Low Energy Districts
The induction of low energy districts can be difficult due to several obstacles. For a start, using local energy management systems can be highly complex due to privacy issues, insufficient economic feasibility, and a lack of standards and minutes that do not provide any turnkey solutions. Due to an increasing number of renewables, energy management has also become more complicated.
Moreover, legal aspects do also pose hurdles. For example, legal and policy frameworks for data protection and privacy are missing. And although legislation for self-consumption of electricity is more common nowadays, there is a lack of legislation for heating. In Sweden, this means the following: If someone does install more than 255 kW PV/ property, he/she is considered as a producer and needs to start up an energy company and pay taxes, even if he/she is using the energy in his/her own organisation.
Moreover, even though data is available, it is difficult to access. Heritage and special protection of buildings can also get in the way of low energy districts. re might also be an abundance of regulations and authorized administrations in relation to the planning of building renovations. It can also be challenging to get a concordant agreement on energy provision which is mandatory if a house has different owners. Furthermore, it is impossible to use public spaces for private facilities, such as biomass boilers, geothermal installations, and thermal exchangers.
Additionally, the energy regulations for buildings are on a building level. This is a barrier if one wants to look at the energy system for a community. This is especially complex for energy balance based on sharing with other buildings. From an economic point of view, the low energy price and the lack of business models for lower energy districts pose even more risks. Additionally, a business model requires mass production and uptake to make this work in the long run. Lately, good communication with electrical companies to access the data from smart meters needs to be established.
There are various suggestions on how to deal with these challenges. First, forecasting techniques for energy demand, production and storage capacity are nowadays critical to assure the feasibility and availability of energy in the grid. The Virtual Power Plant (VPP) can be used for community energy management and increasing the interoperability between systems. Data in turn should be aggregated so that the ownership and information of the dwellings remain anonymous.
Legally, the local political leadership can drive change. Therefore, persons in charge should engage them in a systematic way.
Additionally, energy regulations that allow to look at the energy system for a community, using excess heat from nearby building (energy supply regulations on a community level) should be introduced. From an economic perspective, standards to drive change and strengthen business cases and more stable subsidies should be used.
Furthermore, one should change current business models in the sense that they should not only be based on profit but also on avoiding future costs and keeping an eye on other indicators like health. There is also a need for more bottom-up communication and co-creation as well as for more resources to be invested in communication/participation to assure long-term engagement and to include more participatory processes right from the start of the project. From this moment on, there should also be good communication with grid operators.
Finally, other types of indicators/variables (not only related to energy savings, which in some cases are related with long payback periods) can be developed.
Plan for Implementation
There are many enablers for the induction of low energy districts. It is recommended to engage with political leaders in a systematic way and to give residents the power to control their own systems. Again, the Virtual Power Plant (VPP) can be used for energy community management, increasing the interoperability between systems.
Furthermore, new tools for cities to implement best practises more easily which also allows collaboration and transparency with citizens and partners from the beginning (to avoid problems later in the development) should be used. It is also advisable to consider the renovations of buildings individually while dealing with the energy system at community level. For example if you want to use excess heat from sewage water, it is more efficient to do this with several buildings.
Or another example in protected buildings, it is not possible to install PV but it would be possible to use PV from nearby buildings. Under consideration of economic aspects, it is advisable to introduce a CO2 tax and an Electricity certificate system which gives extra costs if one uses fossil fuels and incentives if one produces renewable electricity.
Moreover, communication, co-creation and engagement aspects as well as knowledge transfer (through the presentation of concrete results between Lighthouse and Follower Cities) are real door openers. If the commission is closely working with the cities, it will also be easier for them to understand their needs. Residents’ associations and other groups in turn can share the benefits that would accrue from low carbon systems. Persons in charge should also raise awareness among the community and should demonstrate the importance of refurbishment. Residents need to be aware of the benefits, not only economic but also concerning quality of life (thermal comfort). Besides, stories of successful pilots/demonstrations should become public, site visits (touch + feel) can be organised, and best practices should be shared among cities.