Cleaner energy and thriving communities

1st December 2016

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Thomas King

Penny Walker looks at corporate action on the UN sustainable development goals on energy and sustainable communities in part five of our series

Affordable and clean energy

Energy use is the dominant contributor to climate change, accounting for around 60% of greenhouse-gas emissions. About 20% of the world’s population are without access to electricity and 40% rely on wood, coal, charcoal and manure for cooking and heating. Cleaner, affordable energy for the poorest is a priority.

Targets in UN sustainable development goal seven include increasing the share of renewables, doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency, upgrading supply technology, and ensuring universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services. Initiatives to achieve these aims are under way worldwide.

Frontier Markets is an award-winning Indian business empowering its network of solar sahelis – women trained in marketing and after-sales servicing who sell clean energy products to people in remote areas of Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh. This bottom-of-the-pyramid ‘last mile’ distribution model has helped them sell more than 127,000 products, including solar streetlights, lamps, torches, PV panels and clean cook-stoves. The vision of Ajaita Shah, who founded Frontier Markets, is to provide access to clean energy for one million households in India by 2020.

Renewables specialist Acciona is helping off-grid communities in Mexico and Peru through its Microenergia Foundation. The Spanish firm works closely with public authorities and local communities through its Luz en Casa (Light at Home) initiative, which provides subsidised photovoltaic lighting to homes and community centres.

Progress is being made in redesigning and retrofitting energy grids and modern buildings to cut waste and make them renewable-ready. UK-based Demand Logic focuses on energy management solutions. Working with existing building management systems (BMSs), its software continuously monitors data, identifying when pumps, coolers and heaters need adjusting so that they work more effectively and efficiently. Demand Logic’s software can benchmark performance across a client’s portfolio and rank buildings for energy efficiency, comfort, maintenance requirements and business-critical factors, such as stable temperatures in the case of galleries and datacentres.

The London head office of the Financial Times saved £100,000 over two years after investigations and adjustments made by Demand Logic working with Chartwell Energy Solutions and building maintenance and engineering services provider Optimum. Another Demand Logic client is property firm Land Securities, whose senior engineer, Charlie Railton, says: ‘The speed of deployment of the software on one of our sites was overnight. It has changed the way we manage our buildings.’

Managing energy

Individual businesses and sites can also help the grid as a whole to be more energy-efficient. On a windy night or a sunny midsummer morning, more electricity from renewables may be generated than is required. When this happens, National Grid needs to balance the supply. The most sustainable way to do this is to use the excess electricity when demand is there and to reduce it when renewable generation is low.

Power Responsive is one way National Grid is building the UK’s capacity to do this kind of balancing. Businesses including utility Dwr Cymru Welsh Water, construction materials manufacturer Saint-Gobain and retailer Sainsbury’s are taking part. They are paid for automatically switching electrical equipment on and off within a very short timeframe to help balance out the peaks and troughs in the grid.

Oxford Brookes University’s approach is different. It does not have a single large electricity use. Instead, a sophisticated electric heating control system in two student halls of residence allow a large number of small uses to be aggregated. These are remotely managed by Open Energi as part of a pool of demand response assets. Electricity for water heating is interrupted for seconds or minutes, making no difference to students’ comfort. Gavin Hodgson, the university’s energy manager, says: ‘Advanced controls mean we can pool together smaller electrical items which would otherwise not be large enough to receive payment within a demand response programme.’

National Grid hopes that by 2020 power responsive methods will balance between 30% and 50% of energy. ‘Traditionally, meeting the energy needs of the nation has meant matching supply to meet demand,’ says Paul Lowbridge, power responsive manager at National Grid. ‘By using energy intelligently and encouraging the uptake of demand-side response we can make the most of the energy we have, and reduce costs and carbon, which benefits society as a whole.’

National Grid is also looking at battery storage. This is already in use for frequency balancing, which supports integration of renewable electricity into the grid. In future, the company expects grid-level battery storage to help to make best use of intermittent supply from renewables.

Elsewhere, Nissan, which manufactures the Leaf electric vehicle (EV), is vying with Tesla, which also makes EVs, to turn its cars into portable power stations, selling energy back to the grid and charging their batteries when there is excess supply. Nissan announced in May that it had been working with National Grid and power management company Eaton to develop a storage system to enable additional energy from a Leaf’s batteries to be transferred to the grid.

Further information

  • National Grid’s Power Responsive –
  • Forum for the Future’s Living Grid –
  • Demand Logic –

Sustainable cities and communities

Humans are an increasingly urbanised species. Half of the world’s population live in cities, with more than 860 million living in slum conditions, according to the World Health Organization. Cities put enormous pressure on water resources, waste systems and wildlife, but also offer opportunities for efficiency, community and sharing.

The UN’s sustainable cities targets cover housing, transport, disaster resilience, air quality, green spaces, and protection of cultural and natural heritage. There is a strong emphasis on safety and inclusion of vulnerable groups. One country buying into these UN targets is China, where urbanisation continues apace. Shanghai Landsea Architectural Planning and Design, as a founding member of the China Green Building Council, has promoted the use of ground-source heat pumps, solar thermal and, in a country with notoriously bad air pollution, filtered fresh air. Its green building museum is open to the public. Yang Ke, Shanghai Landsea’s chief engineer, says the company is committed to putting sustainable development into practice.

‘The strategic goal of green building is not only the focus of our company, it is a first choice for developing countries with a big population, like China,’ he says. ‘Because China’s per capita natural resources are not rich, the ecological environment cannot be deteriorated any more. Only by taking the sustainable development path can we achieve balance in economic development and ecological environment.’


Elinor Huggett, sustainability officer at the UK Green Building Council, says the challenge of sustainability is often best viewed through a city-scale lens. ‘Making meaningful interventions can be simpler at a city level than a national level, but the collective impact will be of a similar scale,’ she says. ‘Smart, green, resilient cities will provide a high quality of life for their citizens without compromising the wider environment and can support economic growth, jobs and poverty alleviation.’

This is the approach taken by the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, a global coalition of more than 80 cities that between them house one in 12 of the world’s population. C40 cities work on mitigation and adaptation, alongside improving wellbeing and opportunities for citizens. One of C40’s 16 specialist networks focuses on mobility management. Network members learn from each other about using data to optimise routes and schedules, and how cashless payment can provide flexible pricing options, such as combinations of low-carbon travel choices.

MasterCard is supporting this network. ‘If you’re responsible for transport operations within a city you’re in a constant battle for market share with private cars,’ says Will Judge, head of urban mobility at the financial services company. ‘Do not underestimate how many imagined barriers stop people making the journey without their car in the first place. There are ways you can streamline the experience for customers, using technology to make payment simple or to provide real-time updates about the most convenient transport options. The ultimate goal is to encourage more people out of their cars and on to public transport.’

Another C40 initiative is its work on financing sustainable cities, supported by Citi Foundation in partnership with the World Resources Institute’s Ross Center for Sustainable Cities. The programme enables cities to learn from each other, benefit from practical tools and receive specialist technical advice on developing financing options for sustainability projects and services.

Valerie Smith, director and head of corporate sustainability at Citi, says the initiative is intended to accelerate the financing and implementation of sustainable urban projects by helping city decision-makers, technical experts and financiers to better understand their funding choices and work strategically with each other. She also highlights the importance of sustainable urban projects to efforts to tackle global warming: ‘Under the Paris Agreement, world leaders have committed to ambitious targets to fight climate change. Our collective ability to achieve those goals depends in part on an equally visionary plan for creating sustainable and equitable cities.’

Accessibility is not just about transport for the masses. On a different scale, technology giant Microsoft has been working with Guide Dogs and Future Cities Catapult, the global urban innovation centre, to develop hardware and software as part of an initiative called Cities Unlocked, which aims to improve mobility for people with sight loss. The innovations include modified headphones so people with sight difficulties know which way they are facing and an app that provides a detailed audio description of the streetscape, down to benches and rubbish bins. This makes walking through unfamiliar places easier and safer for people with visual impairments.

Jarnail Chudge, user experience architect at Microsoft Consulting Services, is enthusiastic about the potential: ‘Cities Unlocked trials continue and we are validating the feedback from triallists to ensure we get the experience right before making concrete product promises. The pace of technical development has been promising, however, and we are really excited about the direction it is headed.’

Further information

  • Future Cities Catapult –
  • C40 Cities –
  • UK Green Building Council –


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