Smart Solutions for Smart Cities: Carbon Reduction in Urban Areas

By Jan Mattsson, Jennifer Elftmann, & Nazgol Agah Published on Aug. 12, 2020

With the Smart Cities evolution being strongly underway over the past decades based on evolving technologies, more tangible impact, increasingly positive ROI, and purpose-driven outcomes, one major focus area has once more manifested its urgency and opportunity in 2020: Resilience. 

When COVID-19 hit, many cities were challenged on their resiliency. Handling a pandemic outbreak in dense urban areas was added to the list of challenges, alongside the very present climate change topic. COVID-19 has certainly reminded us how interdependent we are and how our own actions will impact not only ourselves but also others. It has also illustrated in real-time how inaction or missteps can have serious consequences. As a reminder, “70% of cities are already dealing with the effects of climate change, and nearly all are at risk. Over 90% of all urban areas are coastal, putting most cities on Earth at risk of flooding from rising sea levels and powerful storms.”

Current Market Challenges

There is urgency to reverse the ongoing trend towards devastating effects of global warming. The looming climate crisis can be avoided only when all cities get smarter in dealing with this challenge.

Cities themselves are a key contributor to climate change. Urban activities are responsible for 75% of global CO2 emissions, with transport and buildings being among the largest contributors. We believe cities are now more than ever responsible to make a change, and we, at Plug and Play, want to empower them to do so.

Many impactful initiatives are underway in a collaborative effort between the public and private sectors that we facilitate, starting local and spreading global. The major focus area for cities is the measurement of carbon emissions with the goal of implementing meaningful measures to reduce CO2 levels.

A growing number of cities are even setting more and more ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions. Some cities even declare the goal of carbon neutrality, with Copenhagen aiming to be the first major city to reach this goal in 2025. By now, over 40% of the world’s cities are smart enough to set reduction targets, and other cities are joining, clamoring to be equally responsible. This is not only good for them, but it is good news to everyone on our planet. 

Setting and realizing ambitious goals to reduce carbon emissions requires not only awareness and political will, but also good investment decisions based on reliable data, as well as financing. As Mike Bloomberg, former mayor of New York, said: ‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it, and you can’t fix it’. To put a positive spin on the specific challenge: if you can measure carbon emissions, you can reduce it, and you will slow down global warming.

C40, the coalition of progressive cities, together with other important institutions, has done pathbreaking work in developing a protocol and guidelines for data about green-house emissions. In addition, certain helpful software tools have been developed. Still, as people who are responsible for making greenhouse inventories know, the way these are compiled today is not without its problems. One set of issues deal with time and cost, and ultimately the frequency of updates. It could take a year or more for a team to get the task done. The effort increases with the size of the city. Therefore, it remains rare that decision-makers and citizens get even annual updates on their carbon emissions. Typically, it takes years before a new inventory is produced. Another concern is data quality as the methodology is heavily based on estimates and critical assumptions. 

Clearly, in today’s fast-paced world, there is a need for more timely and reliable data to underpin decisions and monitor performance. The current state of art is lagging, but there is now a solution in place. 

Technology Solutions

One of Plug and Play’s startups, Everimpact, has made the reduction of carbon emissions their mission. We would like to highlight Everimpact’s efforts in this blog post as a new  solution to help tackle this issue. Everimpact’s technology has shown new and better ways to measure carbon emissions that can make cities smarter. This can be a rewarding journey for cities, both environmentally and financially.

Everimpact has developed a new and different way to measure greenhouse gas emissions continuously, as they occur. Their software makes it much easier to establish these inventories based on actual data without the heavy investment of ground sensors otherwise needed to allow real measurements. The use of satellite images and a limited number of ground sensors makes continuous reporting possible, with major “refreshing” of dashboards every time the satellite passes overhead. This technology has been demonstrated in pilot projects in eight European cities of different sizes: London, Barcelona, Madrid, Malaga, Manchester, Porto, Santander and Herning.

Emission data is fundamental for policy analysis and for establishing priorities for initiatives to reduce emissions. Correct and current data is the basis for smart decisions. Based on such enhanced data, Everimpact’s second service line is to help cities identify the most important opportunities to cut emissions and select the best investments, beyond what they are able to do with traditional methods.

Moreover, the improved ability to measure makes it possible to quickly learn about the actual impact on carbon emissions. For example, what difference did it make when heating systems were converted or new energy sources were selected? How much were emissions reduced by a low emissions zone preventing the access of cars in the city center or by other changes in the traffic flow? What difference did changes in local industry practices, waste management routines or recycling make? 

everimpact map

In addition, and this must not be underestimated, monitoring and making these results publicly available is of the essence for civil society engagement and for citizens’ confidence in local government. The work in the London borough of Greenwich is a good example of this.

Here also awaits the chance for cities to secure funding for needed investments through green bonds, impact investment tools, and carbon trading. Today, cities are not using these opportunities well. Many others, especially commercial entities, do, but cities do not. This is typically due to knowledge gaps in city administrations about these financial tools and also because of a lack of trusted, certified data required by impact investors or carbon traders. Everimpact’s third service offering, working with specialized partners, is to help cities access this much-needed funding. 

You are smart if you measure carbon emissions correctly and frequently. You are smarter when you, equipped with this data, identify the best opportunities to cut emissions. And you are the smartest if you secure advantageous investment funding or revenue streams on the carbon markets as reward for a job well done. This is within reach for all cities. It is possible for all cities to be smart and to be their smartest. Getting there is not only nice, but it is necessary for mankind. 

Plug and Play provides the ultimate innovation platform to develop smart solutions for the cities of the future and bring all relevant stakeholders together in one collaborative ecosystem. Our platform empowers cities from all over the world to work with corporates, startups, and universities on technology solutions and respective business models. 

If you are a corporation, a startup, or a city with interest in moving your smart cities initiatives forward, we are here to help

If you like to get in touch with Everimpact, please reach out to Mathieu Carlier.