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5 Ways To Make Cities More Sustainable and Resilient by Schneider Electric

Estelle Monod

Cities generate over 70% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and it’s estimated that the urban population will increase to 7 billion people by 2050 – that’s 80% of the world’s people. Without action, this growth will drive a significant increase in emissions in our cities, negatively impacting human health and exacerbating climate change.

Cities are where the climate change battle will be primarily won or lost.

Energy creates approximately 80% of all global CO2 emissions, and over 60% of generated energy is lost or wasted. Additionally, climbing electricity prices and gas shortages caused by the worldwide energy crisis amplify the need to increase efficiency and reduce fossil fuel reliance. The bottom line is: cities need to start providing more with less.

Governments are establishing policies that support a climate-resilient, net-zero carbon transition. However, accelerating building and city decarbonization requires going beyond regulations and addressing how we produce and consume energy.

This is also core to the Schneider Electric™ vision for Buildings of the Future. To meet today’s and tomorrow’s challenges, our buildings must be more sustainable, hyper-efficient, resilient, and people-centric. So how do we get there? Let’s start with the following five questions.

1. Can solutions available today help cities meet net-zero targets?

As 50% of existing buildings will still be in use in 2050, we must work to make all new and existing buildings net-zero carbon by 2030. This goal is achievable thanks to the convergence of digitalization and electrification, what Schneider Electric calls Electricity 4.0.

Digitalizing your buildings helps accelerate their decarbonization by creating next-generation, smart structures that can combat climate change throughout their entire lifecycle: design, construction, operation, maintenance, and decommissioning.

Today’s connected devices, analytic apps, and services help make the invisible visible, revealing how to reduce energy waste and actions to take.

There can be no smart cities without smart buildings, and that’s a key focus in shaping Buildings of The Future.

We must also electrify buildings, as electricity is the best vector for decarbonization. Two examples are replacing gas-fired boilers with efficient electric heat pumps and electrifying energy networks (which help maximize renewable energy use).

2.   What is driving the adoption of digitalization and decarbonization in cities?

The World Economic Forum estimates a global annual investment of up to $5.4 trillion to make the urban infrastructure climate-smart and resilient. To help drive that transformation, governments worldwide are introducing emission and building regulations, which influence electrical and energy system standards. While regulations are essential, they often match market trends and technology.

The most extensive adoption of net-zero strategies and technologies comes from innovative companies that see sustainability as essential to long-term success. These organizations recognize that sustainable assets go beyond regulatory compliance by outperforming other asset classes and delivering lower operating costs, resilience to energy price volatility, greater occupant well-being, a stronger brand image, and more. The result is new technologies like cloud-assisted analytics and intelligent building operations that can accelerate decarbonization for facilities and customers.

3. How do we meet the challenge of decarbonizing existing buildings?

We must retrofit and modernize existing facilities to meet efficiency and sustainability standards. Zero-carbon buildings need to be ultra-efficient, but the average energy consumption of a commercial building in the United States is 22.5 kilowatt-hours per square foot (242.2 kilowatt-hours per square meter). Best-in-class benchmarks are nearly five times less than that.

Considering that some types of property assets are divested relatively quickly, any solutions deployed must deliver a rapid return on investment. Many digital solutions are easy, fast, and affordable to retrofit, such as wireless metering and sensors that can quickly help you understand how your buildings perform and which may need to be upgraded to increase energy efficiency.

With only about 28% of building stock in the top 20 cities being green-certified, the more significant part of the market is Class B and C inefficient and carbon-intensive properties. Most buildings need to be modernized and retrofitted with digital solutions or risk becoming unfit for purpose. Schneider Electric offers expert sustainability services that help our customers use a recommended 3-stage process that helps bridge ambition with action:

  1. Strategize – helps stakeholders develop a robust roadmap for how to reach net zero. It’s about understanding where we are today and where we want to be tomorrow.

  2. Digitize – helps modernize outdated and manual technology with smart hardware and software to collect and visualize building energy data for informed decision-making.

  3. Decarbonize – enables action based on the roadmap and digital insights to reduce energy and carbon, electrify operations, replace energy sources, and decarbonize the building.

4. How do smart grids and microgrids help make cities more sustainable and resilient?

The existing grid infrastructure is crumbling under the weight of abnormal weather conditions, demand fluctuations, and momentous changes to baseloads historically supported by fossil fuels. We must evolve to decentralized, bi-directional smart grids – Grids of the Future – that help cities become more efficient, resilient, and decarbonized. Organizations are installing on-site microgrids to become ‘prosumers,’ unlocking the potential of bi-directional grids.

Microgrids were at once most suited to large and critical facilities such as military bases, hospitals, and universities. However, technological advances and price reductions have opened the market to many other facilities. A microgrid intelligently optimizes the use of on-site energy resources – such as solar panels, wind turbines, combined-heat-and-power plants (CHP), electric vehicle (EV) charging, energy storage, etc. –  and communicates with the smart grid to optimize energy flow, cut costs, decarbonize, and enhance resilience.

Schneider Electric is a leader in microgrid solutions. Replacing grid energy with microgrids both accelerates a building’s decarbonization journey and provides resiliency.

One example project is Citycon’s Lippulaiva, Europe’s most environmentally responsible city center. It has been carbon neutral from its first day of operation, partly due to its on-site generation infrastructure utilizing solar energy, energy storage, and demand flexibility.

They became a prosumer – both a producer and consumer of energy. Their solar energy and energy storage infrastructure enables them to monetize their generation capability and flexibility. In some circumstances, the local utility will pay Citycon to feed some of its renewable energy back to the grid. Microgrid control systems also automate the decisions regarding when to best utilize energy storage, microgrid power, or grid power based on current pricing algorithms and outside variables such as weather forecasts.

5. How do we decarbonize transportation?

The convergence of the smart grid, e-mobility, and the built environment means you can now charge where you stop, not stop to charge. This means buildings must increase their electrical capacity to support EV charging, and on-site energy generation can help.

One example is Montgomery County in Maryland, U.S., which became a leader in local government fleet electrification and sustainability archetypes. By leveraging our AlphaStruxure Energy as a Service model, integrated with EcoStruxure Microgrid solutions, what was once another diesel bus depot is now The Brookville Smart Energy Bus Depot with 70 EV buses. This depot contains a 6.5 MW microgrid with on-site solar, battery energy storage, and natural gas generation to help the county achieve net zero by 2035.

In addition, integrating a smart grid and smart city will enable dynamic control of buildings and districts so they can ‘dim’ down their energy consumption to balance the needs of EV charging. This requires intelligent building systems that can leverage your facility’s energy flexibility, such as automatically adjusting the indoor temperature a few degrees without significantly affecting comfort. Those technologies are available today.

To learn more, visit Buildings of the Future or download “Retrofit for sustainability: A facility manager’s guide for Net-Zero Buildings.”

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