerns over data access, providing privacy and security can be effectively managed.

Digital solutions and systems can be compelling in cities, where the high-density environment creates economies of scale, minimising the need for new infrastructure and creating new opportunities. Digitalisation can also help de-risk and encourage private investment in clean energy projects, creating new business opportunities and revenue streams, enabling innovative financing mechanisms and improving risk perception.

Increasing generation from distributed renewables, reducing the use of fossil fuel resources, and the electrification of transport and heating all require a broad portfolio of flexibility options, posing new challenges and creating new opportunities for the management of energy infrastructure.

Smart Controls

Digital solutions in buildings, such as smart sensors and controls for thermostats and lighting, can help consumers use energy more efficiently and unleash behavioural and lifestyle changes that lead to sustainable energy use.  Buildings equipped with new technologies can provide flexibility to support power system decarbonisation, security and resilience.

Managing Urban Transport more effectively.

Digital technologies transform the mobility landscape by improving energy efficiency, facilitating shifts to active and shared transport modes, improving public transport’s convenience and reliability, and more. The electrification of transport and proliferation of electric vehicles (EVs) could enable greater integration of variable renewables via flexibility services such as smart charging and vehicle-to-grid (V2G) services.

National, regional and local governments, as well as citizen-led initiatives, have an important role to play in incentivising and accelerating digitally enabled urban energy transitions.

Local governments are in a unique position to deliver on the net-zero agenda. The key is to strengthen the cooperation between local, regional and national governments to help meet shared objectives while advancing progress on equitable energy transitions.

The level of influence  cities can have on energy systems

This report illustrates the wide range of opportunities, challenges and policy solutions that can help different levels of government capture the significant value of efficient, smart, digital energy systems, no matter their unique context and well worth exploring all the different aspects of building Smart Cities.

As I mentioned, this report “Empowering Cities for a Net Zero Future” covers all aspects of the issues and challenges that Cities are facing on climate action.

Well worth a read, in my opinion.

Paul Hobcraft's picture
Thank Paul for the Post!
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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 22, 2021

Managing Urban Transport more effectively.

There's no silver bullet, but if I could snap my fingers and make one huge change it would be to have cities be able to be instantaneously redesigned with modern transport needs in mind. Most cities evolved naturally over many many years, well before cars, subways, and knowledge of transportation emissions, and if we could do it over again there's so much better for how urban environments could look and be built to make it so car travel is seldomly, if ever needed. 

Paul Hobcraft's picture
Paul Hobcraft on Jul 25, 2021

Hi Matt,

We have so much to undo in urban transportation, I wish we could also snap our fingers but I do feel a really significant shift in how we commute is the significant deployment of light rail, utilizing current roads. I am all for the bike lanes but can you imagine having fast, energy efficient light rail services along these same streets. With larger capacity light rail feeding in from the suburbs. The new tram of our future. We have the solutions. Just take a look at Siemens solutions on offer.


Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 26, 2021

Thanks for the follow up, Paul. You're right to be looking more at the practical solutions of getting people where they need to go, rather than my genie-granted wish of restructuring existing cities so such expansive movement wasn't necessary in the first place! Light rail is definitely something I'm hoping the U.S. will lean more into-- not to mention the longer-duration high speed rails to get people out of planes and into trains

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