The Action “Smart Energy Regions” showcased the benefits of low-carbon innovation in the sectors of policy, planning, design and technology. Addressing technological issues as well as societal and economical needs, guidance has been provided for the large-scale transition to a low-carbon built environment. Considering local context and difference across European countries, drivers and barriers have been identified through a series of case studies. A framework of solutions has been developed as the main outcome of the Action, and disseminated to the following target audience:
- National and regional Governments;
- Governmental organisations;
- Homeowners and social landlords;
- Private businesses;
- Professionals of the building sector such as planners, designers and developers;
The activity of the Action is structured in 4 Working Groups:
- Working Group 1 - Policy, industry innovation and case studies. This Group reviews how different policies are implemented in the European countries to progress the low-carbon agenda, and how local businesses are involved in the process. Members are collecting case studies to illustrate low-carbon initiatives taking place across Europe. A handbook containing this material will be published in 2014.
- Working Group 2 - Skills, knowledge, training and supply chains. This Group focuses on the availability of specific skills that are needed for the appropriate design and installation of low-carbon technologies, and reviews existing training programmes. The development of local supply chains for low-carbon materials and components is also covered by this Group.
- Working Group 3 - Cost and value. This Group investigates the additional costs that arise when low-carbon buildings are delivered. It is necessary to understand how this issue can be reduced through economies of scale and counterbalanced by the added values brought by low-carbon technologies.
- Working Group 4 - End-user engagement and dissemination. This Group will bring together the outcomes of the previous Working Groups looking at appropriate ways to engage with the end-users of the built environment. This Group will also deliver a series of dissemination initiatives and events to communicate the outcomes of the Action to its target groups.
What are Smart Energy Regions?
The term “smart” refers to a system (such as a smart city, a smart grid or a smart meter) where Information and Communication Technology (ICT) plays a central role in governing the functions of the systems, maximising its performance and minimising the consumption of resources. In fact it is the integration of ICT that enables a continuous process of data collection and feedback which allows the system to regulate itself in real time.
Although smart systems primarily address efficiency, their potential has gone further and they are believed capable to improve social awareness and participation. Moreover, whilst the “smartness” of systems such as cars and phones is somehow mainly determined by its technical features, huge and complex systems such as cities and regions are expected to need more than bare ICT integration to become “smart”. The debate around what makes a city smart is quite developed, but many researchers agree that human and cultural capital are essential factors. This implies that technical disciplines need to be paired with social sciences when studying the matter, and also that cultural advancement are needed ad well as technological ones.
In general terms, Smart Energy Region (SER) can be imagined as a region where reduction of consumption and efficient management on the demand side enable the minimal requirement for resources and energy to be met by renewable sources. It is necessary to stress that “smart energy” refers not only to the consumption of electric energy or fossil fuels, but intends to include a less “visible” form such as embodied energy. A distinctive feature of a SER will be its energy grid, which will manage and balance the demand and supply of energy from many small renewable sources. It is also possible to imagine that a SER will take advantage of innovative and alternative mobility systems, monitor and protect its environmental resources and maximise the re-use and recycle of materials.
The “smartness” of a region is not an end to itself, but a mean to reduce human impact and achieve regional sustainability. Indeed a SER will present the features of a low-carbon and sustainable region. The transition towards this stage has already started in many European regions, although with different paces and approaches. This Action will investigate these regional experiences focusing on how the built environment, which is responsible for considerable resource consumption and GHG emissions, can be addressed effectively at large scale. In this area, a broad set of issues have a significant impact on the successful adoption of new technologies and processes on a larger scale to create a low-carbon built environment. These include:
- the role of regional governance and policy,
- the lack of flexibility and shortage of skills in the supply chain,
- the misunderstanding of capital and operational costs,
- the potential for implementation of technologies geographically,
- the benefits and costs of ICT integration in the built environment,
- the impact on quality of life and policy and planning for the future.
These need to be understood to enable low-carbon technologies to be widely applicable and transferable within and between regions.