On Friday, June 1st 2018, a scientific symposium kicked off a week of workshops and discussions about "The City of Tomorrow". Organized by the US-German CITYtrans / Zero Carbon City network (in cooperation with the New York University, the City University of New York and the German Center for Research and Innovation, and with support of the German Federal government), these events bring together research partners from the US and Germany to exchange knowledge and elaborate new projects.
The kick-off event on Friday was an opportunity to debate about research challenges and solutions for sustainable urban districts, thanks to researchers sharing their most recent insights and thanks to presentations from young scientists who participated in the week-long Urban Summer School in New York City, showcasing their case studies on carbon reduction strategies for a Downtown Brooklyn neighborhood district.
As Ursula Eicker from the Stuttgart Technology University of Applied Sciences (HFT Stuttgart) pointed out during her keynote at the beginning of the event, cities have a major impact on the way we consume energy, so the goal of becoming a "Zero Carbon City" is more and more important for cities across the globe. Yet, the exact definition of this goal is not always clear. For example, Eickner explained, the city planners' perspective can change significantly once they start taking into account indirect emissions outside of the city parameter, such as those caused by the food supply chain. Therefore, in order to address sustainability issues more holistically, the event tackled not only energy-related topics but also water- and food-related topics ("Food-Water-Energy Nexus" or "FWE").
In addition, as Detlef Kurth from the University of Kaiserslautern underlined in his key note, social aspects also need to be considered by city planners when working on improvements for the FWE Nexus. Negative side effects or gentrification-related issues should be avoided while improving sustainability, he argued. He also outlined methodological differences that exist in the urban planning approaches (particularly in terms of Zero Carbon Cities) in Northern and Southern Europe and in the Anglo-Saxon countries - differences that may also encourage us to look at things from a different angle.
Volker Coors from HFT Stuttgart then described advantages of 3D modelling for sustainable city strategies, as well as the importance of efficient data gathering and processing. Indeed, the quality of the data as well as the analytical tools are decisive in order to produce insights that support cities on their path to carbon neutrality.
Teams of young researchers went then on to present results from their Urban Summer School case studies. They also outlined concepts for model-based tools that could provide efficient decision-support for zero carbon strategies, if further research efforts were deployed.
Indeed, the researchers presented insights on energy-related and demographic statistics of the Borough Hall district in Brooklyn, as well as the district's potentials for energy efficiency and renewable energy. In addition, the district's food industry was analyzed, highlighting on the one hand the sector's energy consumption and transport-related carbon emissions, and on the other hand its potential for electricity production through bioenergy from food waste. The sewage in the close-by Red Hook wastewater treatment plant was identified as another important potential for bioenergy, able to cover a majority of the plant's electricity needs if combined with bioenergy from food waste.
Building on these results, a case study by another team of researchers then analyzed possible scenarios for a 80% to 100% carbon-free energy mix in the Borough Hall district. Their results suggested that this target was feasible, albeit a certain amount of energy imports remained necessary as well as flexibilization efforts in order to make this scenario more cost-efficient.
The potential for a higher share of electrity-based heating, particularly through heat pumps, was also discussed, as a solution that may be complementary to other flexibilization and decarbonization efforts.
Further to these presentations, Dieter Hertweck from Reutlingen University, described challenges and opportunities of digitalization and new business models in the FWE Nexus. As he pointed out, utilities are increasingly facing a platform-based shift of their industry, very similar to the experience of other industries, such as the car industry and the retail/supermarket landscape as new services such as UBER and Amazon continue to gain ground. Researchers can and should support businesses with data-based insights and qualitative advice as their traditional business models evolve, Herweck argues, pointing to recent achievements in his university's "Research Lab for Digital Business". This way, according to Herweck, efficiency gains and increased sustainability can go hand in hand - even in less industrialized regions, or rather: in particular in those regions.
The kick-off event was concluded by Michael Bobker from the CUNY Building Performance Lab, discussing the overall challenges and opportunities of "Zero Carbon Cities" as well as the ambivalence of this concept, thus rounding off the symposium by reflecting on the presented results and some aspects of Ursula Eicker's initial key note.
The series of workshops and debates is still ongoing until Thursday, June 7th,
|Venue of the symposium: NYU 6 Metrotech Center, Brooklyn, New York|