Integrated Approach Develops Smarter Cities

An action plan and projects are necessary to develop smarter cities.
Published: Mon 16 Mar 2015

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A move to smarter cities needs an action plan – and that’s where the University of Strathclyde’s STEP UP programme comes in, says project coordinator and director of the University’s Institute for Future Cities, Richard Bellingham.

Developing a sustainable energy action plan

In an interview at Low Carbon Scotland 2015, Bellingham explained that STEP UP (short for Strategies Towards Energy Performance and Urban Planning) was designed to help cities produce sustainable energy action plans for the future. “We aim to do this in a more integrated way, looking at not just energy but also at social and economic issues. We try to integrate these so we don’t just address one target but address multiple targets.”

STEP UP is a €3.7 million EU funded project, which was initiated in Autumn 2012 and is now drawing to a close. In addition to the University of Strathclyde’s home city of Glasgow in Scotland, other participating cities – all historical port cities – are Ghent in Belgium, Riga in Latvia and Gothenburg in Sweden.

“The city councils in all these cities are involved and we also have commercial and research partners in each of the cities.”

Political commitment key for carbon reduction strategy

When it comes to applying STEP UP, Bellingham says that the main criterion is political commitment. “If the mayor or other senior figure can be persuaded to sign a commitment to work with us to produce an ambitious carbon reduction strategy, we will work with them. If there isn’t political support, it probably indicates the city isn’t ready at this stage. Nevertheless we could still be involved in training.”

Bellingham says that the key message to city councils embarking on such a project is to understand their city and what they are trying to achieve and why. “Is it for example carbon reduction, job generation or fuel poverty reduction? Understand the issues, then gain the right evidence base. Don’t just buy some technology off a company that is trying to sell it.”

Such an approach comes from experience of politicians who frequently set targets – usually ever more ambitious – and then a strategy has to be worked out to deliver them. “With STEP UP we were determined to do it the other way round. We take the evidence base and analyze it to produce the targets that we know are achievable, both technically and financially, and have political backing.”

Low carbon project development

As examples of low carbon projects, Stephen Vere, senior commercial manager – Low Carbon at Scottish Futures Trust, cites the three current priorities of the Trust at Low Carbon Scotland.

These are:

• Energy efficient street lighting, with £30 million worth of projects funded to date and another £120 million funding over the next 3 years. A street lighting toolkit has also been produced to assist local authorities to develop business cases.

• Non-domestic energy efficiency implementing energy efficiency measures in public sector buildings

• District heating, with projects being looked at across Scotland.

“We have introduced the low carbon infrastructure transition programme, which brings together organizations working in the low carbon space to work more closely together,” Vere explains. “We all sit together weekly and communicate much better and share resources and support. With £160 million in European structural funding over the next 6 years we are looking to take projects from the early stage through to deliverable projects that can attract other funding.”

Vere says that loans are preferred over to grants for such projects. “We have got targets and if we are to achieve them, the large investments needed will have to come not only from the public sector but also the private sector. We want to get projects to the state where they can attract that investment.”