+CityxChange – towards smart positive energy cities

Blockchain and other digital technologies will be deployed in seven European cities to make them more energy smart.
Published: Wed 22 Aug 2018

Seven European cities are about to embark on a 5-year journey experimenting how digitalisation can be brought to bear to make them ‘positive energy’, i.e. that they generate more energy than they consume.

Through the +CityxChange project, which has been awarded €20m funding from the European Union Horizon 2020 programme to become a new smart city lighthouse project, the cities plan to develop and deploy new digital services and technologies to improve quality of life and energy use.

The cities are Trondheim (Norway) and Limerick (Ireland), the aspirant ‘lighthouse cities’, and the ‘follower cities’ Alba Iulia (Romania), Písek (Czech Republic), Sestao (Spain), Smolyan (Bulgaria) and Võru (Estonia).

“We have great expectations for what we can achieve in this collaboration,” says Annemie Wyckmans, Project Coordinator for + CityxChange and Professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

In European Union parlance, ‘lighthouse cities’ are ones that develop and test innovative smart city solutions at district scale and act as exemplars for their region and other cities and regions across Europe.

Positive energy blocks

The framework for the project comprises three stages with a total of 11 different demonstration projects that will be implemented in the lighthouse cities and then replicated in the follower cities.

In the first phase, styled ‘Prototyping the future’, integrated planning and design will be carried out and solutions modelled and tested.

In the second phase, ‘Enabling the future’, a common energy market will be created with renewables, storage, electric vehicles, energy management, blockchain and other new innovative tools, technologies and services, etc.

Finally, in ‘Accelerating the future’, the earlier developments will be brought together with the aim to accelerate the adoption of positive energy blocks and districts by creating connected communities. Both top down urban authority led and bottom up consumer engagement led approaches are intended.

In addition, to technologies, the demonstrations are proposed to make recommendations for new policy interventions, market regulations and business models.

+CityxChange Project Manager Dr Dirk Ahlers told Engerati that a ‘positive energy block’ is defined following the EU definition as comprising at minimum three neighbouring buildings that are interconnected either physically or virtually and that as a unit, produce more energy than they consume averaged over a year. Certain minimum sizes also apply to be able to do energy balancing and have demonstrable impact in the project.

The intention is these blocks should then be linked to other buildings in the vicinity and to other positive energy blocks to scale up to ‘positive energy districts’ and ultimately ‘positive energy cities’.

“The approach is aimed to show that scaling-up is possible from a smaller nucleus of connected buildings, which are usually considered to be easier to transform, into a more integrated energy system,” says Ahlers. He adds that the approach also is designed to engage the local communities to invest in their buildings and support the growth of the blocks and districts.

Utilities in smart cities

The more than 30-strong project consortium comprises large enterprises, SMEs, not-for-profits and academic institutions across the value chain.

Among them are the utilities TrønderEnergi from Trondheim and ESB Networks from Ireland. Indeed, given the focus on energy in this project but more generally its role at the heart of smartening a city, utilities should be key partners in all smart city initiatives.

“The restructuring of the energy systems and the way we produce and use energy will create major business and value creation opportunities in the future. The fact that Trondheim and NTNU now have the task of leading this work in Europe will hopefully provide a lot of learning and create many opportunities for [the county of] Trøndelag and Norway," said Bengt Eidem, Communications Director at TrønderEnergi in a statement.

Another feature of the project is that the outcomes should be both scalable and replicable in other cities across Europe. To achieve this, it also includes local governments among the partners as integral to engaging citizens in the city transformation.

“The +CityxChange is another major step forward as part of our digital strategy for Limerick to become a smart city region that is ready for the new energy market and increased use of clean energy for sustainable development of our communities,” says Dr Mihai Bilauca, Head of Digital Strategy at Limerick City and County Council. “We aim to demonstrate at European level the potential of our innovation ecosystem existent in Limerick and Ireland.”

The project, which will receive another €10m of in-kind efforts from the project partners, is due to start officially in January 2019. Testing, commissioning and implementation of the demonstrations are expected to fill the first three years, with operation, monitoring and evaluation taking place in the following two years.

Other partners include IES R&D, Powel AS, University of Limerick, Energy Agency of Plovdiv, Future Analytics Consulting, Research2Market Solutions, ISOCARP, ABB Norway, AtB, AVIS Budget Group, Statkraft Varme AS, ESB Innovation RoI Ltd, Ove Arup & Partners SAU, FourC AS, R.Kjeldsberg, Smart MPower, Space Engagers, Colaborativa, Officinae Verdi, IOTA Foundation, NHP Eiendom, and GKinetic Energy Ltd.