Opinion - 10/October/2019

No one-size-fits-all energy transition

By leveraging the huge amounts of data that connected infrastructure can generate, cities can boost their productivity, improve their liveability, increase energy savings and better adapt to the impacts of climate change, says Cedrik Neike, Member of the Managing Board of Siemens AG and CEO of Smart Infrastructure

Cities in developing countries can leapfrog ahead of developed countries in the race to reduce emissions and adopt renewables and more efficient energy solutions by installing the latest technology from the outset


A cleaner and greener world: that is why our children are marching in the streets. As adults, we need to catch up — across business, government, science and academia. The technologies to make this world a reality are at our fingertips. But a copy-paste approach will not work for all countries, especially between those at different stages of economic development. We need to implement the right solutions in the right places to ensure the clean energy transition takes hold everywhere now.

Consider these facts. There are still a billion people worldwide without access to basic electricity. A New Yorker consumes 20 times more energy than someone in Jakarta, Indonesia. When we examine countries with rising populations in Asia and Africa and compare them to cities such as New York and London, we cannot simply apply the same technologies to reduce emissions. Energy consumption and efficiency are at different levels, and so are the challenges related to water and air quality.

There is, however, an opportunity for developing countries to leapfrog developed nations in energy efficiency and emissions reduction. Because these countries are still developing their infrastructure, they can avoid mistakes made in the developed world. More than 100 new cities have sprung up in Africa and Asia over the past 20 years, and some are still being built. In India alone, the government estimates infrastructure investments of $4.5 trillion until 2040 to meet the demands of a growing population. A new hotel in Mumbai can be fitted from the outset with the latest advances in technology, making it energy efficient, smarter and more resilient.

While retrofitting an old building is possible, the investment is much more significant than starting out with an energy efficiency design. So-called Digital Twin technology allows us to create a connected, digital replica of a building and use it from the design phase through to construction and operation. This twin collects data and enables a real-time understanding of the final building’s performance and where to optimise efficiency. The data can also be used to improve future buildings, leading to more cost-effective and sustainable design.

Over the past decades, we have been working to optimise city infrastructure, from buildings to mobility and energy networks. As new opportunities develop at the grid edge, our customers and the general public are starting to truly benefit from connectivity and our increased understanding of the data generated as buildings interact with energy grids and link to a city’s mobility infrastructure. 

This vision describes what is referred to as City 4.0 and it is where developing nations have an advantage. They are not weighed down by old infrastructure and technology. Jakarta can decide today to create a city with buildings that connect actively with the energy grid and interface with mobility requirements or self-learning systems that will provide concrete information to improve air quality. By leveraging the huge amounts of data that connected buildings can generate, cities can boost their productivity, performance, savings and adaptability.




To achieve this, we need to look at cities as ecosystems. Instead of siloed sectors such as energy, transport and buildings, we need to achieve interconnectivity. Once we link infrastructure, we start to create value for people and the environment. Canada is a good example. We worked with Nova Scotia and Brunswick, linking everything to achieve greater efficiencies, instead of erecting a new power plant to produce more energy. We continue to work in these states, testing in real-time the grid of the future in terms of its ability to optimise the integration of renewables, without compromising on grid stability, and to manage decentralised electricity distribution to eventually reduce greenhouse gas emissions and costs for consumers.

Another city leading by example is London, which is creating a Zero Emission Zone to eliminate emissions from 90% of vehicles entering it by 2030. This is crucial, considering that more than two million Londoners, including children, are exposed to illegal levels of air pollution. This is a good example of how political will and a legal framework can bring about change and pave the way for new technologies. The Low Emission Zone solution uses automatic number plate recognition technology to search vehicle databases. It monitors and controls the passing of highly polluting vehicles through designated geographic areas, helping to address air quality problems.

The World Bank estimates that air pollution costs the global economy roughly $5.11 trillion in welfare losses. As air quality climbs higher on countries’ lists of priorities, cities such as London can demonstrate solutions to tackle the issue. Anyone driving into central London will have to pay a charge if their vehicle does not comply with new emissions standards. Improving public transport is one solution. Another is electrifying individual transport and making it cleaner. We have launched a programme with a startup called ubitricity. Instead of creating new building charging infrastructure, we install charging points in existing street lamps to enable the fast charging of electric vehicles.

At Siemens we are focused on meeting our commitment to become carbon neutral by 2030 and helping the world achieve its climate goals. The technology to do this is there. It is now the responsibility of us all as individuals, businesses and governments to accelerate the adoption of these solutions that will create more liveable, sustainable environments.

Do you have a thoughtful response to the opinion expressed here? Do you have an opinion regarding an aspect of the global energy transition you would like to share with other FORESIGHT readers? If so, please send a short pitch of 200 words and a sentence explaining why you are the right person to deliver this opinion to opinion@foresightdk.com.


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