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Explore lessons learned, best practices and challenges from various SCIS projects!

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By Jorge Núñez Ferrer (CEPS)
12 November 2017

Over the last three years, SCIS has collected information from over 130 demonstration sites to discover what projects have achieved and how they have achieved it, all in the context of their own experiences. SCIS gives an insight into these achievements, the barriers encountered and the solutions found. Just offering data on energy and emissions cannot convey the extent of the challenge and the difficulties faced.

SCIS has aimed to offer stories in a simple and seamless manner. Many lessons can be drawn from the multitude of experiences across Europe. New innovations do not face just technical challenges; those are more often than not solved, but also administrative, financial and social barriers for success. These ‘soft’ aspects can bring a project to its knees regardless of the project’s potential and technical prowess.

This blog will bring to life some stories from the experiences SCIS has gathered from different projects. SCIS has also tried to draw conclusions and make recommendations, and present them to you in publications that you may find in the Library here. 

First, administrations and their bureaucracy are cornerstones of our civilisation, ensuring order and implementing rules to allow a complex society to operate in harmony. The right measure of procedures and rules is nevertheless not a given, administrations may be slow to adapt to change, or may accumulate processes which overlap or create excessive costs to innovators.

One case that was brought to SCIS' attention and may be encountered in other cities, is the case of the municipality of Tepebasi in Turkey, part of the lighthouse project REMOURBAN. This demonstration site aims at reducing emissions in a district by 79% and energy savings of 85%. ICT technologies, a central district heating and cooling system and e-bikes and cycle lanes contribute to its achievements. This project, however, faced complex administrative barriers due to the lack of coordination of the different municipal authorities and a shifting regulatory framework. For example, decisions regarding the proposed path of the extended cycle routes overlapped due to the varying authorities involved, i.e. the local municipality, the metropolitan municipality and the Directorate of Highways under the Transport Ministry. The project promoters found themselves having to depend on the ability to raise high profile support in order to ensure communication and collaboration between these authorities.

Administrative procedures across multiple administrations are a common complaint by many projects that have faced delays as a consequence. Sometimes, the implications can, however, be very severe such as in DIRECTION project Black Monolyth in Bolzano. This project was cancelled due to administrative and legal complications, particularly in the realm of procurement law. Ironically the Italian government has now reformed the law, but too late to save the demonstration site. Fortunately the project was revived subsequently, but under a national scheme.

Another difficult issue confronted by projects is the largely unexpected drastic turnaround of support schemes for renewable energy solutions. Drastic changes in the feed-in-tariffs brought by the state led to considerable losses for investors particularly in Spain, but also affected SCIS projects and their projections on the payback period, such as for the demo sites DIRECTION in Valladolid or REPLICATE in San Sebastian. Solutions had to be found to reduce the losses and the project was continued with different plans and technological solutions.

At the project level, a common challenge has been to solve stakeholder barriers. In fact the successful uptake of many of the solutions can depend on the right uptake by tenants and owners. Split incentives of tenants and owners of buildings have been a major complication for many sites that have to make energy efficiency changes in buildings financially sustainable. The barrier is simple, owners do not want to pay for a saving which the tenants benefit on, and tenants do not want to pay for a change a future tenant will benefit on. Furthermore, the different laws in different countries will affect the responsibilities and rights of tenants and owners differently, which means that a best practice in one country may not work in another.

Overall, the experiences of SCIS projects are varied. Barriers inflicting substantial damage are rare and most projects manage to find solutions.  Interestingly is our conclusion that innovative technology should not make a project wary, but rather it is the more unpredictable financial, administrative and social barriers that projects should watch out for. Learning from other projects through SCIS can make this process a whole lot easier.

Jorge Nuñez-Ferrer has studied economics and agricultural economics in the London School of Economics, Wye College and Imperial College of the University of London. He is Independent consultant & Associate Research Fellow in the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) in Brussels. His central area of work is the analysis of the implications of policy decisions on the economy, in particular those financed by the EU budget: the quality of the strategies, their efficiency and their appropriateness in the national context as well as the wider implications.

Between 2000 and 2004, he worked in the European Commission’s Directorate General for Financial and Economic Affairs in the areas of agricultural, rural development policies and structural funds. Since, he has been working as a consultant for a number of national and international organisations and think tanks. From January 2012 to end of 2013 he was the chair of the Finance Group of the EU's Smart Cities Stakeholder Platform, a governing body of the EU's Smart Cities and Communities initiative. Presently he is a policy and finance work package leader in the European Union's Smart Cities Information System (SCIS). He also works closely with a number of other organisations and teach at the Central European University in Budapest as visiting professor.

Twitter: @jnunez_ferrer