Energy management and smart cities can work hand-in-hand to deliver a clean, liveable future 28 February 2023

Many believe that smart cities are the way of the future. They promise better liveability for residents through greater interconnectivity between data and services – think traffic lights with sensors that get traffic moving more quickly through a city. 

If smart cities are to be the future, it’s imperative that energy management is part of those smarts. Combining the promise of smart cities with energy management creates the opportunity not just to improve living conditions and comfort, but to reduce the environmental impact of our cities while we’re at it. 

Earlier this month I hosted a panel discussion on exactly this at Smart Cities Week Australia and New Zealand. The panel included Lisa Zembrodt of Schneider Electric, John Griffiths of City of Melbourne, and Jacek Lipiec of Signify. Each of these people and their organisations are doing fascinating and important work in the smart cities and smart energy management space. If you weren’t one of those lucky enough to be in the room, read on for a quick overview of their conversation. 

Smart cities and energy management enable climate action

Schneider Electric, Signify and the City of Melbourne each have a strong alignment with climate action. Lisa’s KPIs are tied to climate action, the City declared a climate emergency in 2019, and Signify is supporting all of this with one of the most important and well-known efficiency technologies around: lighting. 

The City of Melbourne has had a power purchase agreement (PPA) for several years now, and monitors the generation from the PPA against the energy consumed in the City’s buildings. It turns out that 80 per cent of the supply from the PPA and the demand from the buildings is matched – a huge undertaking, but one which means the last 20 per cent still needs to be matched to achieve carbon-free energy 24/7. John explained that demand management and energy storage can solve this issue, and by extension, can be used by other cities to reduce their burden on the electricity grid. 

As a specific example, despite being considered a low-hanging fruit for efficiency gains, lighting still makes up about 10 per cent of the average household electricity budget, and up to 40 per cent of energy consumption in commercial buildings


Smart cities and energy management enable better liveability 

In most cities, much of the population live in apartment buildings. In the City of Melbourne, it’s over 80 per cent, making for an interesting challenge to decarbonise these buildings and help residents take advantage of solar. 

However, the powers of smart cities and energy management can be combined to improve the lives of residents, and these three organisations are doing just that:

  • City of Melbourne are working to establish a network of mid scale community batteries through their Power Melbourne initiative, which means all residents may have the opportunity to take advantage of renewables, even if their building doesn’t have the roof space;
  • In the suburbs of Washington, DC (USA), Schneider Electric has partnered to deliver a bus station micro-grid, which will take advantage of solar energy and onsite energy storage to provide uninterrupted power to charge electric busses. This project has the added liveability aspect of reducing pollution in lower-income areas which have historically had to deal with greater levels of pollution; and
  • As demonstrated by the work of Signify in constantly improving lighting efficiency. Lighting enables better safety through street light sensors, and can even support resilience through enabling food to be grown indoors

Sufficiently skilled workers are critical to achieve smart, efficient cities

Workforce development has become a prominent theme in climate action, particularly since the pandemic revealed low workforce numbers and supply chain issues.

This panel discussion was held at Swinburne University, meaning academia was well-represented. The panel closed with a brief discussion around the need to drive workers into this sector – and particularly the need to start catching future workers at the school and university levels.

There is an important role for industry and governments in making universities aware of the need – and opportunities – for students in energy management. Universities have a role in making coursework available that will meet the needs of industry and the workforce to deliver smart cities and a decarbonised energy system, before time runs out.  

This article was written by EEC Buildings Policy Advisor, Julianne Tice. It originally appeared on her LinkedIn