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A new way for Smart Energy Planning in cities: the INSMART solution

George Giannakidis, INSMART Project Coordinator & Ruth Stallwood, Energy Services, Nottingham City Council
31 January 2017
Integrated City Energy Planning Framework.

Having worked on the development of Sustainable Energy Action Plans of cities, in the framework of the Covenant of Mayors, I’ve realised that proper planning tools should be combined with a participatory approach in order to ensure realistic and optimal action plans. In this sense participating in the INSMART project was an ideal opportunity to check how this can be achieved in action. 

In INSMART the efficiency of energy flows in various city sectors are analysed using an energy systems model and then a multi-criteria analysis involving all the stakeholders from city planning bodies to private services. Four European cities - Trikala in Greece, Cesena in Italy, Evora in Portugal and Nottingham in the United Kingdom, were involved as demonstrators. Through their participation in this project they gained detailed insight on the existing situation of their energy systems and identified specific actions for achieving their medium term targets, through the application of INSMART results.

With growing populations and a complicated network of energy supply and demand, the cities were keen to understand their energy systems better to plan for a secure, affordable and climate-friendly future energy supply for its businesses and citizens. The overall aim for cities is to increase their future sustainability and quality of life for their citizens, but this ambition is currently set against a backdrop of budget cuts. All the cities wanted a process to base their decisions on, which uses robust calculations of costs and benefits, both economic and social.

The project set out to create a model that can help cities plan their energy systems to meet their key energy objectives to reduce fuel poverty, lower their carbon emissions in the short run while setting up infrastructure to secure a future low carbon energy supply for years to come.   


Stakeholders engagement workshops
Stakeholders engagement workshops

Which steps were taken in the INSMART process?

We are always reading that data availability is the first barrier to the implementation of any energy efficiency action plan. Indeed, this is what we found in all of our cities. Some of them had very detailed data in one specific sector (e.g. Evora has electricity smart meters installed in all the buildings, Nottingham had a detailed transport study and the corresponding data), but none had adequate data for all the sectors that we have examined. Ironically, the most energy consuming sectors of residential buildings and transport were the sectors with the largest data gaps. Our initial starting point and a significant part of the project was to collect this data ourselves and showcase how it can be done. We undertook surveys to collect data on the typologies, building shell and energy equipment characteristics of residential buildings in each one of our cities, and on the mobility needs of the citizens. We found this to be the most time consuming part of our effort. Once the data was gathered we could proceed with the simulation and modelling of buildings and transportation and come up with technical solutions and alternative possible scenarios.

However, we’ve realised from the project design phase, that a systemic view, integrating all the energy consuming and producing sectors in a city would offer us a holistic approach and help the city planners identify better overall solutions. This is where the Energy System Model (ESM) based on the TIMES model generator came into play and offered a new perspective to the cities involved. The staff in the city planning departments had an opportunity to see what is happening in different sectors from those they have been working on, and also get a longer term perspective, looking at scenarios extending to 2030. This enabled the participators to develop a wider viewpoint and this has been positively received by the cities involved.

The same happened during the workshops of local stakeholders for the multi-criteria analysis of alternative future options. It was very interesting to collect opinions and views from different players, and then combine their views in formulating scenarios for the development of their city. Different stakeholders ranked the alternative actions using not only financial considerations but also considerations of local development, ease of implementation and the aesthetic integration of proposed interventions within the existing city scape. Different actions were preferred by different stakeholders and the dialogue was crucial in coming up with a commonly accepted set of actions.

We have now reached the point where this process has built a sustainable energy plan for each of our cities and a realistic and applicable 5-10 year implementation plan. But more importantly, I feel that we have managed to open a new window for city planners - looking into a better way of planning and preparing for the challenges of a carbon neutral city, which offers the best possible options for its citizens


Stakeholders engagement workshops
Stakeholders engagement workshops

How does this make a smart city?

A smart city uses information and communications technology to enhance its liveability, workability and sustainability (Smart Cities Council (7/17/2016). In the INSMART project we used specialised software modelling tools for exploring energy efficiency solutions in buildings and in transport. We used an energy system model to get an integrated view of the energy sector and analyse options for achieving the medium term targets of the cities. All the information is stored in a G.I.S. system, which can be used by decision makers and citizens, to assess the existing situation and the future alternatives in the different scenarios that were analysed. In short, we have used state of the art software tools in an innovative way, combined with a participatory approach to define action plans for a sustainable, liveable and workable city.


George Giannakidis has worked initially as a senior consultant and then as the Head of Energy Systems Analysis Laboratory in the Centre for Renewable Energy Sources and Saving (CRES), Greece for nineteen years. He has experience in the sectors of renewable energy analysis, energy efficiency, energy planning, energy modelling, energy systems analysis and energy statistics. He has strong experience in international energy consulting and cooperation with a number of energy institutions in EU Member States and third countries. He has worked on energy planning issues, with a focus on the development of medium term energy strategies and plans for renewable energy and energy efficiency. He has been involved in a number of projects concerning Mediterranean countries, projects funded by the European Commission and projects funded by the Greek state on issues of Energy planning and Energy modeling, Renewable Energy integration, and Energy Efficiency.