Climate Change

Urban future with a purpose

12 trends shaping human living

2020 was a critical year for cities and communities. The pandemic affected the core of our urban living, and local governments needed to react quickly to protect people’s lives and simultaneously look for the best approaches to handle the long-term effects of COVID-19.
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At the intersection of both these challenges, one topic stands out: the importance of making cities more human and nurturing a strong sense of connection, shedding light on what cities should care about the most – people.

This is the motto of this study and the underlying idea in the 12 trends we present. Committed to helping cities drive change, we have listened to prominent actors in order to understand what we might expect to happen next. Researchers, practitioners, policymakers and city leaders are just some of the people we interviewed, and their insights helped identify 12 trends that cities, leveraging technology and data, can follow on the road to becoming smarter, more sustainable and resilient.

The 12 trends are not equally applicable or desirable for all cities. They cover most of the domains of a city and touch on the main changes emerging from the pandemic. However, we do not suggest that all these trends form a recipe for every city – after all, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to city development. 

These are the 12 trends we have identified:

GREEN PLANNING OF PUBLIC SPACES: Cities are being planned and designed for people, with ‘green’ streets, new corridors and public spaces as centers of social life.

SMART HEALTH COMMUNITIES: Cities develop health care ecosystems that are focused not only on diagnosing and treating sickness, but also on supporting well-being through early intervention and prevention, while leveraging digital technologies.

15-MINUTE CITY: Cities are being designed in a way that amenities and most services are within a 15-minute walking or cycling distance, creating a new neighbourhood approach.

MOBILITY: INTELLIGENT, SUSTAINABLE AND AS-A-SERVICE: Cities work towards offering digital, clean, intelligent, autonomous and intermodal mobility, with more walking and cycling spaces, where transport is commonly provided as a service.

INCLUSIVE SERVICES AND PLANNING: Cities evolve to have inclusive services and approaches, fighting inequalities by providing access to housing and infrastructure, equal rights and participation, as well as jobs and opportunities.

DIGITAL INNOVATION ECOSYSTEM: Cities attract talent, enable creativity and encourage disruptive thinking, developing themselves through an innovation model approach and a combination of physical and digital elements.

CIRCULAR ECONOMY AND PRODUCING LOCALLY: Cities adopt circular models based on a healthy circulation of resources, and on principles of sharing, reusing and restoration, with an emphasis on limiting municipal waste volumes and on producing locally – for instance, by urban farming.

SMART AND SUSTAINABLE BUILDINGS AND INFRASTRUCTURE: Cities aim to have regenerated buildings; they leverage data to optimise energy consumption and the use and management of resources in buildings and utilities: waste, water and energy.

MASS PARTICIPATION: Cities evolve to be human-centered and designed by and for their citizens, promoting mass participation by the ecosystem in a collaborative process and following open government policies.

CITY OPERATIONS THROUGH AI: Cities adopt automated processes and operations (orchestrated by a city platform) and are following data-driven planning approaches.

CYBERSECURITY AND PRIVACY AWARENESS: Cities strive to promote awareness of the importance of data privacy and preparedness for the impact of cyberattacks since data will be an important city commodity.

SURVEILLANCE AND PREDICTIVE POLICING THROUGH AI: Cities are leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to ensure safety and security for their citizens while safeguarding the privacy and fundamental human rights.

Trend 1: GREEN PLANNING OF PUBLIC SPACES

Cities need to be planned and designed for people, with ‘green’ streets, new corridors and public spaces as centers of social life.

Urban areas are traditionally characterized by high population density and heavy construction to support modern amenities, such as transport and commercial buildings. They now face increasing pressure from expanding populations, limited resources and the growing impact of climate change. One of the indicators for measuring SDG 11 is the area of public and green space in a city, as the lack of natural space creates an unhealthy urban living environment.

Cities should be driving a decarbonization agenda. Becoming low carbon is the first step towards mitigating carbon emissions and achieving ecosystem resilience. At the same time, cities should ensure that urban planning is capable of dealing with the pressures of climate change in the adaptation agenda.

Green public spaces entail:

  • a large number of trees in cities (Singapore ranks first in the Green View Index from MIT’s Senseable City Lab, which measures the canopy cover in cities);
  • creation of more and larger public parks and nature-based solutions in the urban environment, fostering a closer connection to nature even in cities with high population density;
  • more walking and cycling facilities instead of car-centric designs and parking areas, with space for children and adults to enjoy outdoor activities, and fostering a sense of security and safety (according to a study by C40, investing in a shift to mass transit and developing walking and cycling corridors can reduce carbon emissions in cities by 5-15 per cent.).

Cities around the world are recognizing the benefits of a green approach to urban planning, as it has the potential to lower urban temperatures, mitigate air pollution and build natural environmental resilience. World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Cities has included increasing green canopy cover in its top ten list of urban planning initiatives.

How to ensure successful implementation

  • Understand sustainability drivers and societal targets.
  • Promote equal, fair and integrated urban planning.
  • Do not underestimate the power of community engagement.
  • Ensure funding and financing.

Trend 2: SMART HEALTH COMMUNITIES IN THE CITIES

Cities are developing health care ecosystems that are not only focused on diagnosing and treating sickness but also on supporting well-being through early intervention and prevention, leveraging digital technologies.

The health crisis during the pandemic made the case clear: there is a community role in creating a better health environment, and cities need to pay more attention to the well-being of their citizens. Globally, five of the top ten causes of death are related to unhealthy behavior. This brings into the spotlight the need for preventive medicine. The factors that affect a person’s health and behavior are complex; therefore communities (physical and virtual) must play a part. 

Cities will develop health care ecosystems that move away from a focus purely on diagnosing and treating sickness and injuries to one that is equally focused on supporting well-being through early intervention and prevention. Instead of being designed and funded to treat individual patients one by one, they will have a greater appreciation of the interconnectedness of communities. The social determinants of health will be better understood, and government and the private sector will collaborate to address some of these challenges.

As care moves outside of the hospital walls new community players and disruptors will become critical in forming the new ecosystem. Scientific advancements and the affordability of personalized health care (genomics, micromics, metabolism and behavioral economics) will ensure that care is tailored for individuals and their families. The citizens’ health journey will be underpinned by interoperable data and analytics guiding them through positive health choices and behaviors.

Cities have a responsibility to create a healthy environment. Smart Health Communities (SHCs) engage patients, companies and public entities to deliver digital health services, in order to develop and shape communities, reducing costs dramatically, improving wellness and longevity, and promoting economic growth. Governments act as enablers of change by promoting this interconnected health care ecosystem. A city, as a geographical SHC, can drive a shift towards preventive and curative therapies, as well as provide solutions that foster collective and cooperative healthy behavior, and generate and analyze interoperable data to predict risks and evaluate impact. While privacy is a concern, investment in smart public health initiatives generates substantial return on investment for cities while improving public health and well-being.

How to ensure successful implementation

  • Work to generate trust.
  • Invest in a data privacy and security infrastructure.
  • Establish partnerships between public and private stakeholders, namely government agencies, technology companies, health care and life sciences players, the media, NPOs/NGOs, social care entities and citizens.
  • Collaborate with technology companies to launch awareness-creation programs and knowledge-sharing platforms.
  • Establish community-driven funding hubs to strengthen the reach and support capabilities and operational efficiency of SHCs.
  • Restructure policies and consider incentivizing SHC development plans.

Trend 3: THE 15-MINUTE CITY

Cities are being designed so that amenities and most services are within a 15-minute walking or cycling distance, creating a new neighborhood approach.

The ‘15-minute’ city concept – primarily developed to reduce carbon emissions by reducing the use of cars and motorized commuting time – is a decentralized urban planning model, in which each local neighborhood contains all the basic social functions for living and working. Many people argue that the concept of creating localized neighborhoods in which residents can get everything they require within 15 minutes by walking, cycling or on public transport will ultimately improve the quality of life. Such spaces entail multipurpose neighborhoods instead of separate zones for working, living and entertainment, which reduces the need for unnecessary travel, strengthens a sense of community and improves sustainability and liveability. 

Today most cities have ‘operation-based’ neighborhoods, with separate areas used predominantly for business or entertainment. Fragmented urban planning results in a sprawl, with people having to travel long distances across the city to get to their destination. In contrast, compact cities of the future, or ‘hyperlocalization’, prioritize strategies for urban infrastructure that aim to bring all the elements for living and working into local neighborhood communities.

The ‘15-minute’ city is an iteration of the idea of ‘neighborhood units’ developed by American planner Clarence Perry during the 1920s. The theory of ‘new urbanism’, an urban planning and design concept promoting walkable cities, subsequently gained popularity in the US in the 1980s. Similar versions of ‘urban cells’ or 30- and 20-minute neighbourhoods have also emerged across the globe in the past decade. 

The rezoning model will gain further traction in the future, boosted during the COVID-19 disruption, by new ways of working that require less transport. With climate change as a major global concern, C40 in its “C40 Mayors’ Agenda for a Green and Just Recovery” has recommended this model for cities worldwide, arguing that its pedestrianization approach contributes to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and supports environmental sustainability.

While this approach may not be entirely applicable to every city – for example, it is probably more suitable for a big metropolis than for smaller cities – remote working and the digitalization of services have increased the impetus to apply the principle of neighborhood planning regardless of city size.

How to ensure successful implementation

  • Correlate sustainability goals and urban planning initiatives.
  • Ensure community endorsement.
  • Decentralize core services.
  • Launch schemes to promote affordable housing in every neighborhood.
  • Allow flexible use of urban spaces and properties across neighborhoods.

Trend 4: MOBILITY: INTELLIGENT, SUSTAINABLE AND AS-A-SERVICE

Cities are working towards offering digital, clean, intelligent, autonomous and intermodal mobility, with more walking and cycling spaces, where transport is commonly provided as a service.

This is one area where cities should expect huge disruption. Some major changes in how people move around in cities are already under way, but the trend will accelerate further in the next decade, with electrification, autonomous driving, smart and connected infrastructure, modal diversity, and mobility that is integrated, resilient, shared and sustainable – powered by disruptive business models. In answers to an ESI ThoughtLab survey question, 54 per cent of city leaders admitted they will rethink mobility and transportation in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Less need to travel. It is expected that in general people will travel less than they have in the past. With new urban planning concepts such as the ‘15-minute city’ promoting compact environments, ‘connected corridors’ and changes in the way that people work, movements within urban areas will decrease substantially and bicycles, scooters and even walking will increasingly be the preferred options in community neighborhoods. 

Electrification. It is estimated that in 2030, electric vehicles (EVs) will have around 32 per cent of the total market share for new car sales globally, although there will be differences between regions. 

Connectivity and automation. Recent Deloitte research in the United States estimates that by 2040, up to 80 per cent of passenger miles travelled in urban areas could be in shared autonomous vehicles.  This development will be led by major technology-based corporations or the automotive and transport sector and by technology-based start-ups. Solutions such as passenger drones by EHang and drone delivery by Amazon are making rapid advances. Logistics companies look increasingly to autonomous technology to meet the rising demand for goods.

Sharing. Cities will also benefit from an increase in on-demand multimodal mobility and Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) platforms, such as in Helsinki. For instance, residents will be able to plan and book door-to-door trips digitally, use the same fare card for all transport modes, access automated last-mile cargo shipment services, and have end-to-end real-time visibility of freight in transit – and with seamless payment models.

Intelligent mobility. With data playing a central role in some of these shifts, customised travel is something that cities will start to deliver, segmenting their customers (citizens) in a mobility context and implementing strategies for each market segment. The value of ‘intelligent’ mobility is forecast to grow to €850 billion by 2025, representing more than 1 per cent of global GDP.

How to ensure successful implementation • Embrace a holistic approach (and consider the total mobility mix), and start with a minimal viable ecosystem for ‘smart mobility’, adding features over time in an agile way. 

• Invest in infrastructure – physical, energy, digital and telecoms – that supports effective transformation. 

  • Be aware that a new generation of vehicles is needed, and there should be a resurgence in the use of some existing types of vehicles, such as motorbikes and bicycles, with a strong focus on micromobility.
  • Make mobility management a priority, both management of assets (infrastructure and vehicles) and management of clients (people).
  • Make sure regulation adapts to the new circumstances, covering vehicle security and liability in cases of accidents, data management and privacy, interoperability, connectivity, risk and responsibility, and cybersecurity.

Trend 5: INCLUSIVE SERVICES AND PLANNING

Cities are evolving to have inclusive services and approaches, fighting inequalities by providing access to housing and infrastructure, equal rights and participation, and jobs and opportunities.

Cities are not only centers of economic development; they symbolize equality, healthy communal coexistence and prosperity for all. Social inclusion should be a key pillar of urban growth and development for the cities of the future, bearing in mind the three building blocks identified by World Bank: spatial inclusion (providing affordable housing, water and sanitation), social inclusion (expanding equal rights and participation) and economic inclusion (creating jobs and offering citizens opportunities for economic development).

Cities should be planned and designed to generate social and economic outcomes for everyone, avoiding the costs that occur when people are excluded. Although the poor are usually the most affected, cities will also remove the barriers caused by differences in gender, race, nationality, disability or religion. Inclusive design could mean building gender-inclusive urban centers to provide safe and secure spaces for carers and installing wheelchair-accessible features for those with mobility difficulties. Inclusive design may mean building greener and safer neighborhoods for all citizens and investing to create secure and joyful spaces for children to play and accessible places for the elderly, making cities pleasurable for the silver generation. An inclusive social care system will embrace migrants and offer them tailored services that address their particular needs and circumstances, just as for everyone else. 

There are already some signs of cities prioritizing inclusion. A survey of 167 cities worldwide found that 40-47 per cent use metrics to track progress towards inclusion goals, although the majority are in advanced economies.

Digitalization enables governments to facilitate access to a range of services, accelerate business opportunities, analyze societal gaps, educate mass audiences, collect real-time data, boost data-driven decision-making, facilitate predictive and proactive governance, and engage larger audiences in social activity. It also frees up government capacity to re-direct finite administrative and case management resources to those who need it most.

Although a fundamental requirement for social inclusion, technology may also create disparities. City planners should remain aware of the large numbers of ‘digitally invisible’ citizens, to avoid skewing the results of city analysis that would compromise urban planning efforts and even contribute to widening the inequality gap.

How to ensure successful implementation

  • Implement proactive multisector solutions, both preventive and curative.
  • Promote an integrated planning approach instead of a fragmented one.
  • Follow an equity-centered by design approach.
  • Improve the adoption of technology solutions and digital skills, supported by adjusted regulation.
  • Pursue data equity.
  • Establish inclusive living labs.
  • Use agile methods to respond rapidly and anticipate citizens’ needs.

Trend 6: THE CITY AS A DIGITAL INNOVATION ECOSYSTEM

Cities strive to attract talent, enable creativity and encourage disruptive thinking; developing themselves through an innovation model approach and a combination of physical and digital elements.

While traditionally companies and industrial parks have been concentrated in suburbs of the city, start-ups and digital nomads are bringing innovation and ideas to the city centres. As population numbers increase in urban areas, cities compete for investment, skilled workers (talent) and cultural prominence, and this is turning urban regions into innovation hubs, leveraging data. 

In some cities with an innovation or technology department, individuals try to innovate from a silo. This is not what we mean. Cities will adopt a multidimensional approach to innovation, the so-called quintuple innovation helix framework (of interactions between university, industry, government, public and environment), and city governments will act as platforms enabling the right connections, policies, places and infrastructure to make the ecosystem flourish; solving the town’s most prominent challenges and bringing positive change to the city and its industries.

Cities will be Living Labs for digital transformation and centers of experimentation, using data to develop pilots that can be scaled up. By putting talent attraction at the center of its strategy, a city can develop with the goal of being the most attractive host (of people, companies and research centers), in order to facilitate ecosystem development. The City Hall has to develop the right skills, and data collection and usage, and modernize its governance model to foster collaboration and encourage open innovation. Increasing the level of adoption of digital innovation in high-priority economic sectors generates a positive impact on local competitiveness, by opening up new sources of employment and economic growth. It also supports the uptake of disruptive and promising digital technologies. Remote working has lengthened the list of cities that can adopt this strategic approach. In line with the ‘rise of the rest’ theory put forward by Richard Florida in 2019, the shift from enterprise attraction to talent attraction makes it possible for smaller cities to thrive in a post-pandemic world, using data as a source of competitiveness in the digital innovation environment. It is a time for small remote hubs. 

How to ensure successful implementation

  • Create capacity to attract talent, expertise and open talent networks.
  • Foster agile processes and avoid a risk-aversion culture.
  • Add the required skill sets and gain an awareness of the opportunities that new technologies offer.
  • Ensure data mastery and interoperability standards.
  • Embrace a new way of management and leadership.

Trend 7: CIRCULAR ECONOMY AND LOCAL PRODUCTION IN THE CITY

Cities are adopting circular models based on a healthy circulation of resources; principles of sharing, reusing and restoring; and with emphasis on limiting municipal waste volumes and on producing locally – for instance, urban farming.

Do you know that on average a car is parked more than 90 per cent of the time? Or that the average office is used only 35-50 per cent of the time? That 30 per cent of food is wasted? That half of the waste is produced in cities? Increasingly, cities are developing aspects of a circular economy, which entails decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources and designing waste out of the system. 

What does it mean to live in a city with a circular economy? It is a city that:

  • promotes a better use of resources through procurement policies;
  • consumes less, and reuses and recycles water, energy, products and materials; 
  • recycles and manages waste according to regulations;
  • stimulates an economy of repair, borrowing and second-hand commerce;
  • nurtures a sharing mindset (e.g., car trips, spaces and materials);
  • fosters better use of resources in construction (e.g., 10-15 per cent of building materials are wasted during construction);
  • stimulates an innovative approach to how the city and its citizens consume, store and use resources.

A circular economic model is one of the pillars of the European Union’s European Green Deal strategy, and there are already some examples of its application, as well as policies and mechanisms to fund the transition. Cities will also increasingly encourage a ‘produce local’ approach to food and energy. Urban and small-scale farming is gaining traction in some urban centers as a way to deliver fresh and healthy food, establish direct contact with food producers and reduce carbon emissions, while strengthening the local economy. Innovative approaches make better use of space and light, such as vertical farming, hydroponics, LED indoor farming and rooftop farming. Simultaneously, the energy revolution is contributing to the circular economy through decentralization of energy production, mainly through renewable sources (biogas, wind, solar, wood biomass, waste, etc.), and off-grid and microgenerators, paving the way for self-sufficiency whereby cities generate as much energy as they consume, creating communities of energy and offering further economic opportunities.

How to ensure successful implementation

  • Secure funding for the transition.
  • Establish flexible and simple regulatory structures and smart procurement.
  • Create or rethink metrics to measure circularity.
  • Leverage national or regional policies and invest in awareness campaigns.

Trend 8: SMART AND SUSTAINABLE BUILDINGS AND INFRASTRUCTURES

Cities aim to have regenerated buildings and to leverage data to optimise energy consumption and the use and management of resources in buildings and utilities: waste, water and energy.

In 2019, the Coalition for Urban Transitions estimated that it should be possible to cut emissions from cities by about 90 per cent by 2050 (15.5 GtCO2e by 2050) using proven technologies and practices, in particular for buildings and infrastructure. Estimated cuts include 36.5 per cent from residential buildings and 21.2 per cent from commercial buildings.  Buildings are currently responsible for 30-40 per cent of total city emissions. To achieve the COP21 target by 2050, emissions from buildings must be 80-90 per cent lower than they are today.

Many buildings are energy inefficient and contribute heavily to carbon emissions. In the EU, as of February 2020, roughly 75 per cent of building stock was energy inefficient.  So there is some way to go. A 2019 Navigant report stated that only 5 per cent of the smart city projects that it tracked had a focus primarily on building innovation, and just 13 per cent had ‘some level’ of focus on buildings.

World Green Building Council defines a green building as one that, “in its design, construction or operation, reduces or eliminates negative impacts, and can create positive impacts, on our climate and natural environment; preserve precious natural resources and improve our quality of life”.9 Given the pressure on cities to act on climate change, green buildings are going to invade our urban centers. Besides being built with sustainable and ethical materials, they will be energy, water and resources-efficient; environment-friendly by design – powered by renewables (such as solar) and capable of producing their own energy (electricity prosumers); covered by vertical and/or rooftop gardens; and able to provide a better indoor environment for those who live in them or use them. 

On top of that, they will leverage data and digital technology to enable components of infrastructure to become more efficient and better adapted to the stakeholders’ usage. Business models provided by flexible office operators will foster an Office-as-a-Service or even Real Estate-as-a-Service approach. 

Gartner predicts that by 2028 there will be more than 4 billion connected IoT devices in commercial smart buildings.  They will be powered by telecommunications infrastructures, with 5G and High Efficiency Wi-Fi (6 or 6E) at the forefront, and smart utilities such as power, waste and water.

As of May 2020, 28 major cities have signed up for the World Green Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment,  which calls for cities to reach net-zero carbon operations by 2030 for all assets under their direct control, and to advocate for all buildings to become net-zero carbon in operations by 2050.

How to ensure successful implementation

• Define a vision and technological guidelines, and develop a roadmap. 

• Stimulate and prioritise sustainability-targeted renovation, construction and restoration projects.

• Launch incentive plans to promote alternate materials and build a strong engagement ecosystem.

• Beyond investing in buzzwords like 5G or sensory-tech solutions, extract value from data. 

• Promote data-sharing standards and policy.

Trend 9: MASS PARTICIPATION IN CITY BUILDING AND DEVELOPMENT

Cities are evolving to be human-centred and designed by and for their citizens, promoting mass participation by the ecosystem in a collaborative process and following open government policies.

What does an ideal experience in our city look like? How can our city contribute to a brighter global future? How would we like our children to grow up in the city? What would we like our city to be known for around the world? 

These are some of the questions you will be asked in cities where there is open government and mass participation. These are places where citizens, social innovators, civil society organisations, businesses and academia are part of the process of building their cities (in a quintuple helix model), closing the gaps between local government and the ecosystem. 

Through mass participation, supported by open data and technology, and with local government acting as a platform, cities can use citizens as a ‘sensor’ and benefit from greater innovation, better utilisation of resources and an increased sense of ownership. Co-creation through mass participation is a bi- or multidirectional human-centred approach, rather than just a bottom-up or traditional top-down approach.

Cities are increasingly innovative in the way they promote participation, and technology plays a key role in enabling innovation – for instance, mobile applications and reporting websites overcome the need for groups to meet in person to discuss new ideas and collaborate; and digital currency opens the door to gamification strategies. But to ensure the three principles of open government are met (participation, collaboration and transparency), it is necessary to have open data platforms and other initiatives. Participatory budgets are a good starting point. Some cities go a step further and provide citizens and the ecosystem with real-time access to information, to keep them informed about changes that affect where they live. Ultimately, cities will progress towards having true platforms for collaboration, fostering co-creation and leading to new governance models (co-governance), where responsibility is shared among the participants and is not just a burden on the local government. From this perspective, a new culture is created, and citizen engagement emerges as critical for ensuring the long-term sustainability of policy initiatives. 

How to ensure successful implementation

  • Engage the city population at scale and combine physical and virtual interactions whenever possible.
  • Follow the digital imperative, but create a smart population for smart cities.
  • Ensure accessibility and inclusiveness for all citizens. 
  • Establish clear governance processes and transparency to boost trust – an enabler of open governments and collaboration.
  • Align objectives and expectations, and make clear connections between participation and decisions taken.

Trend 10: CITY OPERATIONS THROUGH AI

Cities are adopting automated processes and operations (orchestrated by a city platform) and following data-driven planning approaches.

Machines run 24/7, and there are operations and tasks that cities perform that will become increasingly smart and powered by artificial intelligence (AI). AI will contribute to the optimisation of operational efficiencies, benefiting city managers, and ultimately citizens, through reshaped service delivery. In an ESI ThoughtLab study, 66 per cent of 167 cities surveyed are investing heavily in AI, and 80 per cent will do so over the next three years.

While chat assistants are currently among the most common solutions powered by AI, cities will evolve to have digital platforms as ‘city brains’, where all urban activity is orchestrated and operated, providing a holistic view of the city, allowing for events correlation, fast and assertive root-cause analysis, predictive analysis (through machine learning) and incident management; and providing operational insights through visualisation. If the behaviour of almost every citizen is registered through anonymised data, and 5G technology enables cities to become huge connected ecosystems, it will be of paramount importance to maximise data value and improve planning and decision-making using AI and data analytics, on the way to a cognitive city. Gartner predicted in 2019 that a city platform will be a mature smart city solution in five to ten years’ time, when it is expected that 1-5 per cent of cities will be using a city platform to manage their operations.

But cities can go even further. We see cities like Dublin and Singapore, among others, creating a Digital Twin – a dynamic digital replica of their physical assets and environments and their interdependencies – for urban planning purposes and using machine learning to predict future events and trends. Digital Twins will become increasingly powerful in enabling data-driven decisions and will have a high adoption rate among city governments, with the promise of making cities more resilient. ABI research has predicted that by 2025 the number of urban Digital Twins will exceed 500.

How to ensure successful implementation

  • Start with data strategy and governance.
  • Be aware of privacy issues, and stimulate a culture of trust.
  • Ensure data standards and interoperability.
  • Avoid algorithmic bias.
  • Develop the right skill sets among the city workforce.
  • Follow a citizen-focused approach to operations.

Trend 11: CYBERSECURITY AND PRIVACY AWARENESS IN THE CITY

Cities strive to promote awareness of the importance of data privacy and to get prepared for the impact of cyberattacks, since data will be an important city commodity.

As services are becoming highly integrated and interconnected, and vulnerabilities created during data exchanges are more common, data security is vitally important. In 2018, the total cost of losses from cyberattacks for cities in a survey averaged €2.8 million.

Cybersecurity is now a key consideration for developers and planners of smart cities, and attention is turning to the risks inherent in such a highly interconnected environment. However, while the cybersecurity industry has developed a mature understanding of how to measure and mitigate the impact of cyberattacks on infrastructure in ‘non-smart’ cities, there is limited knowledge of the potential impact of attacks on smart cities. 

An attack on smart city infrastructure may create effects that cascade – or ‘ripple’ – outwards and affect other parts of the city or country, or beyond. Resilience is the essential concept that must be considered when creating these complex and highly interconnected environments. It is essential to use resilience as a cornerstone of city building, and to do so in a way that can be scaled up and remain flexible for future upgrades and enhancements.

As the complexity of technologies, operational interdependencies, and systems management increases, so does the interest of hackers in profiting from this environment. Developing smart city initiatives without considering cybersecurity and privacy can result in a highly vulnerable environment that poses security risks to critical infrastructure and data, and in some cases may even create safety risks for citizens. 

Advance planning is essential. By one estimate, 95 per cent of Cities 4.0 (as labelled by ESI ThoughtLab, referring to hyper-connected cities that use technology, data, and citizen engagement in pursuit of the SDGs) ensure that cybersecurity is considered early in the process, compared with only 51 per cent of other cities. 

However, many cities are not ready for the challenges. Besides lagging far behind in the digital revolution, with outdated technologies running critical infrastructure, they lack the human resource expertise to be capable of addressing the challenges.  Creating ecosystems of innovation – as Tel Aviv has done – could be one approach to improving security. Another approach is to invest in models of public/private cooperation and coordination. Efforts must be backed by city executives and not left to external entities or departments alone. 

How to ensure successful implementation

  • Ensure three major goals:
    • Govern like a nation.
    • Treat smart cities as a defensive ecosystem.
    • Reboot with resilience.
  • Syncronise the city with cyber strategy, and allow for flexibility.
  • Have a clear cyber and data governance in place, with accountability. 
  • Leverage the ecosystem and build strategic partnerships to grow cyber capabilities. 
  • Align regulation policies.
  • Adopt a specific tool to manage the cybersecurity landscape of a smart city. 
  • Invest in awareness campaigns on privacy.

Trend 12: SURVEILLANCE AND PREDICTIVE POLICING THROUGH AI

Cities are leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to ensure safety and security for their citizens while safeguarding privacy and fundamental human rights.

Surveillance and predictive policing through AI is the most controversial trend in this report, but one that has important implications for the future of cities and societies.

Technology is frequently used as a synonym for evolution, but the ethics of its use may need to be questioned. An underlying question is what society we are aiming to build. There are doubts and uncertainties about the impact of AI on communities and cities: the most fundamental concern is privacy, but there are frequent debates about AI from other perspectives, such as its impact on jobs, the economy and the future of work. Therefore, one cannot disconnect the discussion about surveillance and predictive policing from recent debates about the societal, ethical and even geopolitical dimensions.  

The pace of adoption of AI for security purposes has increased in recent years. AI has recently helped create and deliver innovative police services, connect police forces to citizens, build trust and strengthen associations with communities. There is growing use of smart solutions such as biometrics, facial recognition, smart cameras and video surveillance systems. A recent study found that smart technologies such as AI could help cities reduce crime by 30 to 40 per cent and reduce response times for emergency services by 20 to 35 per cent.  The same study found that cities have started to invest in real-time crime mapping, crowd management and gunshot detection. Cities are making use of facial recognition and biometrics (84 per cent), in-car and body cameras for police (55 per cent), drones and aerial surveillance (46 per cent), and crowdsourcing crime reporting and emergency apps (39 per cent) to ensure public safety. However, only 8 per cent use data-driven policing.  The International Data Corporation (IDC) has predicted that by 2022, 40 per cent of police agencies will use digital tools, such as live video streaming and shared workflows, to support community safety and an alternative response framework.

Surveillance is not new, but cities are exploring the capabilities of predicting crime by analyzing surveillance data, in order to improve security. Cities already capture images for surveillance purposes, but by using AI, images can now be analyzed and acted on much more quickly.  Machine learning and big data analysis make it possible to navigate through huge amounts of data on crime and terrorism, to identify patterns, correlations and trends. When the right relationships are in place, technology is the layer that supports law enforcement agencies to better deliver their job and trigger behavior change. The ultimate goal is to create agile security systems that can detect crime, terrorism networks and suspicious activity, and even contribute to the effectiveness of justice systems.

How to achieve these goals while respecting privacy and liberties remains a crucial question.

Experts say it is almost impossible to design broadly adopted ethical AI systems, because of the enormous complexity of the diverse contexts they need to encompass. Any advances in AI for surveillance and predictive policing need to be accompanied by discussions about ethical and regulatory issues. Even though the value proposition of these technologies might seem attractive from a use case perspective, liberties and civil rights need to be protected by proper privacy and human rights regulations.

In summary, cities need to consider if using technology for surveillance and policing implies making concessions to convenience at the expense of freedom.

How to ensure a successful implementation?

  • Balance security interests with the protection of civil liberties, including privacy and freedom.
  • Experiment responsibly, and regulate first.
  • Establish institutional review boards that include experts from multiple disciplines.
  • Create mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing algorithms.
  • Privilege the usage of environmental data instead of personal data.
  • Promote strong collaboration and trust between law enforcement systems and citizens.
  • Accompany digitalisation with a change in culture.

The Future of Green Construction Materials

Architects are working with manufacturers to source new materials that improve health, lower costs, and reduce environmental impact.
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Building materials—and what’s in them—have been making headlines, and for good reason. As The American Institute of Architects (AIA) raises the bar in response to climate change, architects and design professionals are partnering with clients, contractors, and manufacturers to source materials that meet new environmental goals, part of a larger effort to improve resiliency for the future.

“Historically, architects haven’t asked what goes into building materials,” says Lona Rerick, AIA, an associate principal at ZGF Architects in Portland, Oregon. “We used to just look at aesthetics, performance, and durability. But in the past decade, there’s been a shift to thinking more holistically about sustainable design and better building materials. Now we’re collaborating with clients to improve embodied carbon and health.”

Greener building materials are key to halting climate change. Currently, buildings produce about 40% of the world’s fossil-fuel carbon-dioxide emissions (CO2). In fact, the United States’ building stock produces more than two billion tons of greenhouse gases per year. But that number can be greatly reduced by limiting the embodied carbon of our building materials. Embodied carbon—the CO2 released during material extraction, manufacture, and transport, combined with construction emissions—will be responsible for 74% of all CO2 emissions of new buildings in the next 10 years. And unlike operational carbon, which can be reduced during a building’s lifetime, embodied carbon is locked in as soon as a building is completed and can never be decreased.

The good news? People want change. According to a 2019 survey by the Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing, 85% of U.S. investors now express interest in sustainable investing, while half have factored attributes such as the sustainability of a business into their decision to buy. Overall this shows that people want to improve the environmental and social impact of their investments.

To help clients address climate change, architects need to prioritize lowering the embodied carbon of the materials that produce it most. It all starts with a discussion at the outset. “As the design team, we need to have early conversations with clients about the importance of building materials,” says Frances Yang, AIA, the structures and sustainability specialist at Arup in San Francisco. “We need to show them that materials made with little or net zero embodied carbon can be healthier and sometimes cheaper than traditional products. Once clients are on board, contractors and suppliers will support it, and more people will start to realize that they need to come up with greener strategies.”

Architects can minimize embodied carbon by focusing their efforts on the top three worst offenders—concrete, steel, and aluminum, which account for 22% of all embodied CO2.

Prioritize building materials that reduce carbon

The easiest way to reduce embodied carbon is through reuse—not just of existing building materials, but of existing structures, too. For renovation projects, architects can draft efficient designs that make the most of the current footprint. For new projects, architects can bring in salvaged materials sourced from deconstructed buildings. Most of all, when considering new materials, architects can minimize embodied carbon by focusing their efforts on the top three worst offenders—concrete, steel, and aluminum, which account for 22% of all embodied CO2.

Recently, Yang and her colleagues at Arup designed a project for a Bay Area client that required large amounts of concrete. The client was considering purchasing carbon offsets. But the low-carbon-concrete options Yang researched were cheaper than the offsets and could reduce a greater amount of embodied carbon. By choosing concrete made from granulated blast-furnace slag, a byproduct of steel manufacturing, Yang helped the client reduce both the cost of the project and its impact on the environment.

“Teamwork was key,” Yang says. “At the beginning, we worked with the sustainability and engineering teams to share the benefits of slag cement with the client and get them on board, which then persuaded the contractor to also get behind it. The main thing is to start the conversation early and get everyone’s support. In that instance, we were able to help the client cut 12,000 tons of embodied carbon—making everyone really happy with the outcome.”

Manufacturers agree. “Collaboration and communication between architects and concrete suppliers provides many benefits,” says Alana Guzzetta, the laboratory manager at the U.S. Concrete National Research Laboratory in San Jose, California, which has partnered with Yang on projects over the years. “Communication allows architects to be familiar with the cement substitutions and low-carbon-concrete options available in specific markets, which can be helpful in writing specifications. Additionally, when an architectural aesthetic is required for the concrete, the supplier needs to understand those needs to provide the correct mix. Overall, collaboration between designers, contractors, and suppliers is important for implementing the lowest-carbon mixes that meet performance and schedule requirements.”


The 7 steps to adopting better building materials

Creating a plan to build with healthier resources

  1. Establish the goal and scope: Turn values related to health and transparency into clearly written goals and a scope of work, approachable targets, and roles and responsibilities for the project.
  2. Set priorities within budget: Most projects are constrained by cost, and healthier materials are too often abandoned when an all-or-nothing mentality is adopted. Instead, allow projects to achieve incremental improvements. Some improvement is better than none at all.
  3. Develop measurable targets: This step establishes measurable criteria that define success for the project. The target should reinforce the goals and priorities described in the previous steps. Some rating-systems criteria have targets already defined. For example, LEED requires that a minimum of 20 products used on a project meet the disclosure requirements to achieve one point in the Building Product Disclosure and Optimization credit related to healthier materials.
  4. Define methods and metrics: Once targets for healthier materials—which are less toxic for human or environmental health—are established, the next step is to select tools to measure progress. A wide variety of resources are available. Choosing the right one requires matching the information it provides with the goal and scope of the project. For example, if the objective is to avoid certain harmful substances, a list of materials not to be used in the project (and conversely, ones that can be used) should be the primary reference guide.
  5. Outline roles and responsibilities: Determine who will fulfill the essential roles among the primary parties on the project, including the owner, designer or specifier, builder, and operator. Responsibilities include materials research, selection and specification, tracking progress, procurement, and reviewing contractor submissions.
  6. Ongoing review and documentation: During the design phase, tracking gives everyone the ability to see progress toward the project’s targets and also serves as a useful tool to ensure goals will be met.
  7. Develop a materials manual: A manual of building materials is intended to pull together essential information for the facilities operations team. It should address maintenance, warranties, repair, replacement, cleaning, and general care that may be specific to the products installed on the project. Owners who manage their own buildings may wish to use this as the starting point for a continual feedback loop with the building management team. Overall, this can be a great opportunity for architects to develop a closer working relationship with a project manager—a key factor in reducing embodied carbon.

Help clients source better building materials

Another way architects can help reduce embodied carbon is to source materials that have been verified with environmental product declarations (EPDs). Similar to nutrition labels, EPDs are documents that communicate the environmental impact of a product over its entire life cycle, conveying the carbon footprint of materials at a glance. Today, architects can easily check the EPDs of products by using the EC3 Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3). Created by the Carbon Leadership Forum, the EC3 is a free, open-access application that helps architects and contrators source sustainable materials in categories like concrete, insulation, gypsum board, and carpet. “Increasingly, we’re writing into our specifications that suppliers must have an EPD if they’re providing a product,” Rerick says. “We need to see that to prove that the builder has lowered the global-warming potential of that product below a certain baseline.”

Recently, Rerick and her colleagues at ZGF Architects were hired by a major tech company to design a new campus in the Pacific Northwest. The tech company is working to become carbon-negative—removing more emissions from the environment than it contributes—and is starting by focusing on construction materials. Using the EC3 tool, ZGF and the other project teams helped the company reduce its carbon footprint while also enriching the EC3 database with additional EPD-approved materials. The size of the project greatly increased the data available to architects everywhere. “The EC3 database is now even more of a game changer, because we have a deeper resource to compare all these different EPDs,” Rerick says. “It enables us to set better targets for lower embodied carbon and then reach them.”

In addition to the EC3 tool, ZGF uses a digital calculator of its own design to further reduce the embodied carbon of projects. Available for free online, the Life Cycle Analysis tool enables architects to enter the ingredients of concrete mixes and quickly see the carbon impact—an innovation that should help improve the industry for years to come. “By creating a database and material-specific baselines to target for products with EPDs, the Carbon Leadership Forum is reducing uncertainty about them,” Rerick says. “This project is helping to accelerate the demand for EPDs among both clients and manufacturers.”

The 5 Key Takeaways of the AIA Materials Pledge

Guidelines for selecting sustainable materials:

  • Support Human Health by preferring products which support and foster life throughout their life cycles and seek to eliminate the use of substances that are hazardous.
  • Support Social Health and Equity by preferring products from manufacturers who secure human rights in their own operations and in their supply chains, and which provide positive impacts for their workers and the communities where they operate.
  • Support Ecosystem Health by preferring products which support and regenerate the natural air, water, and biological cycles of life through thoughtful supply chain management and restorative company practices.
  • Support Climate Health by preferring products which reduce carbon emissions and ultimately sequester more carbon than emitted.
  • Support a Circular Economy by reusing and improving buildings and by designing for resiliency, adaptability, disassembly and reuse aspiring to a zero-waste goal for global construction activities.

Advocate for Local Legislation

Going forward, one of the most important ways architects can increase the use of greener building materials is to advocate for local legislation to lower emissions. In 2019, New York City passed the Climate Mobilization Act, which set emissions caps for buildings, with the goal of reducing output levels 40% by 2030. Nearly 70% of New York City’s emissions come from buildings. As part of the legislation, owners of structures 25,000 square feet or larger must reduce emissions or pay a substantial fine, an initiative that’s sparking massive change.

Todd Kimmel, the New York City architectural manager for insulation manufacturer Rockwool and a Certified Passive House Designer, is working with architects to design green projects that include large-scale passive buildings such as the House at Cornell Tech Campus and Sendero Verde, a three-building, 752,000-square-foot complex in East Harlem that will be a model of low-energy construction. In the past, Kimmel focused on passive design and reducing operational carbon, figuring out how projects can utilize Rockwool insulation, a stone wool that retains heat while minimizing negative health impacts. (Unlike rigid or spray-foam insulation, mineral wool has no plastics that can be released into the air during installation or a fire.) But lately, thanks in part to the city’s Climate Mobilization Act, Kimmel has seen an increase in the number of architects working with contractors and manufacturers to source materials made with less embodied carbon—a trend he attributes to spillover from legislation that addresses operational carbon.

“Architects used to consider materials primarily from a performance standpoint,” Kimmel says. “Now we’re seeing clients invest in greener building materials and operations that exceed the code requirements, because they need to build for the future, to ensure they don’t get hit with penalties. As a result, that way of designing, which creates a healthier environment anyway, is becoming the new norm.”

Build Consensus

The key to building with more sustainable materials is to create consensus, from clients to contractors to manufacturers. Change isn’t easy. For manufacturers in particular, research and development can be costly and time-consuming. But innovation is leading to better options, including wooden materials that capture carbon and concrete materials that sequester it. In turn, these materials are becoming more available, giving architects an extraordinary opportunity for change.

“Manufacturing today requires investing in innovation,” says Cassandra Mellon, the director of architectural sales at Rockwool. “We’re a net carbon-negative company, and want to lower the embodied carbon of stone wool even more, because we believe that’s important. Part of what helped inspire us were initiatives like the AIA materials pledge, which showed that this movement was gaining momentum. If architects ask about things, we listen. Ultimately, the materials pledge creates the foundation for a collaborative approach between architects and manufacturers as we all strive for sustainable materials, and I think we’re going to see more of these types of products across the industry in the future.”

The Blueprint for Better campaign is a call to action. AIA is asking architects, design professionals, civic leaders, and the public in every community to join our efforts. Help us transform the day-to-day practice of architecture to achieve a zero-carbon, resilient, healthy, just, and equitable built environment.

Six Sustainable Building Materials to Look for in 2021

As contractors begin to plan future projects, be on the lookout for these seven sustainable building materials in 2021 and beyond
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With society becoming increasingly environmentally conscious, more and more project owners are looking for sustainable building materials to include in their properties. Not only do eco-friendly buildings substantially increase the resale value of a property in a forward-thinking market, but they can help save on utility and maintenance costs as well.

As contractors begin to plan future projects, be on the lookout for these six sustainable building materials in 2021 and beyond.

1. Composite Roofing Shingles

When people think of sustainability, they often think about materials that produce their own energy or help eliminate the need for energy. However, one aspect that is often overlooked is materials that are long-lasting.

Continually having to repair, manage, and replace building materials is a major drain on resources. As such, common roof tile types like asphalt shingles and wood shakes that frequently raise, crack, and fade can become energy pits not only from the perspective of allowing air and moisture to be transferred into and out of the house, but simply because they require so much attention to maintain.

A better alternative would be composite roofing shingles that stay true to the natural aspect of traditional materials while requiring a fraction of the maintenance resources.

2. Smart Glass Windows

A major trend in sustainability in recent years has been the use of large windows to allow more natural light flow and reduce the need for electric light consumption.

While the merits of this building practice cannot be understated, the benefits can be compounded by using smart glass as the window material of choice. Smart glass is an innovative material that changes its heating properties based on how heat and air conditioning is applied in the house. For example, during the summer months, the glass turns translucent to block any heating wavelengths that may require your air conditioning to work overtime while in the winter, the glass becomes transparent to allow the sunlight to aid in heating efforts. 

3. Bamboo Floors

If you are looking for a very bold option for sustainable living, consider using bamboo flooring. While you may not want to take the step of flooring your entire house in bamboo, it makes for a great option for add-ons, antechambers, and mudrooms.

Bamboo has a strikingly similar appearance to traditional wood while having a harvest cycle of a mere three years, compared to roughly 25 years for a normal tree. By choosing bamboo, you can slow the rate of deforestation by giving trees a chance to grow back.

4. Insulated Concrete Framing

Not only does framing help determine what kind of renovations your home can withstand, but it is a fundamental element in controlling heating and cooling costs.

While prefabricated wood panels will come with small cracks and crevices that allow for the transfer of air and moisture into and out of your home, those using an ICF construction (insulated concrete forms) will provide an airtight barrier that prevents unwanted energy transfers while also providing elite thermal mass to help maintain a consistent interior temperature.

5. Solar Panels

The inclusion of solar panels on the roof and in the yard is increasing in prevalence as technology improves and designs become more aesthetically pleasing. Both solar panel tiles and mounted structures are effective ways to reduce a home’s dependence on nonrenewable energy.

6. Eco-Friendly Insulation

Any type of insulation will theoretically be eco-friendly if it sufficiently cuts down on energy used for heating and cooling. However, some of this saving is negated if batts, fillers, and/or sprays used for insulation are not sustainably sourced or use toxic chemicals to help in binding and fire resistance.

As such, an increasingly popular alternative is hemp insulation. This sustainable product of up to 92% natural hemp maintains all of the same insulative properties of more traditional fiberglass or cellulose. In fact, with its ability to be compressed, hemp can even provide superior insulation for homes that are willing to pay a little extra.

Conclusion

The trend of eco-friendly homes is only set to strengthen in 2021 and beyond. Therefore, if you are in the market for a home, or are considering a renovation, take a look at one of the six sustainable listed above for some environmentally-friendly inspiration.

Matt Lee is the owner of the Innovative Building Materials blog and a content writer for the building materials industry. He is focused on helping fellow homeowners, contractors, and architects discover materials and methods of construction that save money, improve energy efficiency, and increase property value.

Why scaling investment is crucial for sustainable development

Written By: Ahmet Burak Dağlıoğlu
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Mobilizing financial resources will play an important role in reaching the sustainable development goals.



  • Global organizations are cooperating on scaling investment to help achieve sustainability goals.
  • Investment promotion needs to change to target sustainable investments, particularly to help reach climate goals.
  • Turkey is implementing this approach by making the SDGs central to its foreign direct investment strategy.

Climate change has been on the international agenda for a long time, but recent developments have upped the urgency of taking immediate action for both humanitarian and developmental reasons. World leaders gathered in Glasgow to discuss climate change at the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26, following the G20 summit in Rome in late October, which also prioritized sustainability.

Keeping climate change at bay through mitigation and adaptation is imperative to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were set by the United Nations in 2015 and made social, economic and environmental sustainability central to economic development.

Achieving the SDGs will, in turn, require an integrated approach and close cooperation among all stakeholders. Mobilizing financial resources will play an especially important role in reaching the SDGs and addressing the adverse effects of climate change. In this regard, foreign direct investment (FDI) has been a significant source of external finance for many countries, especially developing economies, to help achieve sustainable economic development.

Commitment to SDGs can mobilize foreign direct investment

Today, all economies vie for greater FDI inflows as it not only brings capital but also generates employment, transfers technology, and helps move up the value chain. Moreover, FDI can be instrumental in a country’s economic transformation towards a greener economy, as multinational corporations (MNCs) have both the financial wherewithal and technical capacity to help transform local operations to greener global best practices. MNCs have been increasingly incorporating environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles into their investment strategies, not only to achieve ESG investor score targets but also to save costs and mitigate risks, helping achieve both more sustainable and more profitable operations.

The international community is putting more efforts into scaling such investments through establishing effective mechanisms to support cooperation on investment issues, such as the planned World Investment for Development Alliance, which can facilitate collaboration on public-private projects to scale sustainable investment. One important dimension of such scaling is for countries to create a favorable environment to attract “Green FDI” in order to help achieve environmental and climate goals.

Through smart and targeted policies, sustainable investment can make significant contributions to a country’s economic development, including Green FDI to help reduce carbon emissions.—Ahmet Burak Dağlıoğlu

Unless host countries are attractive enough for such investments, MNCs will hesitate to invest there, especially in a time when attracting FDI is becoming increasingly difficult due to unexpected challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, policy uncertainty from increasing protectionism, economic shocks, and geopolitical risks. Moreover, the growing inclusion of sustainability clauses into new generation trade and investment agreements by major trading blocs will also affect MNCs’ location choices. Therefore, in order to make the best use of FDI in the aftermath of the pandemic, investment agencies should recalibrate their strategies and position themselves as promoters and facilitators of sustainable investment.

Through smart and targeted policies, sustainable investment can make significant contributions to a country’s economic development, including Green FDI to help reduce carbon emissions. Incorporating the SDGs into a country’s FDI attraction strategy can thus bring benefits across society. Therefore, FDI practitioners and policymakers should develop novel strategies that are more inclusive and SDG-oriented.

How Turkey is contributing to sustainable investments

Cognizant of that we, as the Investment Office of Turkey, have recently revised our FDI strategy and made SDGs one of the main pillars of our investment promotion and attraction policies. We have also incorporated “impact investments” into Turkey’s national development agenda. Through an extensive engagement with national and international stakeholders, “impact investments” have become a priority for private and public sectors in Turkey.

Together with the United Nations Development Program(UNDP), we co-published a series of reports on The Impact Investing Ecosystem in Turkey and SDG Investor Map Turkey, providing a guide for the private sector to perform diligence and make impactful business decisions. After these successful initiatives, Turkey’s Impact Investing Advisory Board was established to mobilize government agencies and private sector stakeholders to develop a state-of-the-art regulatory framework. Establishing such a national impact management framework will standardize the measurement and control across all sectors, which will incentivize impact investing and boost the performance of impact investors.

Success is contingent on going beyond defining certain metrics and standards or appeasing shareholders. Implementation, monitoring, and assessments are essential to creating real impact through sustainable investments. Therefore, national and international efforts to establish strong mechanisms for implementing impact investments and attracting Green FDI must be backed up through collaboration and partnership at every level.

International organizations, such as The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), UNDP, and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the World Economic Forum have been playing an important role in creating effective platforms for cooperation. National institutions should continue to engage with these organizations in order to adapt their local investment ecosystems to the changing international investment trends, practices, and opportunities. We are all facing global challenges that require global solutions, and cooperation is a sine qua non requirement to find sustainable solutions for the problems that are threating humanity.

Calculating the Costs of Moving to Net Zero

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions will affect real estate investors. The question is how much?

By: Beth Mattson-Teig
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In August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a harrowing report that concluded that nations had waited too long to curb fossil fuel emissions and there is no longer a way to stop global warming from intensifying over the next 20 years.

That has put renewed pressure on countries to cut emissions to avoid an even worse trajectory. In the U.S., many cities and states are enacting net zero legislation with Boston becoming the latest city to pass an ordinance that sets emissions performance standards on existing buildings with the goal of decarbonizing the city’s large building stock by 2050.

That will mean upfront costs to increase energy efficiency and reduce emissions even as the toll of unchecked climate change is already having massive financial impacts in the form of disasters that are increasing in frequency and intensity. As of early October, the U.S. had experienced 18 different weather/climate disaster events that exceeded $1 billion in damages, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information. The cumulative costs for these events is north of $100 billion on the year, putting 2021 on pace to the third most expensive year since 1980.

What’s less clear is who will bear the brunt of the costs associated with the implementation of net zero strategies and how this will affect real estate investors’ returns. That’s what Green Street set out to answer with a recent report assessing the potential costs of net zero across 17 property sectors. It’s a particularly relevant question given that the operation and construction of buildings account for an estimated 40 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to the report.

In August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a harrowing report that concluded that nations had waited too long to curb fossil fuel emissions and there is no longer a way to stop global warming from intensifying over the next 20 years.

That has put renewed pressure on countries to cut emissions to avoid an even worse trajectory. In the U.S., many cities and states are enacting net zero legislation with Boston becoming the latest city to pass an ordinance that sets emissions performance standards on existing buildings with the goal of decarbonizing the city’s large building stock by 2050.

That will mean upfront costs to increase energy efficiency and reduce emissions even as the toll of unchecked climate change is already having massive financial impacts in the form of disasters that are increasing in frequency and intensity. As of early October, the U.S. had experienced 18 different weather/climate disaster events that exceeded $1 billion in damages, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information. The cumulative costs for these events is north of $100 billion on the year, putting 2021 on pace to the third most expensive year since 1980.

What’s less clear is who will bear the brunt of the costs associated with the implementation of net zero strategies and how this will affect real estate investors’ returns. That’s what Green Street set out to answer with a recent report assessing the potential costs of net zero across 17 property sectors. It’s a particularly relevant question given that the operation and construction of buildings account for an estimated 40 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to the report.

“That’s why we looked at it more as a cost, because we think this is something that building owners will do more reactively to the pressure that they are feeling or the pressure that they expect to feel,” notes Dave Bragg, co-head of Strategic Research at Green Street.

The Green Street analysis starts with a tally of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per square foot for a portfolio of REIT-quality operating real estate assets. Total emissions per square foot data is translated into a hypothetical total potential cost by multiplying a landlord’s owned square footage by an assumed carbon price. The data set is amalgamated from REIT and tenant disclosure, landlord surveys and meetings with ESG experts.

There are three main buckets for classifying emissions.

According to the report, “Scope 1 emissions are released into the atmosphere as a direct result of activities occurring in the building, like natural gas combusted in the boiler. Scope 2 emissions are reported for electricity, heat, steam, or cooling generated elsewhere but consumed at the properties and paid for by the landlord. REIT reporting on scope 1 and 2 is rather clear and consistent.”

One of the key takeaways from the analysis is that the movement towards net zero appears likely to result in a drag on property prices, property owners will have to invest in things such as more energy efficient systems, on-site solar and the purchase of green power purchase agreements. Ultimately, those costs will be offset, at least partly, by higher rents and/or lower operating expenses. However, there is still the cap-ex spending to consider. “The way that we think about it is that this will be a net cost and a net drag on property pricing,” says Bragg. “So, there is going to be an impact here that needs to be assessed by real estate investors and something that deserves implementing in an underwriting framework.”

 second notable finding is that the impact will be unevenly distributed across property types with some sectors better positioned than others. Those property sectors that are expected to experience a “big” impact of a 5 percent or greater reduction to warranted value are data centers, lodging and cold storage. Those likely to see a “moderate” hit of 2 percent to 5 percent are office, retail and industrial. Sectors with low levels of emissions that should feel a negligible impact to value of 0 to 2 percent are multifamily, student housing, storage, labs and gaming.

“The impact on warranted values equates to about one-third of the hypothetical total potential cost of emissions, which makes sense when considering that the cost will be borne in part by landlords and over a long period of time,” according to the report.

Is there a business case for net zero?

While much of the push for net zero is coming from external forces, real estate owners and operators are assessing the business case for adopting these strategies. Are they only a net cost or are their ways moving to net zero can improve the bottom line? Potential economic incentives include higher rents, reduced costs stemming from energy efficiency and after-tax savings or accelerated depreciation.

Marta Schantz, senior vice president of the Greenprint Center for Building Performance at the Urban Land Institute, argues that this is the case.

“What we’re seeing is that there is growing momentum for real estate owners and developers to work towards net zero, first and foremost because there is a financial business case,” Schantz says.

When operators reduce energy consumption and improve energy efficiency it translates to lower costs, higher net operating income and higher asset value. “So, there is a direct correlation to reduced energy consumption,” she says.

But Anthony M. Graziano, MAI, CRE, CEO of Integra Realty Resources, a commercial real estate valuation and advisory firm, says it is unlikely the market as a whole, absent regulatory pushes, would move fast enough to meet 2050 climate goals under a “Good Samaritan” theory of economics. “The primary driver has to be economic incentive–feasibility,” he says.

Regulatory pressure is already coming down as more municipalities pass ordinances on building-level carbon emissions that are tied to fines for those that don’t comply. For example, the first tranche of fines for New York City Local Law 97 will go into effect in 2024. In Boston, meanwhile, buildings that do not comply with emissions reporting requirements will eventually face fines of between $150 and $300 per day based on their size. And ones that do not reach the emissions standards could see fines of up to $1,000 per day. In addition, owners that do not accurately report emissions could see fines of up to $5,000. 

One of the challenges in the net zero business case is that it is still early in terms of developing quantifiable metrics. There are not enough buildings or portfolios that have achieved net zero goals to be able to offer data on how the strategies impact rents, occupancies and building values.

“There is certainly a component of the market that will sell the qualitative benefits, but we will not see measurable differences until we can quantify the economics,” says Graziano. Companies that are promoting qualitative benefits without economic realization are actually harming real efforts, because investors get poor returns and are discouraged from making changes across their entire portfolio, he says. “Other market makers are watching and seeking quantification, and the fuzzy math perpetuates more inaction,” he adds.

The CRE industry is working to create some metrics and benchmarks around the business case for net zero, but there is a long way to go. Traditional data points, such as building age, building operating cost analysis, market rent and tenant demand, are all primary current proxies for ESG, but are not explicitly derived indicators of ESG value, notes Graziano. One example of explicit indicators would be Platinum and Gold LEED buildings and their relationship to tenant demand and higher rents achieved in the market. For instance, mandates from GSA and others that a certain percentage of building leases must be for Platinum or Gold LEED buildings drives tenants to a limited stock of buildings. Theoretically, those buildings are then in higher demand and can command higher rents, he adds. 

 Cushman & Wakefield released a new study that compared rents at LEED-certified buildings delivered between 2010 and 2020 and compared them to non-certified buildings. The study found that, since 2015, rents for LEED-certified buildings averaged $4.13 or 11.1 percent higher rent than non-LEED-certified buildings.

“It is not inexpensive to achieve net zero overnight. Over time you can certainly do it in a more measured way. But the value and ROI in decarbonizing and reaching net zero is about more than increased rents and decreased operating expenses,” says Schantz. “There are a lot of different qualitative pieces, and more and more owners are seeing that.” And those qualitative factors, such as attracting and retaining tenants, future-proofing buildings and brand reputation are big drivers in the market these days, she adds.

A Hydrogen-Powered Boat Is Sailing The World. If Not In Cars, Do Boats Make Sense?

Written By: Brad Templeton
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The Energy Observer, a French solar/hydrogen/wind boat, visits San Francisco
 
BRAD TEMPLETON

Recently the French originated demonstration boat the Energy Observer stopped for a visit to San Francisco, on its way around the world, having come from the Galapagos and on its way to Hawai`i. The boat uses solar power, hydrogen and battery energy storage and a small amount of high-tech wind.

On board are 200 square meters of solar panels, 1500kg of batteries, tanks for 63kg of hydrogen (good for 1MWH of electricity and another 1MWH of heat) along with electric motors, solid computer-controlled “ocean wing” sails and a desalinator and hydrogen generator to refuel the hydrogen tanks. It travels only 5mph without wind, though can do more — and even regenerate electricity — when the winds get strong enough.

Using renewable wind power to move ships is of course a very ancient technique, and it’s well understood and efficient. Sailing ships have issues when becalmed, and in sailing in narrow channels, but otherwise it’s not clear this ship is a better idea than a sailboat with a small motor system. It is more to demonstrate and play with technologies, and the operators are reluctant to give concrete numbers on costs. That’s unfortunate because any story about energy is vastly reduced in meaning without examination of the economics — even if it’s the future promised economics rather than today’s. Indeed, inattention to economics has led to some really stupid renewable energy projects and even some very stupid laws. Nonetheless, the ship is a cool project, even if it doesn’t deliver information as meaningful as it should.

Hydrogen is a controversial energy storage fuel. It’s not an energy source, but rather a competitor for things like lithium batteries. Many had high hopes for it in cars, but for now it has lost the battle to batteries. Toyota sells the Mirai hydrogen vehicle in very small numbers, but with only a few filling stations available, and the hydrogen coming from fossil fuels, it’s not clear why anybody buys one. Hydrogen’s advantages such as weight and refuel time (when there aren’t any stations) aren’t very powerful in a car compared to its disadvantages — higher cost for fuel and fuel cells, offering less than 50% efficiency, having no refueling infrastructure, non-green sourcing, bulky tanks and much more. Some of those can be fixed, but others are difficult.

This has left us to investigate hydrogen in other areas — large vehicles like trucks and buses, aircraft (where weight is hugely important) and now, ships. There is also research on grid storage, though the low efficiency of conversion is a sticking point. The greatest promise is in aircraft. Hydrogen is actually the best fuel around in terms of energy per kg, but at present storing a kg of hydrogen requires 5 to 12kg of tank, which eliminates a lot of that — but even at that poor ratio it still wins in aircraft.

Hydrogen tanks in hulls use 350 atmospheres of pressure.
 
BRAD TEMPLETON

In a ship, the Energy Observer crew believe that batteries would weigh more than 10 tons. While they don’t say the weight of their H2 system, it probably is more in the range of a ton. Weight is not quite as crucial for ships but that much extra weight comes at a cost. In addition, the EO reduces the waste of fuel cells by making use of the excess heat to provide heat on the ship. Normally the total cycle of hydrogen as storage is less than 50% efficient, which is not good when batteries can deliver 90% or more. Heat though, is certainly needed for a passenger vessel at sea. A cargo vessel might not need so much.

The ship uses up the H2 in operation when there is no wind. The H2 recharges the batteries and provides heat, then the batteries run all systems. With enough wind, the solar panels can instead recharge the batteries and make new H2 using desalinated water and electrolysis. Their goal is to not use any net H2 on a typical day, but if winds and sun are poor, they will use it up, but plan their missions to leave with enough H2 to handle such situations. While docked, the panels and shore power build up the H2, or in theory, they might some day find H2 refilling at a “hydrogen marina.” When they left for Hawai`i from San Francisco, they only filled the H2 tank partially because they did not need it all the way full.

Every surface is covered with solar panels. The wing/sails are down, a computer driven motor handles them
 
BRAD TEMPLETON
 

The ship used to be a racing catamaran, but instead of sails it has two “ocean wing” fixed-shape sails. These solid wings can generate as much thrust as cloth sails twice their size. They are small, to not block the sun, but they are also computer controlled, allowing them to be used without much crew effort or requiring any skill. When the wind is really strong, the propellers and motors can spin in reverse to generate electricity to build up more H2. Full sized sails would do better though, and could be put up at night with no risk of blocking the sun. They seem to have shied away from traditional sail and wind power in spite of their well established value. Before they had the ocean wings, they tried installing wind turbines, which failed for obvious reasons.

Life on board is spartan. The catamaran’s cabin is small for a crew of 8. Also on board is a small science sub-crew taking the opportunity to study the oceans and wildlife on such an unusual voyage.

A ship has the space for H2 tanks and the ability to generate it, so this can make sense. I don’t think a future vessel would look like the Energy Observer, but hybrids of electric drive and traditional sail, adding what solar power can be had make sense. Every inch of the deck is solar panels, and there are even panels to get the sunlight reflecting off the water. As panels get cheap this makes sense, though you don’t want to forgo useful sails because of the shade they will cast if the wind will give you more than the sun.

It’s possible to foresee solar/wind/electric recreational boats. Operating recreational boats is highly polluting and expensive. Sailboats are clean and cheap but a lot of work and under many limitations. A hybrid, using electric power, could be an answer there, as well as an answer for the big cargo ships.

What next for Hydrogen?

Hydrogen may not power cars, but it has some chance at other vehicles that want to avoid burning fossil fuel:

  • Aircraft care immensely about weight. Batteries today can give only modest range to electric aircraft. It’s either H2 or synthetic/biofuel hybrid power trains there.
  • One special type of aircraft is quite interesting, the airship. While people have been scared of H2 there since the Hindenberg, it’s important to realize that H2 can be more than a lift gas, it can be the power fuel. It’s the only fuel that has negative weight, and you don’t need to pressurize it with big heavy tanks in an airship.
  • Trucks are looking at H2 because the battery weight for a truck takes up a large part of their 40 ton limit, and trucks have a harder time stopping for long enough to charge it. The 50% energy loss is trouble, but the weight limit is a legal requirement.
  • Grid storage with over 50% loss is a serious problem. But with H2, if you want more capacity, you just need more tanks. Doubling the tanks doesn’t double the cost, but doubling batteries does double the cost.

Other types of energy storage are not standing still, though. There are experiments with newer batteries, flywheels, aluminum, synthetic hydrocarbon fuels and more underway. It’s a space ripe for change.

Why a sustainable blue recovery is needed

By Mukhisa Kituyi, UNCTAD Secretary-General, Dona Bertarelli, UNCTAD Special Adviser for the Blue Economy
View the original article here

A woman repairs fishing nets in Thailand / ©tong2530

The world’s seventh largest economy based on GDP doesn’t belong to a single country, and isn’t even on land, yet it’s valued at around $3 trillion annually, and supports the livelihoods of more than 3 billion people.

It’s the ocean.

Worryingly, the ocean and the blue economy it supports are not only in severe decline, the current mode of operating is no longer sustainable.

We all rely on the ocean, which covers two-thirds of our planet, to regulate our climate, provide us with food, medicine, energy and even the very air we breathe. Put simply, without a healthy ocean, there is no life on Earth.

But the natural assets that the blue economy depends on are fast eroding under the pressure of human activities.

For example, 34% of all fish stocks are exploited at unsustainable biological levels or overexploited, while 60% are maximally sustainably fished or managed.

This means that we have reached a celling, as 94% of all wild stocks are already being fully utilized, with about one-third exploited in an unsustainable manner.

Further, the ocean is becoming acidic due to increasing levels of carbon dioxide being absorbed by it. Rising water temperatures have killed up to half of the world’s coral reefs, and by 2050 there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean.

Most of the more than 3 billion people who rely on the ocean for their livelihoods live in developing countries. About 90% of all fishers live in these countries too.

Also, 80% of the world’s goods are transported via maritime routes. And between 30% and 50% of the GDP of most small island developing states (SIDS) depends on ocean-based tourism.

Ocean health equals human health and wealth

We are at a crossroads in history. We can’t afford to continue mismanaging this important global resource whose health is intimately tied to ours. Investing in biodiversity, conservation and sustainable practices is key for a peaceful and prosperous future.

A regenerative and equitable blue economy that is sustainable must be a vital part of the world’s social and economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. It will help cushion us against future global crises by enhancing the resilience of ecosystems and thus livelihoods.

Thankfully, implementing a blue economic approach is possible under the guidance of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

UNCTAD has identified the pillars of such an approach: economic growth, conservation and sustainable use of the ocean, inclusive social development, science and innovation, as well as sound ocean governance.

Towards a deep blue vision

We envision a blue economy that derives value from the ocean, seas and coastal areas, while protecting the health of the ocean ecosystem and enabling its sustainable use.

We need to diversify towards economic activities that will have a lower impact on ecosystems, while sustaining livelihoods and stimulating job creation.

New areas of opportunity include marine bioprospecting, ocean science, sustainable aquaculture, renewable energy, low-carbon shipping, blue finance as well as ecotourism and blue carbon.

The total “asset” base of the ocean is estimated at $24 trillion, excluding intangible assets such as the ocean’s role in climate regulation, the production of oxygen, temperature stabilization of our planet, or the spiritual and cultural services the ocean provides.

Instead of focusing only on the returns from harvesting and extracting the ocean’s resources, we need to realize the monetary value of conserving marine life.

For example, economists from the International Monetary Fund estimate that a great whale is worth $2 million alive, but just $80,000 once dead, as it absorbs the equivalent in carbon dioxide of 30,000 trees each year.

All hands on deck

Governments around the world can set a new course. We know the overwhelming cost benefit of nature-based solutions. It’s possible to combine production from the ocean while protecting its economic, social and environmental value for the future.

Coastal countries must prioritize ocean, marine and coastal resources and ecosystems in their strategies for trade, the environment and climate change as well as in their actions to promote sustainable development.

Countries such as the Seychelles are walking the talk. It has declared 30% of its waters protected areas, well beyond the 10% target set by SDG14, restricting activities in the protected area to balance economic needs with environmental protection.

Other nations rising to the challenge are Vanuatu, which is producing and consuming renewable energy from wind turbines and coconut oil, as well as Fiji, which banned single-use plastic this year to stem the pollution of its waters.

Science needs to drive these efforts and inform policymaking and regulations. The UN Decade of Ocean Science, which starts next year, will be an opportunity to maximise the benefits of effective science-based management of our ocean space and resources.

Regulation is key

Regulation is of prime importance for food security and to ensure harvesting and trade in marine resources is transparent, traceable, certified, sustainable and safe, to meet consumers’ growing need for sustainably sourced products and services.

Sustainable biodiversity-based value chains, products and services in ocean-based sectors should adhere to internationally agreed criteria of sustainability, such as the blue BioTrade principles.

As part of this effort, UNCTAD and the UN Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea are launching the first-ever oceans economy and trade strategy in Costa Rica.

In addition, a pilot blue BioTrade project to make the queen conch value chain more sustainable in the eastern Caribbean region is on the cards.

Ending harmful fisheries subsidies

Harmful fisheries subsidies must end, and governments need to shift the allocation of public funds to fish stock management and ecosystem restoration, instead of fuelling overcapacity, overexploitation, inequalities, human and wildlife trafficking.

UNCTAD has been supporting negotiations on fish subsidies at the World Trade Organisation by providing a safe platform for dialogue and targeted research on key options and alternatives for a multilateral outcome.

Binding measures to be taken by governments include finalizing negotiations of the High Seas Treaty to enable the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

Decarbonizing shipping

International shipping and coastal transport can reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by investing in low-carbon technologies and operations, reducing pollution and promoting greater digitalization for better monitoring, energy efficiency and lower emissions.

New technologies and satellite data can combine data sources that are enabling unprecedented insights into the ocean, in terms of mapping, surveillance and enforcement.

Such transparency is uncovering more than illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. We now have insights into the economics of fishing on the high seas, the relationship between IUU fishing and bonded labour and where to best establish marine reserves, and the capacity to provide data for enforcement.

Deploying blue finance and marine-based research

Innovative financial instruments such as blue bonds and blended financing are needed to fund the shift towards more sustainable ocean sectors. For instance, in 2019, Morgan Stanley, working with the World Bank, sold $10 million worth of blue bonds with of the aim solving the challenge of plastic waste pollution in oceans.

Investment in applied marine-based research, development and knowledge sharing should also be increased. To this end, UNCTAD has established regional centers of excellence with partner institutions in Vietnam and Mauritius, enabling the sharing of experiences, technical knowledge and fisheries’ inputs. 

SIDS and coastal communities are vital to preserving the ocean and will need global support to conserve and develop a blue economy that benefits not only local populations but humanity as a whole.

Longer-term, countries around the world need to expand ocean and sustainable blue economy literacy, especially among vulnerable populations, and increase understanding of gender considerations.

We need more individual and collective action if we are to build a sustainable blue economy that leads to prosperity for all.

Can the US Catch Up in the Green Hydrogen Economy?

A new report highlights the massive potential to decarbonize transport, industry and power grids — and the massive investments needed to get there.

By: JEFF ST. JOHN
View the original article here

Green hydrogen industry heavyweights line up behind boosting U.S. investment.

The U.S. needs a massive green hydrogen industry to decarbonize its electricity, transportation and industrial sectors, and major investments and policy changes today to enable it to grow to its full potential in the decades to come. 

So says a new report sponsored by major oil companies, automakers, hydrogen producers and fuel cell manufacturers pushing U.S. policymakers to follow the lead of the European Union in making a major commitment to building the infrastructure to grow its green hydrogen capacity. 

The Roadmap to a U.S. Hydrogen Economy report forecasts that hydrogen from low-carbon sources could supply roughly 14 percent of the country’s energy needs by 2050, including hard-to-electrify sectors now dependent on natural gas such as high-heat industrial processes and manufacturing fertilizer.

Hydrogen to power fuel cells will also augment battery-powered vehicles in decarbonizing the transportation sector, particularly for vehicles requiring long ranges and fast refueling times such as long-haul trucks, said Jack Brouwer, a professor at the University of California at Irvine and associate director of the National Fuel Cell Research Center, in a Monday webinar introducing the report.

Meanwhile, wind, solar and nuclear power that might otherwise be forced to curtail generation when the power grid doesn’t need it could be used to electrolyze water to generate hydrogen that can be stored to power natural-gas-fired turbines needed for grid reliability or on-site fuel cells to maintain continuous power at data centers, hospitals and other critical sites, he said. 

The report, prepared by consultancy firm McKinsey, is “agnostic” as to how this future hydrogen supply is generated, “as long as it’s low-carbon,” Brouwer said. Beyond electrolysis via zero-carbon electricity, that could include steam reforming of natural gas — the way most of today’s hydrogen supply is made — using carbon capture and storage to reduce its greenhouse gas impact, or employing less fully developed methods such as waste gasification, he said. 

The U.S. already generates about 11.4 million metric tons of hydrogen per year, with an estimated value of about $17.6 billion. But reaching the report’s targets could drive about $140 billion per year in revenue and support 700,000 jobs by 2030, and about $750 billion per year in revenue and a cumulative 3.4 million jobs by 2050, it states. 

The U.S. lags behind China, Japan and the European Union in infrastructure and research investments to reach this potential. Government and industry investment in hydrogen as an energy carrier adds up to $2 billion per year in Asia and the European Union, the report finds, while U.S. Department of Energy funding for hydrogen and fuel cells has ranged from approximately $100 million to $280 million per year over the last decade. 

A roadmap for green hydrogen expansion 

The report doesn’t set specific dollar targets for U.S. investment. But it highlights the need for capital to build the hydrogen production and transport infrastructure to carry it to end users, incentives to stimulate private-sector investment, codes and standards to regulate a growing supply chain, and research into still-nascent technologies. 

It also lays out a phased approach for building on existing hydrogen use cases to expand to new ones. Experience with the roughly 25,000 fuel cell-powered forklifts in use in the U.S. will enable expansion to larger classes of vehicles, for example, and fuel cells being used for on-site power at data centers can serve as models for integrating hydrogen into large-scale generation. 

Major challenges lie ahead of this growth, Brouwer said. To reach the report’s goals, the number of fuel cell vehicles will have to grow from today’s roughly 2,500 to nearly 1.2 million by 2030, and the number of fueling stations will have to expand from about 100 today to more than 4,300. And advances are needed to blend existing pipelines will be needed to expand its use. 

But utilities across the country are relying on these kinds of advances to allow them to meet goals of zero carbon by 2050. One example is Gulf Coast utility Entergy’s work with Mitsubishi Power to blend hydrogen into its gas mix at its power plants and plans to convert an underground gas storage facility to hold hydrogen as part of its long-term decarbonization goals. 

Former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said at Wood Mackenzie’s Power & Renewables conference last week that “federal and state incentives to build a few major regional hubs for hydrogen” will be a critical early step for proving the fuel’s cost-effectiveness as a decarbonization strategy. “We think we should not be sitting here thinking of hydrogen as something for the 2030s and 2040s — it is, but let’s also make it something for the 2020s,” Moniz said. 

U.S. green hydrogen activity in the works

Andy Marsh, CEO of report sponsor Plug Power, noted Monday that the company’s hydrogen fuel cell-powered forklifts and distribution center vehicles used by customers like Amazon, Walmart, Home Depot and Lowe’s are using about 27 million tons of hydrogen per day, supplied by its more than 100 fueling stations across the country. It’s expanding into heavy-duty vehicles to serve ports in the U.S. and Europe, and into producing stationary fuel cells for data centers and distribution hubs. 

Last week Plug Power signed a deal with Brookfield Renewable Partners to supply 100 percent renewable power for what Marsh described as a “gigafactory” it plans to build in an as-yet-undisclosed location. The factory will be capable of producing up to 60,000 fuel cells and about 500 megawatts of green hydrogen electrolyzers per year, he said. 

Toyota, one of the first major automakers to commit to fuel cell vehicles with its Mirai sedan, is also planning to expand production of hydrogen-powered semitrucks now being tested at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Senior Engineer Jackie Birdsall said. Toyota sees the growth of light-duty fuel cell vehicle markets driving cost reductions through economies of scale, along with heavy-duty fuel cell vehicles increasing demand for hydrogen fuel production and distribution. 

Dutch oil giant Shell, which is planning a gigawatt-scale, wind-power-driven hydrogen cluster in the Netherlands, is also building hydrogen fueling stations in Los Angeles to serve these ports’ fuel cell vehicle’s needs, said Wayne Leighty, the company’s hydrogen fuel business development manager. Shell is also investing heavily in EV charging businesses centered on battery-powered vehicles, but “hydrogen fuel cells and electric vehicles are quite complementary” for meeting different needs, rather than being mutually exclusive options for zero-carbon transportation, he said. 

French industrial gas manufacturing giant Air Liquide is investing $150 million into a renewable liquid hydrogen generation plant in Nevada set to generate 30 tons per day, or enough to supply 40,000 fuel cell vehicles, when it opens in 2022, said Karine Boissy-Rousseau, president of the company’s North American hydrogen energy and mobility business. It’s also investing about $40 million to renovate a hydrogen facility in Quebec, Canada to double its capacity to convert renewable hydropower and wind power to green hydrogen to 20 megawatts by year’s end, she added. 

COVID-19: The Wake-Up Call The Energy Sector Needed

By: Jemma Green
View the original article here

Perhaps Henry David Thoreau was onto something when he set out solo for a cabin in the woods with the aim of becoming completely self-sustainable – for one, he wouldn’t really need to stress about a contagious pandemic. 

Thoreau’s experience would later shape the 19th century literary classic Walden; or, Life in the Woods, detailing how he was able to rely solely on himself, including growing his own food and sourcing firewood for heat and light at night. 

Whether he knew it or not Thoreau was excelling at social distancing and we could all take a leaf out of his book. 

Because, while most of us have got the idea of self-isolation down pat, I bet few are likely to pass the self-sufficiency test.

You only have to look at recent purchasing trends to see some of the panic stemming from a lack of self-sufficiency to see this ‘test’ in action. 

First it was the toilet paper and tinned food, before spreading to plants, with a nursery’s months-worth of vegetables and seedlings stock sold over one weekend. 

Next up: renewable energy infrastructure, as demonstrated by one solar retailer experiencing a 41 percent jump in PV sales and a 400 percent increase in battery enquiries over the past two weeks. 

But where were these eco warriors, cultivating their own veggie patches and living ‘off-grid’ before the apocalyptic hysteria hit? 

If history is any proof, crises are often the perfect kindling for igniting change, especially when standards of living are threatened. 

And the COVID-19 crisis has certainly given the energy world a wake-up call when it comes to sustainability.  

Mother nature gets a well deserved break 

Amid coronavirus-induced lockdowns, shutdowns and working from home, air pollution has significantly dropped worldwide.

In New York, carbon monoxide levels, largely produced from cars, have fallen by nearly 50 percent compared with the same time last year. 

Greenhouse gas emissions in China have also plummeted with NASA releasing images where you can see the country’s reduction in nitrogen dioxide from space. 

Nitrogen dioxide emissions over China – Copyright NASA Earth Observatory by Joshua Stevens, using modified Copernicus Sentinel 5P data processed by the European Space Agency  – NASA

According to one analysis, the slowdown of economic activity in China led to an estimated 25 percent reduction in carbon emissions in just four weeks. 

The restriction on air travel, or any travel at all, has also clearly played a role in reducing pollutants.

And whether you choose to believe the stories of wildlife returning to cities, like dolphins and swans returning to Venice canals, coronavirus has certainly given mother nature a well-deserved moment of respite. 

However, this has been at the expense of economic development, of jobs and livelihoods – and it’s certainly not going to be long-term. 

Air pollutants will likely jump once day-to-day normalities resume. 

However, if we’re smart about it, we can use this period to re-evaluate our energy systems to help flatten the emissions curve and keep our air clean.

Energy systems under pressure 

Aside from the closure of factories and reduction in fuel-consuming transport, we can’t forget that data centers and server-farms are also huge energy-intensive industries. 

Collectively, these spaces represent approximately two percent of the United State’s total electricity use. 

In the UK, there’s been reports of home-working intensifying pressure on the electricity network, instead of being in the office where lighting, heating and cooling are shared. 

Now everyone’s either working from home, or just at home, internet use and streaming is peaking. 

A study by SaveOnEnergy estimated energy generated from the 80 million views on Netflix’s NFLX thriller Birdbox was equal to the equivalent of driving more than 146 million miles and emitting just over 66 million kilograms of CO2 – what it takes to drive from London to Istanbul and back 38,879 times. 

Beyond the environmental impact, coronavirus has brought more attention to the question of whether our current energy systems and frameworks can actually keep up with increasing demand pressures.  

Several country-appointed energy councils have met to discuss electricity demand pressures related to COVID-19, with renewable energy a popular topic. 

In a meeting between Australia’s federal, state and territory energy ministers, the transition towards a genuine two-sided market was emphasized – where consumers become prosumers by contributing excess rooftop solar and battery electricity to the grid.

This would play a large role in forming a ‘day-ahead’ market, to “address concerns that managing challenges like system strength is becoming increasingly difficult with only a real-time market”. 

On top of this, the Australian Government’s Economic Response to the Coronavirus actually includes tax deduction incentives for commercial and industrial solar PV, in a bid to help alleviate financial pressure through reduced electricity bills. 

Digital transformation is underway across the energy sector, with significant advancements in renewable energy technologies and the ways in which energy is distributed. 

For any real change to occur, you need people to switch perspectives.

Powering new mindsets

Tough times spark innovation. Now is as good a time as any to test new energy systems and processes, and it starts with a shift in thinking. 

Energy networks, retailers and operators have delivered services in much the same way for a century – driven by fossil-fuels. 

New technology is making it easier, more effective and affordable to use renewable energy, and the costs associated with installing those technologies, such as solar and batteries are decreasing.

And most industry players recognise the need to change and evolve in order to remain relevant, or are at least are starting to, with a little nudge from COVID-19. 

Self-generating renewable energy infrastructure gives people the power to become self-sufficient for their electricity needs, with some even going ‘off-grid’ altogether. 

National Energy Market retailer Powerclub is one company already trialling new technology to help alleviate demand pressure on the grid via a Virtual Power Plant (VPP) in South Australia and is currently calling for more households to join. 

The VPP enables Powerclub households with batteries to sell their stored, excess solar back to the grid during peak demand periods and price hikes, via peer-to-peer energy trading technology. 

There is a huge benefit to the broader community in that the VPP gives those who may not be able to afford solar panels, or those who are renting, the opportunity to access clean energy. 

As great as it is to think of only the environmental benefit that comes with using clean energy, a monetary incentive certainly makes the proposition more appealing. 

Not only does a VPP provide renewable energy infrastructure owners with a passive income, it can also provide an incentive for others to install solar panels – knowing they’ll be able to pay back their investment faster. 

Pair a VPP with home grown vegetables and you’re a little closer to achieving Thoreau’s vision for self-sufficiency. 

Where to from here? 

At the end of the day, it shouldn’t take a pandemic for people to reconsider their impact on the environment – but it has. 

We’re now being given a chance to press reset on many areas of our lives and reconsider what it takes and what choices to make in order to lead a more sustainable lifestyle. 

Energy regulators are on the right track with numerous initiatives and policy changes currently underway.

But you could make a change right now – how we return to normal life post COVID-19 could lay the foundations for a cleaner and more resilient energy future.

Why does that matter? Well, as Thoreau said; “What is the use of a house if you don’t have a decent planet to put it on?”