Some Things I Read (July 29-30)

The problem with keeping a travel-cum-research blog is that it’s sometimes hard to integrate research material into my travel posts. So I may start separating out my “travel” and “research” posts from time to time… like right now.

Interesting Reading 1: Freiburg’s Smart Green Tower Project
This project is a planned residential/commercial building in Freiburg outfitted with solar PV panels for energy production and lithium-ion batteries for energy storage. Even cooler, though, is that the building’s energy management systems will optimize power flows and renewable energy usage on the local and municipal grid. I have SO MANY questions about the project — about the privacy and security implications of exchanging the information necessary for “smart” optimization, about whether any of the tower’s apartments will be (or could be) affordable housing, about how generalizable the building’s design and technologies are to other parts of the world.
Unfortunately, the architects in charge of the project don’t have time to talk to me, but their secretary made me aware of a conference in London in mid-September (theme: “How Digitalization Impacts Cities”) at which they’ll speak about this project. There’s no conference website (I have the program from the secretary, but that’s it), so I don’t know whether or not the conference is public. I’m dying to find out.

Interesting Reading 2: Freiburg’s Green City Brochure
Freiburg was awarded most sustainable city in Germany in 2012, in large part due to its political structure (a Sustainability Management unit reports directly to the mayor) and the connections it fosters between government, industries, agencies, and citizens when creating renewable energy policy. From what I read in this brochure and what I’ve seen otherwise, it seems that sustainability is forefront in city planning. When buildings are built, they’re oriented so as to be most conducive to rooftop solar. Citizen-led working groups help create urban development policies, as citizens are more likely to know their district than the random policymaker is. Street speed limits have been reduced to make the roads more bike- and pedestrian-friendly; according to the brochure, “90% of Freiburg’s residents now live on roads that have a speed limit of 30 km/h or lower” (13). The city is pesticide-free, with grass mowed only twice a year; households are encouraged to use greywater and rainwater through differential pricing; 69% of Freiburg’s waste is recycled, and the rest is incinerated to produce energy; and environmental education is emphasized from a young age. The brochure also claims that “Freiburg leads the country in terms of job creation, population and economic growth, as well as by the number of overnight stays” as proof that environmental and economic development are not mutually exclusive (though I wonder how much of Freiburg’s tourism and booming green industry benefits are because it’s a first-mover). Anyway, Freiburg is overall a very green city, and it seems to be in large part because its citizens are on board with the sustainability agenda. However, it seems from other things I’ve watched and started to read that the German Energiewende (energy transition) is entirely top-down in other communities. What makes Freiburg so fundamentally different, and how can its successes inform renewable energy policy elsewhere — within Germany, and outside Germany?

Interesting Reading 3: “Ecocity Upon a Hill”
This white paper presents a few real examples of “smart” European microgrids with different technology and governance structures. Although grid ownership and “smart” technologies vary in each of these examples, the paper stipulates that Smart Grids will be more modular, decentralized, and deregulated than the modern grid, with microgrids as a key component. It covers a lot of ground and presents a lot of interesting research questions that I won’t attempt to summarize here, but if you’re curious, give it a read!

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