More than 50% of the world’s population lives in urban areas, and this percentage is projected to reach 68% by 2050 according to the UN. This concentration of urban population implies several advantages in terms of efficiency, allowing people to have more advanced services and therefore becoming more relevant in the global governance of issues such as economic, social and political development. However, while cities keep growing, they must also face important challenges that must be addressed to ensure their future sustainability.
One of the problems associated with the rapid growth of large urban areas is the pollution. According to the World Heart Organization, ambient air pollution accounts for an estimated 4.2 million deaths every year.
Source: World Health Organization
The main source of pollution in cities is the transport. Several cities across Europe such as Madrid and London have introduced restrictions in traffic with the aim of cleaning up air pollution. For example, Madrid banned most petrol and diesel private cars from the city center. These politics are not enough to maintain the levels of air pollution in the whole city, and the areas that need to be restricted are continuously growing. The massive use of public transport and the introduction of the electric car could be the solution to such a problematic scenario, but their total implementation is not foreseen to be possible until almost 20 year from now.
Another important source of pollution is the household energy, specially fuel and gas heating systems. Towards the reduction of the pollutants produced by these systems, the advent demand response programs are a great progress as they enable a better exploitation of the RES (Renewable Energy Source) as well as the reduction of peak energy demands. As a matter of fact, demand response strategies aim at fostering the energy consumption in periods of time when energy coming from renewable sources is available, in exchange for a reduction in the user’s bill. For instance, the installation of PV panels (such as in the Aarhus pilot site of project RESPOND) or thermosolar panels in buildings (such as in the Madrid pilot site of project RESPOND), harness the STE (Solar Thermal Energy) and contributes in the reduction of air pollution. Regarding thermosolar panels, its main usage is in residential buildings where there is a prominent demand for hot water. The solar energy collected by these panels can be leveraged to heat water and therefore avoid the necessity of gas or fuel consumption for the same goal. Certainly, heated water has a direct application in tasks that range from space heating to heating swimming pool water.
Additionally, these actions are expected to propel the electrification of cities and avoiding the usage of other energy sources such as gas or fuel. This shift to electric consumption in cities will heavily depend on a reliable and affordable transportation system where electric vehicles (EVs) will play a key role. European governments have adopted different policies that support this shift. For example, the UK government announced that all cars sold will be electric by 2040.
The successful adoption of electric vehicles requires an infrastructure for the supply of energy. Likewise, EVs will play a key role in the collective energy demand management of cities, as they will make available a big number of batteries which could be leveraged to avoid demand peaks.
The achievement of the aforementioned situation is not straightforward nowadays, as certain technologies need to reach a given degree of maturity to overcome current challenges. RESPOND project aims at address some of these challenges.