Urban Transformation

Data can help decarbonize cities – let us explain

A decarbonization transition can utilize  data modelling to drive insights, market coordination and consumer behaviour change.

A decarbonization transition can utilize data modelling to drive insights, market coordination and consumer behaviour change. Image: Unsplash/Jenny Ueberberg

Stephen Lorimer
Clean Energy Cities Lead, Centre for Net Zero
Andrew Collinge
Strategic Advisor, Dubai Digital Authority
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Cities and Urbanization

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  • Cities account for approximately three-quarters of global final energy consumption and more than 70% of global carbon emissions.
  • Data is a critical factor in enabling cities to transition to cleaner energy, and cities are finding creative ways to get the data they need.
  • The G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance recently launched the Global City Data Movement to support cities use of data for urban transformation.

Cities account for approximately 4% of our landmass but use 75% of the world’s energy. Peak electricity demand can threaten the grid’s stability as we increasingly electrify transport and heating. A diverse set of assets – electric vehicles, home and utility-scale batteries, air conditioners and heat pumps – will make buildings and streets demand electricity at an order of magnitude higher than today. In the UK, for example, these assets account for most of the anticipated doubling of electricity demand between 2020 and 2050.

In increasingly decentralized energy systems, cities need energy data standards and governance frameworks to ensure that these assets and the grid, the city and the consumer can all “talk to each other.” Communication will facilitate households’ and businesses’ intelligent use of low-carbon technologies to support the grid rather than piling pressure on it.

Encouraging data availability and interoperability will promote flexibility so that assets can feed the grid when it is under strain when there is intermittent renewable (sun and wind) energy and manage the balance of local generation and storage.

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Smarter, greener cities

The Centre for Net Zero has been working with cities such as Oxford and Birmingham in the UK to develop data-driven proofs-of-concept to enable local, clean, decentralized energy systems.

Oxford City Council in the UK has set itself a significant retrofit challenge – by 2030, over 16,000 properties will be retrofitted with heat pumps, batteries and electric vehicle chargers. “FutureFit” buildings will benefit occupants and, in their totality, form a resilient and flexible decarbonized energy system. This major organizational effort will ultimately facilitate the financing of retrofits and deliver more regulatory certainty for planning approvals and electricity network connections.

Birmingham City Council also has set goals for its decarbonization transition and is, therefore, focusing on data modelling to drive insights, market coordination and consumer behaviour change. Over 100 hectares of post-industrial land have been designated as the city’s environmental enterprise district.

The University of Birmingham, Alan Turing Institute and Centre for Net Zero are working together, using a tool developed by the Centre, called Faraday, to model a more detailed understanding of energy flows within the district and between it and the neighbouring 8,000 residents. Faraday is a generative AI model trained on one of the UK’s largest smart metre datasets. The model is helping to unlock a more granular view of energy sources and changing energy usage, providing the basis for modelling future energy consumption and local smart grid management.

The partners are investigating the role that trusted data aggregators can play if they can take raw data and desensitize it to a point where it can be shared without eroding consumer privacy or commercial advantage.

Data is central to both initiatives and all cities seeking a renewable energy transition. But there are issues to address, such as common data standards, governance and data competency frameworks (especially across the built environment supply chain).

Organizational and technical complexity can slow progress but cities must be at the forefront of efforts to coordinate the energy data ecosystem and make the case for “data for decarbonization.”

Stephen Lorimer, Clean Energy Cities Lead, Centre for Net Zero | Andrew Collinge, Global City Data Movement Co-Chair, G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance

Building trust in decarbonization tech

Building the governance, standards and culture that delivers confidence in energy data exchange is essential to maximizing the potential of carbon reduction technologies. This framework will ultimately support efficient supply chains and coordinate market activity. There are lessons from the Open Banking initiative, which provided the framework for traditional financial institutions, fintech and regulators to deliver innovation in financial products and services with carefully shared consumer data.

In the energy domain, there are numerous advantageous aspects to data sharing. It helps overcome barriers in the product supply chain, from materials to low-carbon technologies (heat pumps, smart thermostats, electric vehicle chargers etc). Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS) providers can use data to support installers and property owners.

Data interoperability allows third-party products and services to communicate with any end-user device through open or proprietary Internet of Things gateway platforms such as Tuya or IFTTT. A growing bank of post-installation data on the operation of buildings (such as energy efficiency and air quality) will boost confidence in the future quality of retrofits and make for easier decisions on planning approval and grid connections. Finally, data is increasingly considered key in securing the financing and private sector investment crucial to the net zero effort.

None of the above is easy. Organizational and technical complexity can slow progress but cities must be at the forefront of efforts to coordinate the energy data ecosystem and make the case for “data for decarbonization.”

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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Urban TransformationNature and Biodiversity
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