Smart buildings are pivotal for carbon neutral cities

Smart buildings for carbon neutral cities

Residents in New York City, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Boston and St. Louis should better pay attention to local regulations limiting large buildings’ greenhouse gas emissions and energy usage. As reported by Smart Cities Dive, these five cities will soon start to fine building owners who fail to comply with newly enacted or updated rules.

In New York, fines will start in 2024 for commercial buildings larger than 25,000 gross square feet exceeding the GHG emission limits set by the Climate Mobilization Act. San Francisco unveiled the goal of zero GHG emissions from large buildings by 2035, while specific emission and energy consumption standards will apply in Washington D.C. for privately owned buildings larger than 50,000 square feet starting 2026.

The decarbonization of buildings is a multifaceted challenge and, despite the urgent call for climate action in cities, it seems like the gap between building performance and the decarbonization targets is widening. According to the latest report by the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction, in 2021 operational energy demand for heating, cooling, lighting and equipment in buildings increased by around 4% from 2020 and 3% from 2019.

The building sector is seeking sustainable innovation. The use of alternative materials is increasingly explored, together with the integration of energy generation systems and CO2 capture and storage technologies. Today, a growing number of large buildings features IoT-enabled Building Management Systems (BMS) to monitor and control key equipment for lighting, heating, cooling, and video surveillance, as well as occupancy levels and operational effectiveness.

Tenants, building owners, and management operators can benefit from connected sensors, algorithms, and advanced analytics to live and work in a safer and more efficient environment. Lights are automatically switched off or dimmed if nobody is around, heating and cooling are adjusted to minimize power consumption without compromising individual comfort. These Smart Buildings technologies are successful in minimizing the environmental impact and the consumption of natural resources such as energy and water.

Energy-efficient buildings also generate cost saving opportunities and are even more inclusive. Think of automated door opening, voice control devices, and fall detection systems, providing easier accessibility for disabled people.

Smart buildings are pivotal for carbon neutral cities, said the UN Environment Programme during recent COP27 Climate Summit. Let’s not forget the building sector accounts for over 34% of overall energy demand and around 37% of energy and process-related CO2 emissions.

climate adaptation

World Cities Day 2022: climate adaption for a global sustainable future

The upcoming COP27 climate summit, starting November 6th in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, does not welcome good news. Scientific evidence shows that the planet’s warming is accelerating and 2022 will rank among the 10 warmest years on record. Although countries are bending the curve of global greenhouse gas emissions downward, their efforts remain insufficient, and the world is on track for around 2.5 degrees Celsius of warming by the end of the century, well above the recommended threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

COP27 is expected to discuss and find solutions in five key action areas specifically nature, food, water, industry decarbonization, and climate adaptation. Let’s focus on the last one, climate adaptation.

About 3.3 billion people live in highly fragile climate contexts, and the most vulnerable communities – who are least responsible for climate change – are directly and massively impacted. At COP27, climate adaptation will be at the center of talks, calling for cities to play a big, decisive role.

Act Local to Go Global” is indeed the theme of World Cities Day 2022, celebrating today (October 31st) and recognizing the critical role of urban areas in achieving a global sustainable future. "We have only about 87 months, 380 weeks or 2600 days left to implement the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. The best way to do so is by ensuring our cities and communities are sustainable. Time to act is now,” said Maimunah Mohd Sharif, UN Under Secretary General and Executive Director of UN-Habitat.

“Across a range of critical goals from poverty and hunger to gender equality and education we are not seeing progress, but backsliding. The consequences are dramatic: escalating climate chaos, growing poverty, rising inequalities, and more. We must change course and we can. This year’s theme of World Cities Day highlights how: ‘Act Local to Go Global.’ The goals are global in scope, but implementation is local. And that means implementation happens largely in cities”, echoed UN Secretary General, António Guterres.

How can cities locally act for climate adaptation? The Global Commission on Adaptation suggest the implementation of early warning systems, climate-resilient infrastructure, and nature-based solutions, leveraging smart technologies to strengthen efforts and maximize results. The same Commission estimated that a global investment of $1.8 trillion globally in climate adaptation measures could generate $7.1 trillion in total net benefits by 2030.


Looking for innovative solutions to turn your city in a sustainable, climate-resilient community? PE Smart Urban Network can contribute to saving up to 80% power and related GHG emissions in streetlighting, improve parking management and solid waste collection, integrate sensors for effective environmental monitoring, disaster prevention and emergency support. Join us at Smart City Expo World Congress (Barcelona, 15-17 November 2022) to learn more and enjoy live demonstrations!

local energy communities

Local energy communities for a net zero society

In 2010-2019 average annual global greenhouse gas emissions were at their highest levels in human history, but the rate of growth has slowed. “We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make now can secure a liveable future”, said climate scientists signing latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

The scenario is gloomy, but there is increasing evidence of climate action. Cities and local governments are working hard to reduce emissions by decreasing energy consumption (think of Smart Lighting and the efforts to create compact, walkable cities), implementing low-carbon mobility systems, and enhancing reforestation. With the right policies, infrastructure, and technology in place, experts estimate lifestyles and people behaviors can be changed to achieve a 40-70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 – and these lifestyle changes will have a positive impact on health and wellbeing too.

A vital role in this energy transition may be played by local energy communities, groups of neighbor users who cooperate to satisfy their energy needs through local production sources.

Good news come from the US, where the transition to clean energy is generating environmental benefits and even good-paying jobs. In 2019, renewable energy investments reached 55 billion USD and clean energy jobs paid 25% more than the national median wage.

The U.S. Department of Energy has recently presented the first 22 local energy communities to receive targeted technical assistance and access federal government programs, including those included in the $1.3 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, to plan and invest in smart buildings, clean energy production, resilient microgrids and energy storage, carbon capture and storage systems. The selected communities include Bakersfield (California), Columbia (South Carolina), Hennepin County (Minnesota), Jackson County (Illinois), New Orleans (Louisiana), Pittsburgh - Hill District (Pennsylvania), and Questa (New Mexico) among the others.

What about Europe? According to the EU’s 2021 State of the Energy Union report, about 2 million people are participating to more than 7,700 local energy communities and contributing up to 7% of nationally installed renewable capacities. However, the context in which local energy communities operate seems to be rather complicated.

According to a recently published report by the EU-funded eNeuron project, the lack of a comprehensive regulation in the energy sector is affecting local energy communities and delaying the EU’s progress in achieving its 2050 targets.

Uncertainty about regulatory provisions is a significant barrier for investors willing to develop infrastructure assets. The landscape is further complicated by the variety of technological solutions available on both consumer and energy community level. The report considers for instance heat storage, mentioning that over 50% of the energy consumed in the EU is used for generating heat. This should be a focus application, but its current adoption is fragmented and highly ineffective.

Local energy communities have a very important role to play in the energy transition, but there is still a long way to walk before the advent of a net zero society.