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Technical infrastructure

There is a growing interest in EU and national levels to emphasize resource efficiency and life cycle thinking. Goals set by the EU also require increased emphasis on energy efficiency in the technical infrastructures of cities and municipalities. It is, however, important to remember that technology is used by people. Ignoring the behavioral aspect of adopting new innovations and the smarter use of existing infrastructure might, in the end, result in less energy and money saved.

What actions can increase energy efficiency connected to technical infrastructure? How should you communicate? Read about what to consider when choosing actions to increase energy efficiency below.

Technology

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Energy storage

Energy storage is one of the most important technologies to help increase the installation of distributed energy resources, especially those relying on renewable energy sources. Energy storage can be placed between the generation and the load, helping balance the discrepancies that exist between energy availability (e.g. sun power) and consumption, by storing energy when is highly available and supplying to the load when the energy production has stopped (e.g. overnight).

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Smart meters

At the end-consumption point, smart meters provide a good first step towards efficient energy networks. They provide information regarding energy usage instantly thus allowing customers to track their consumption and make decisions accordingly. On the utility side they provide valuable information for utilities and ESCOs (energy service companies) that can be used for optimizing production of energy based on accurate demand forecasts based on consumer’s historical data. Finally, network operators can optimize energy distribution based on the accurate information about the status of all the connection points of the grid at all times provided by the hundreds or thousands of meters installed across the whole energy network.

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Public lighting

A number of public lighting technologies are currently applied. Most of them being outdated and withdrawing ones and will be replaced by one recently developed technology; light-emitting diodes (LED). Most of the cities that are following the policy of “green cities“ have included LED technology in their future city development plans. Switching to LED lighting alone, however, is only one source of energy savings. Adaptive, interoperable lighting solutions are the second source where savings stem from intelligent control. This control may include remote monitoring (lighting failures are automatically reported by the control system, saving detection time and costs) and smart dimming and scene setting (lights are dimmed during high traffic hours to save energy or enhanced in problematic neighborhoods to increase safety).

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Heating networks

For cities located in colder climates (e.g. Scandinavia) heating networks have been used for more than 100 years. In the beginning, the systems used very high temperatures and steam in the distribution system, while today the supply temperature is considerably lower. In the future, the trend is towards reducing both supply and return temperature in order to reduce transmission losses, and to allow using low value heat sources in the system, for instance, waste heat from industries and solar power.

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Waste management

For the technical infrastructure required for treating waste, there are good waste practices coming such as re-using and recycling parks, less waste are disposed and technologies which help the citizens to sort out the waste in a proper manner. Optical sorting has started a new awareness of how much waste that occurs in the households which can help people make choices to decrease waste already in the store. To continue the progress of climbing the waste hierarchy a shift from “waste is a problem” to “waste is a resource” is essential.

For more technologies to improve energy efficiency please read PLEEC WP3 Technical State of the art innovative solutions (D3.1) and WP3 Improving energy efficiency through technology – Case studies (D3.2).

Contact: Erik Dahlquist, Technical University of Mälardalen, Sweden

Structure

Compact cities can also increase the efficiency of infrastructure in general (e.g. by the more intense use of infrastructure) and contribute to a reduction of resource consumption (e.g. in infrastructure construction, where less metres of infrastructure is necessary to supply the same amount of users). Particular technical infrastructure needs a minimum density of activities/users, as for example high level public transport or district heating systems. In the Scandinavian and Baltic States, district heating covers 40–60% of the heating demand. Efficient district heating/cooling systems need a mixed user structure, which both asks for low-grade energy (heat, hot water and steam) and electricity demand. This could be different kinds of industries, hospitals, hotels and residential areas, having not only different demands of the type of energy but also of regarding the use pattern over the day, helping to smooth peaks of usage in the system. In the WP4 Thematic Report (D4.3) we review how planning can support energy efficient industry (Chapter 3) and renewable energy supply (Chapter 5), both connected to district heating.

Different conditions for district heating in Stoke-on-Trent and Turku

In Stoke-on-Trent a new district heating system is currently development, based on geothermal heat from old mines below the city. On the other hand, district heating is also challenged by new technologies. In Turku, where over 90 % of all households are connected to district heating, the new urban area of Skanssi will be based on a separate energy system. The high insulation of new houses and the increasing production of energy at site (e.g. by solar panels) make traditional district heating in that area inefficient. A low heat, independent system is developed instead which will integrate consumption and production in the area (see WP4 Case study report on Turku (D4.2)).

The WP4 Summary Report (D4.4) outlines spatial planning measures which can support that and summarizes the efforts in the six cities.

Contact: Christian Fertner, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Behavior

Both technological interventions and energy infrastructure play a crucial role in facilitating – or hindering – energy saving measures of the behavioral kind. However, there is evidence to suggest that technological interventions alone have rather low impact without any accompanying plan to promote behavior change.

Eskilstuna knows the importance of information

The success of the introduction of new technologies depends to a large part on the acceptance and perceptions of the people using them. Eskilstuna, the first city in Europe to introduce optical waste sorting, succeeded in this effort as its launch was backed up with a large information and education campaign.

From the perspective of city planning, the following conclusions can be made about the behavioral aspect of converting to more energy efficient technological infrastructure:

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People seem to respond to peer-to-peer approaches and social pressure when being targeted by technology-driven interventions.

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Use of social media as a part of marketing and information campaigns, as was noticed for example in Eskilstuna, seems to be an effective channel to get people more interested in energy saving.

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When planning energy saving behavioral interventions, one should always pay attention on how to measure and collect data about the achieved benefits. That way it is easier to plan the right technological interventions for the given need.

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It has also been noticed that the use of existing infrastructures energy efficiently requires careful planning and calculations which requires education of end-users.


For more information about the case studies and about the importance of behavioral aspects in energy efficiency work see PLEEC WP5 Case Study reports (D5.1) and WP5 Final report (D5.5).

Contact: Annika Kunnasvirta, Turku University of Applied Sciences, Finland