Collaboration key to achieving low carbon outcomes in cities

With cities around the globe striving to achieve low carbon outcomes in the face of climate change, Professor Deo Prasad says collaboration between government and industry is key to overcoming the obstacles in Australia.When it was announced South Australia would be home to the world’s largest lithium-ion battery, the state and its renewable energy sector was thrust into the limelight.

Energy giant Tesla was selected to provide a 100 MW/129 MWh Powerpack system to be paired with global renewable energy provider Neoen’s Hornsdale Wind Farm near Jamestown. The project gained international notoriety when Tesla CEO Elon Musk promised to deliver the project within 100 days or the company would front the costs of it. In December last year, the battery was live well within the 100-day timeframe.

South Australia’s renewable energy sector has been thrown into the international spotlight, thanks to the hype surrounding Tesla and Musk’s interest in the state’s energy infrastructure. The battery milestone also highlights the emphasis and the increasing necessity for government and industry alike to establish similar renewable energy and low carbon solutions on a global and domestic level, particularly in the face of climate change.

“Cities in Australia and around the world are facing major challenges created not just by climate change, but the largest urban migration in human history, with the United Nations predicting world city populations will increase to 66 per cent by 2050. We are up against the clock,” stated UK urban innovation expert Peter Madden at national research and innovation hub, CRC for Low Carbon Living’s (CRCLCL) annual forum in November last year.

With cities and urban environments at the heart of the matter, achieving low carbon outcomes is the ultimate goal, with Mr. Madden – from UK-based smart sustainability company Ecovivid and former CEO of Future Cities Catapult – explaining that collaboration is important here.

“The technological and digital revolution we are living through gives cities the opportunity to do things smarter. But, to make this a reality, we’ll ultimately need practical collaboration between city administrators, businesses and academia.”

Mr. Madden said one of the key barriers to this action is the complexity of how a city is operated, especially where multiple organisations are involved.

“There is no one organisation that runs a city, which means that all involved must work together to ensure new urban planning systems, energy processes and supportive technologies can be tested, funded and implemented.

“Cities and utilities must also look at ways for innovative products, service and technologies to be deployed that attract capital and create new organisational structures and innovative approaches.”

Professor Deo Prasad, CEO at CRCLCL, agrees with Mr. Madden’s assertions, explaining that to successfully achieve low carbon outcomes in urban environments,  there needs to be comprehensive collaboration between those involved in the decision making process.

“There are many different ideas floating around about how to achieve low carbon outcomes in cities, but cities have varying needs,” Prof. Prasad explains.

“For example, in Jakarta and Beijing, the top priority is reducing carbon in the air.

“The idea is to generally lower pollutants and there are many cities that are heading towards zero carbon. There are many cities in Australia that have made zero carbon and zero emissions targets for 2030 – that is a significant goal to achieve, and cities like Adelaide and Melbourne are both striving forward. Sydney also wants to see a 70 per cent reduction in emission generation by 2030, and the ACT wants to reach zero carbon by 2020.”

However, Prof. Prasad says when cities aim for zero carbon outcomes, there are big issues around how to action it, many of which come down to the energy generation and consumption.

“South Australia has gone big in this space,” Prof. Prasad states, explaining that Adelaide is driving shared energy models and electric grid intelligence.

The idea is that when electricity is not being utilised – like at home when people aren’t there – the energy can be redistributed elsewhere to help achieve savings across the grid.

He says a key indicator that climate change is occurring in cities is when temperatures increase due to the urban heat island effect.

Car parks and building façade colours and textures are different elements of the built environment that can increase temperatures. “Last year one day recorded the temperature in Penrith around 47 degrees while central Sydney in the east was 35, due to the heat island effect,” Prof. Prasad says.

“When looking at things like climate change, there are a whole range of effects. When it gets hot, we cool ourselves down indoors with air conditioning, which consumes a lot more energy and results in greater risk of power failure.

“So how do we make cities resilient and mitigate the risks? Not just resilience to climate change and naturally occurring events but to other factors such as population growth and the Global Financial Crisis?”

“We can use all sorts of technology to reduce CBD congestion and improve low carbon outcomes, which all link back to smart cities, and smart means different things to different people in this context.”

Prof. Prasad explains that the relationship between city utilities, administrators and stakeholders is important in actioning these types of changes, but importantly so is a collaborative relationship between government, industry and researchers.

“Governments need research to provide the evidence that informs policy. Research provides evidence for good policy around infrastructure innovation, new materials and technology,” he says. “In trying to encourage this collaboration, we need to come up with a way to incentivise innovation, especially for industry.

“With climate change, from an Australian point of view, for instance, how can we encourage industry to adapt research into practice?”

Government, industry and researchers all typically operate within their own silos, asserts Prof. Prasad, which can limit the opportunity to reach low carbon targets and solutions sooner.

“Each city or federal and local government body all have different policy agendas and different research areas they might be interested and invested in, and the outcomes they’re trying to achieve will be different.”

He says aligning these practices and achieving national approaches to policy present many opportunities but a major challenge too because so many government bodies are working independently.

“A local council, for instance, may want to investigate where to ideally plant trees and it will establish its own partnership with researchers to explore that. But, the thing is that the research scale could be much larger and benefit others.”

Looking internationally, Prof. Prasad says there are many exemplar cities that have brought together these three different pillars to achieve low carbon targets in cities, particularly in Europe.

“Australia has been collaborating in a number of areas really well, including in the medical and pharmaceutical fields. The pharmaceutical sector is working more closer with government, researchers and industry because they can see a very direct commercial link between the three. They came together because they can forecast an outcome and this shows that this collaboration does work successfully.”

Prof. Prasad says sustainable infrastructure and the built environment are particular areas where Australian cities are lacking in collaborative efforts, but sectors that present the opportunity to do so.

“In the built environment everyone wants answers tomorrow – many people are working in the now and looking ahead no more than 12 months. But, for big projects being designed and built over a number of years, we need to look further ahead,” he says.

Australia traditionally has thought about problem solving through collaboration on a localised level, but Prof. Prasad says the national bodies need to start looking internationally too. “Australia is very well respected in the low carbon and energy sectors, and we should be leading the charge here so we can be competitive in Asia Pacific.”

Prof. Prasad cites the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals to transform our world (see sidebar), outlined in 2015, as an appropriate guideline to follow in not only achieving low carbon goals, but general sustainability targets too.

“As part of that new urban agenda, which pushes us towards sustainable cities in future, I think Australia should be much more involved in supporting and pushing the establishment of a national urban policy,” he says.

In all, Prof. Prasad says collaboration between government, industry and the research community is key to introducing change and innovation to the built environment and low carbon outcomes.

“Industry innovation is certainly around, but we can’t generate innovation without policy certainty and the support to make it work.”

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