Navigant Research Blog

Back to the Land, in the City

— December 23, 2014

Urban farming may sound like an oxymoron, but more and more cities are looking at the role of urban food production to reduce the embedded carbon cost of transporting food long distances (food-miles), to improve food education, and to regenerate run-down city areas.

In many cities, of course, there has never been a clear line between the city and country.  A new study, for example, indicates the degree to which urban farming has a significant role in city economies.  According to the report from the International Water Management Institute (IWWI), around 69 million hectares (around 6% of the world’s cropland) are being cultivated within cities.  Furthermore, 456 million hectares (1.1 billion acres), an area roughly the size of the European Union, is under cultivation in close proximity to urban environments.

Urban farming is widely practiced across the world: 87% of cities greater than 50,000 have some irrigated farming and 98% having some rain-fed cropland.  The report suggests that there is significant potential for the local sourcing of food for the growing cities of the developing world, but it also highlights the issues this presents in terms of water and wastewater management.  In particular, a lack of water treatment facilities means that there are significant dangers to human health from cultivation that uses unclean water.

Scaling Up

In Accra, for example, 10% of the city’s wastewater may be used for urban farms without adequate treatment.  Another study has estimated that 85% of cities discharge their wastewater without appropriate treatment.  Strategies to support and expand local food provision for growing cities must, therefore, be closely aligned with improvements to water distribution and water treatment systems. Developing cities need to find ways to integrate existing urban farming sites with their water management and land use policies if they are to retain the benefits of local production.

In the developed cities of North America and other parts of the world, urban farming has been recognized since the 1970s as an important tool to help community regeneration programs in areas like the Bronx in New York.  Now cities are looking to technology to make local production viable at a commercial scale.

To Feed the Center

For example, Lufa Farms is running two rooftop gardens in Montreal using hydroponic technology, which provides nutrients to plants through an integrated water system rather than soil.  They have also been reassessing the sales and distribution issues that are equally important to make urban farming commercially successful.  Other technologies to enable large-scale urban food production include aquaponics, which integrates fish and plant farming, as practiced by Urban Organics in St. Paul, Minnesota. Urban Organics is located in a former brewery and is part of a broader, city-supported urban regeneration program.  In Europe, LokDepot in Basel, Switzerland is the first commercial aquaponics farm.

Any true measure of a city’s total energy consumption, its environmental footprint, or its economic resilience needs to consider the relationship between the urban center and the resources on which it relies.  Food production is one of the most important of those resources.   In different ways the community gardens and high-tech vertical farms of North American and European cities and the farming enclaves of Accra and other cities in Africa and Asia all show how cities need to think more locally about food production.  As droughts and expanding urban populations put pressure on water supplies and food costs, an intelligent approach to food production will become a critical issue for many communities.

 

South Korea Draws an Ambitious Roadmap for Smart Grids and Smart Cities

— November 12, 2014

South Korea has ambitions to be a world leader in smart grid technology.  The smart grid test bed on Jeju Island has been the proving ground for the technologies, partnerships, and business models required to achieve this goal.  Led by Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), South Korea’s national power company, the Jeju Island demonstration project involved a wide range of South Korean and international partners.  The project ran from December 2009 until May 2013, had a total budget of around $240 million, and included two substations, four distribution lines, and 6,000 households.  The sub-projects included power grid upgrades, demand response, electric vehicles (EVs), renewable power integration, and new energy market models.

In this regard, Jeju Island mirrors many other smart grid pilots around the world looking at the integration of multiple technologies and new business models, particularly island community smart grid projects such those in Hawaii and Bornholm.

From Islands to Cities

South Korea is different in that the government has now laid out plans to move beyond its initial demonstration project into a wider series of trials and eventually a national rollout of smart grid technologies.  The next phase will involve a series of eight smart grid/smart community projects, to be run between 2015 and 2017.  More impressively, KEPCO has laid out plans to extend these projects into a series of municipal-scale smart grids by 2020.  The final stage of this grand scheme will see smart grid technologies deployed across the whole country by 2030.

The total budget for the pilot projects is $876 million, around $400 million of which will come from central and local governments and the rest from the private sector.  KEPCO alone is investing $155 million.  The government expects the private sector to take the lead in further development from 2018 onward.  As well as smart meters, an EV charging infrastructure, and energy storage, KEPCO is piloting a smart grid station that will provide sophisticated energy management and grid integration for commercial buildings, beginning with up to 220 KEPCO buildings.  It sees these smart grid stations as building blocks for community energy management systems and city-scale energy management.

Big City Vision

These are ambitious plans, and some of the South Korean experts I spoke with at Korea Smart Grid Week were skeptical about the ability of the government, KEPCO, and other stakeholders to meet the proposed timescales.  However, even if those timescales prove challenging, the vision and the roadmap are impressive.  I don’t know of any other country that has laid out a plan of this magnitude that would see smart grid technologies deployed across all of its major cities by 2020.  Such an achievement really would mark South Korea out as a world leader in both smart grid and smart city infrastructure.

 

Cities Are Making the Energy Cloud a Reality

— October 12, 2014

The possibilities for procuring and distributing clean, low-cost electricity offer challenges to cities and utilities – but also opportunities to forge new relationships and lay the foundations for cities that are clean and efficient in their energy use.

I’ve written previously about the close relationship between smart cities and smart grids.  Early projects have largely been driven by utility programs for the piloting and demonstration of smart grid technologies and to gather intelligence on consumer and business responses to energy management programs.

The challenge is to integrate the lessons learned from these projects into broader smart city programs.  Cities have played a role in these pilots but have largely been supporters of utility-driven technology programs.  This is changing as cities develop more extensive energy management strategies of their own.  Boston, for example, is working closely with its local utilities (National Grid and NSTAR) to reduce its $50 million-plus energy costs and meet the goal set in 2007 to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 25% by 2020 and 80% by 2050.   The city is targeting energy consumption across residential and commercial properties.  Other initiatives include the introduction of an energy management system for Boston’s public buildings and the deployment of LED street lighting.

New Collaborations

Minneapolis is going further.  The city is using the renegotiation of its franchise relationship with its utilities (which governs their access and use of city resources such as roadways and buildings) to establish a new form of collaboration that it believes can be a model for the rest of the United States.  The proposed Clean Energy Partnership between Minneapolis and its electricity and gas suppliers, Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy, will create a new body focused on helping the city meets its climate action goals of reducing GHG emissions 15% by 2015 and 30% by 2025 based on a 2006 baseline.

The increasing focus of city leaders on energy efficiency, reduced GHG emissions, and the development of a more resilient infrastructure requires close partnership with utilities.   Cities like Boston and Minneapolis are pushing their utilities to help them meet their commitments, but the cities themselves are also taking a more active role.  The Greater London Authority (GLA), for example, has become the first local government authority in the United Kingdom to be licensed as a “junior” energy supplier.  This enables London to buy power from small generators and sell it to other public bodies at an attractive rate.   The city expects to be buying and selling power by early 2015, and it hopes to reduce energy costs for London while also boosting the local renewable energy industry.

A Vision Emerges

The emerging energy vision for smart cities integrates large- and small-scale energy initiatives: from improvements in national infrastructure through citywide increases in efficiency to expanded local energy generation.  Cities will thus become clusters of smart energy communities that can exploit the benefits of the new energy systems, such as distributed generation, dynamic load management, and active market participation.

This synergy presents an excellent example of the opportunities and challenges presented to utilities by the emergence of the energy cloud.  Utilities need to see cities as more than demonstration sites for technology.  Cities are ideal partners for developing the new relationships and the new services core to that energy cloud vision.

These issues are explored further in a new Navigant Research white paper, Smart Cities and the Energy Cloud.  I will also be discussing these developments in my presentation on Smart Cities at Korea Smart Grid Week in October and at European Utility Week in November.

 

Results In for San Francisco’s Parking Experiment

— October 1, 2014

Navigant Research’s Smart Parking Systems report examines technologies and policies that have the potential to reduce both congestion and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in cities.  San Francisco has been one of the cities at the forefront of parking innovation with its SFpark project.  The city’s assessment of the project, recently released, has significant lessons for cities considering similar solutions.

SFpark was an extensive smart parking trial run by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) and largely funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which provided 80% ($19.8 million) of the program’s total cost of $24.8 million.  The project encompassed approximately 6,000 metered on-street parking spaces (about one-quarter of the city’s total supply) and 12,250 parking spaces in 14 city operated garages (75% of the spaces managed by SFMTA).  Around 11,700 parking sensors were deployed, along with 300 repeaters and gateways.  The key strategic initiatives in SFpark included:

  • Real-time parking availability information to make it easier to find a parking space
  • Demand-responsive pricing to create parking availability
  • Longer time limits at parking meters to make parking more convenient
  • Meters that make it easy to pay by credit card and other forms of payment
  • Garage facility upgrades to make garages more convenient

How It Worked in Practice

According to the SFpark Pilot Project Evaluation, the amount of time that the target parking occupancy (60% to 80%) was achieved increased by 31% in pilot areas, compared to a 6% increase in control areas.  In so-called high payment (HP) compliance pilot areas (where people tend to pay the meter most of the time), achievement of the 60% to 80% target occupancy rate nearly doubled.

The amount of time that blocks were too full to find parking decreased 16% in pilot areas, while increasing 51% in control areas.  In HP zones, there was a 45% decrease.

During the trial, SFpark decreased rates on half of all blocks and increased rates on the other half, with average meter rates falling 4% from $2.69 an hour to $2.58 an hour during the pilot.  At garages, the average hourly rate fell from $3.45 to $3.03.

Meters First

SFpark maintained consistent parking availability while increasing utilization of SFpark garages.  Utilization of these facilities grew by 11%, far exceeding non-SFpark garages.

There was also an estimated reduction in GHG emissions of 30%, from 7 metric tons per day to 4.9 tons per day in the pilot areas.  Vehicle miles driven also decreased by 30% (compared to a 6% decrease in the control areas), and traffic volumes fell 8%.

Demand-responsive pricing and new technologies helped improve parking management and optimize the use of parking space, but simple tools also work.  The most basic improvement was seen from the simple deployment and enforcement of parking meters.  ”One of the clearest findings of this evaluation is that parking meters are extremely effective at managing parking demand,” the study found.  This is not so surprising.  Parking meters – like electricity and water meters – are a basic tool for making visible the cost of a shared resource.  New technologies – whether parking sensors or smart meters – enable more sophisticated and dynamic forms of metering and billing, but the basic principle of payment for use has to be accepted first.

SFpark benefited not only from federal funding, but also from the authority of SFMTA over most aspects of the city’s transportation system.  This allows SFMTA to consider parking as part of its broader mobility targets and revenue projections.  Such an approach is likely to be a critical element of getting the best not only from new parking systems, but also from other innovations in urban mobility.

 

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