Climate Tech

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Contents

Introduction to Climate Technology

This page discusses current climate technologies, including green energy sources, hydrogen vehicles, electrification, and smart cities. Green energy sources of note include solar, wind, geothermal, and hydro. Hydrogen vehicles will be explored extensively, from a discussion on hydrogen fuel cells and engines, to developments in modern day. The importance of electrification will be outlined, alongside risks and future benefits. And finally, smart cities will be evaluated in the context of renewables, with the inclusion of new media technologies and case studies. Emerging economies will have to choose between 'being green' or 'being wealthy,' one of the key dilemmas cities will have to face as they try to navigate the adoption of climate technologies.

Renewable Energy Sources

Why we should move away from non-renewables:

From the insane heat wave ravaging Europe, China, India, and Iraq during the summer of 2022, From the recent forest fires happening in Pakistan and US to the Lytton town in BC that was burned to ashes in 2021, it will get worse in the years to come. None of it is surprising as climate change is already affecting millions of lives each year, and the burning of fossil fuels and coal plays a big part in contributing to these disasters the earth is facing today. The emission of methane and carbon dioxide from fossil fuel, coal, and natural gas traps heat within the atmosphere, heating it up like a greenhouse, which is also known as a greenhouse gas. Even natural gas, which has been considered the cleaner alternative to fossil fuel is just as destructive with its methane emissions. [1]

Major Milestones

1972 - The UN Scientific Conference or First Earth Summit was held in Stockholm, Sweden.

1987 - The Montreal Protocol, the first ever UN treaty agreed upon by all countries.

2015 - Paris Agreement, the universal legally binding agreement to repair the ozone layer.

2019 - EU pledge to become climate neutral by 2050

[2]

Example in Scotland: Scotland has so far been ahead of every country in the world in terms of initiatives toward renewable energy. As its last coal-fired power station closed down in 2016, with only one gas-fired power station remaining, Scotland was able to produce 97.4% of all its electricity from renewable sources. Scotland sets out a legally binding Climate Change Bill that aims to reach net-zero emission by 2045, five years ahead of the rest of Europe. [3]

Solar

Solar energy is the process of converting sunlight and heat energy to electricity. It is the cheapest method so far to produce electricity.

Solar panels were originally invented in the US in 1954 mainly for the space industry. Afterward, Germany started incentives for clean energy in the 2000s, and innovations for solar panels started booming. At present, China is in the lead in producing ~70% of the world's solar panel production today. Over the past few decades, solar panels have increased in efficiency while drastically decreasing in cost, making them more accessible to average citizens, from $4 per watt in 2005 to $0.20 per watt in 2020. [4]

Decrease in the cost of solar

Solar panels can be installed on rooftops, floated on lakes, or lined over desserts and fields. Solar photovoltaic (PV) - are the most common type of solar energy, the PV cells on the solar panel absorb the sunlight and convert it to electricity. Another alternative to solar panel farms would be the concentrating solar-thermal power plants (CSP). These plants often require a massive extent of land by using mirrors to concentrate sunlight and transform it into thermal energy. The thermal energy is then used to power a turbine in order to generate electricity. [5]

If the solar panels installed by homeowners were to ever produce more electricity than it's needed, they can either be sold back to the power grid or stored in a battery. By selling back to the power grid, a process called net metering, the homeowner can receive a discount or credit on their electricity bill. By storing the extra energy in a battery, it can be used at a later time after sunset.

How net metering works

Example in BC: Lytton, the BC town that was destroyed by the wildfires back in June 2021, is aiming to rebuild a net-zero emissions community by using solar sidewalks to power the village's electricity. The solar panels built into sidewalks, made by a company in Vancouver, can operate to withstand temperatures between -40C to 90C and endure vehicles weighing up to five tons. [6]

Limitations: Solar panels have an approximate life expectancy of 30 years. With that in mind, manufacturers would often offer between 20 to 25 years of warranty. At the end of its life, its e-waste will need to be properly recycled to prevent toxic chemicals from leaking into the environment. Another problem is that solar panels require energy from the sun and so installation would not be feasible in places where it is often cloudy or rainy. Also, places like deserts where it's optimal to set up solar farms are far away from cities where it's needed. Finally, there is a high initial cost in the installation process and solar panels are often costly to maintain, making it a risky investment susceptible to other factors such as government intervention or change in the climate. Lastly, be careful when signing up for government subsidies that promise money back on the installation of solar panels.

Example in Spain: A case in Spain shows that back in 2007, the government initially encouraged the investment in solar energy, providing subsidies and guaranteed purchase price for the energy produced. However, due to the overwhelming influx of investments after the subsidy was introduced, the government was unable to pay it off. Therefore, the government clawed back on all the initial promises after a few years and left many investors bankrupt. [7]

Example in Florida: In order to discourage the installation of solar panels for homeowners, some energy companies have turned to charge a premium to homeowners' electricity bills if they do not meet a minimum dollar amount of energy consumption from the grid. In a case with homeowners from Florida in January 2022, those who have been relying on their solar panels to power their energy, which saved them a significant amount of money compared to energy from the grid, have been charged extra on their electricity bill to meet their minimum $30 payment requirement. [8]

Tracking solar panel vs static flat solar panel vs static angled solar panel

Over-ambitious goals for Solar Roadways: Solar roadways are still an overambitious goal to set up on a large scale. The current technology for solar panels still lacks the efficiency to effectively capture the sun's energy while remaining durable enough to withstand wear and tear. Firstly, solar panels need to be directly facing the sun constantly to maximize efficiency. To do so, tracking solar panels would need to adjust their tilt throughout the day in order to face the sun, thus optimizing efficiency. A static angled solar panel would have a varying amount of sunlight captured throughout the day, with its peak when the angle is perfectly aligned with the sun. But a static flat solar panel on the floor would have neither as it mediocrely captures light at an odd angle to the sun as it can only lie flat throughout the day. Secondly, implementing solar panels on the road would be expensive as it needs additional layers to protect the solar cells from constant pressure from vehicles, thus lowering efficiency even more due to the protective layer. For example in the US, Kickstarter company Solar Roadways has received millions in government grants promising to replace all US roadways with solar panels since 2008 but has yet to build one that's successful. So far, technology is still in its developing stages to allow solar roadways to be durable and efficient enough to be realistically installed on a massive scale. [9]

Wind

Wind power uses the kinetic energy from wind to turn a turbine in order to generate electricity. The blades on the rotor capture the wind transforming kinetic energy to rotational energy into electricity Wind turbines are usually built high above 100m in windy lands to maximize efficiency. One turbine can power 750 American homes per year, so one wind farm of 200 turbines can power 150,000 American homes per year. [10]

The most common type of turbines are ones found in wind farms on land and they can come in many different shapes and sizes. The most common two forms are the horizontal-axis wind turbines (HAWTs) which look like ordinary two or three-blade propellers and vertical-axis wind turbines (VAWTs) which look like an egg beater from a mixer. [11]


HAWTs vs VAWTs

One advantage of wind turbines is that they can generate additional income for farmers who are willing to host a wind turbine on their land. As of 2022, Canada currently has 317 wind energy projects ongoing, with both onshore and offshore windfarms planned for the next five years in Alberta, Ontario, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia valued at $14 billion. [12]

On the other hand, the most effective turbines are ones found offshore, where much stronger winds could be gathered. To capture the strong winds, offshore wind farms are larger in size and twice in capacity compared to onshore wind farms.

Example in Germany: For example, the Nordergrunde wind farm in Germany has 18 offshore turbines in total and has an overall capacity of 110-megawatt hours (MWh), which can power up to 57,000 households per year. Compared to one onshore turbine which can produce 2.5 MWh, one turbine from Nordergrunde has a capacity of 6.2 MWh. Another type of offshore wind farm is floating windfarms, which do not require drilling of windmills to the seafloor, thus minimizing the disruption of the underwater ecosystem. [13]


Onshore vs Offshore vs Floating

Limitations: Due to their large size, wind farms require vast sizes of clear land or sea to capture wind efficiently, and their level of energy production is at the mercy of mother nature. On land, this sacrifices large patches of farmland, disrupts its ecosystem, and is dangerous for birds flying nearby. On the sea, installation of windfarms are limited to areas called economic zones, the areas of the sea controlled by a certain country, and they must be installed away from shipping routes, military zones, natural conservation areas, and fishing zones. Places where it's optimal to set up wind farms are sometimes far away from industrial places where it's most needed, thus requiring additional cost to build high voltage transmission lines in order to transport the electricity. Wind turbines have an average life expectancy of around 20 years, it has a high maintenance cost, especially for offshore wind farms, and their blades need to be properly recycled at the end of their life. The high cost of its entire lifecycle makes it hard for the industry to sustain itself on its own. [14]

Geothermal

Geothermal energy is the process of capturing heat from the earth's outer or inner surface and converting heat energy into electricity. In comparison to wind and solar, which are variable sources of supply, geothermal energy is able to provide a constant and reliable source of renewable energy. Its production and installation also generates a lower CO2 emission and surface footprint in comparison to wind, hydro, and solar energy. Geographically, it can provide a fixed supply of energy in places where the building of hydro dams are not possible.

Another benefit is that we are able to use past geological datasets from oil and gas wells drilled in the past. These datasets can then be used to locate geothermal reservoirs where such projects can be built. Plus, all past knowledge such as hydraulic fracturing, drilling, and wellbores retained by the oil and gas industry are transferrable skills that can be applied to the building of geothermal energy projects.

The first experiment with a geothermal generator began in Italy by an Italian aristocrat named Prince Conti in 1904. The experiment was successful in being able to power five light bulbs. But the idea never gained traction due to the two world wars that happened shortly after.

Geothermal Diagram


Example in Iceland: A perfect example of a country making use of geothermal energy is Iceland. Initially reliant on imported oil and coal for electricity, Iceland later switched to its land's geysers and hot pools formed along its tectonic plates for an alternative energy source when the 1970s oil crisis hit. Later, other countries saw this opportunity and followed suit.

Potential in Indonesia: Islands dotted along Indonesia can potentially produce 29 GW of geothermal energy by using their location along the ring of fire to their advantage, which is equivalent to the energy produced by 12,344 wind turbines per year. However, Indonesia currently still relies on coal and oil since it's the cheaper alternative in the short run. Moreover, awareness of the potential of green energy has not yet gained traction among its citizen yet, so much of these energies are still untapped.

Progress in Canada: Historically, Canada has been one of the slowest countries to adopt geothermal energy despite its favourable geography. As of 2021, a few projects have started to pop up as the "Net-Zero by 2050" initiative pushed the Canadian government to subsidize and invest in renewable energy projects. As of 2021, six projects are taking shape in provinces like Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia.

Limitations: The startup cost for geothermal energy projects are significantly more compared to wind and solar and requires government support in order to fund it. However, the high initial cost will pay itself back in the long run when it starts running, but it will take years before it can start making a profit.

Geothermal energy projects often involve drilling and building infrastructure, which can disrupt a land's natural habitat and face opposition from locals who might consider the place sacred or holy. [15]

Hydro

This section will categorize all energy generated by water under the hydro section. The main concept of hydroelectricity is to generate electricity using the flow of water to turn the blades of a turbine. There are many forms of hydroelectricity, for example, building a hydro dam is the most common method in BC. Other examples include using the flow of river water or the use of tidal waves to generate electricity.

Pumped Hydro Energy Storage

Pumped Hydro Energy Storage: There's also a very interesting hybrid version: pumped hydro storage. It uses two pools of water, one uphill and one downhill, during the day, water is pumped from the downhill lake to the uphill lake using the extra solar energy produced using solar panels, and at night when there's no sun, water is released from the uphill lake to the downhill lake to produce energy using a water turbine.

Example in Canada: As of 2021, Canada is the fourth largest hydroelectricity generator in the world, with two-thirds of Canada's electricity powered by hydroelectricity. Across Canada, provinces like BC, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Ontario are the major suppliers of hydroelectric power as an energy source. In 2020, Quebec has generated a total of 195.08 terawatt hours, with BC coming in second at 63.24 terawatt hours. Despite the massive infrastructure in Canada, there are still potential hydroelectricity locations untapped in Yukon, BC, and Northern Quebec. [16] [17]

Limitations: Hydroelectricity is highly reliant on the strength and speed of the flowing water to turn the turbine. If somehow the water stops flowing due to natural causes such as drought, it will not be able to generate enough to meet capacity. Or if it's overflowing due to flooding, it would damage the dam completely. Secondly, the building of dams can distort the surrounding ecosystem, disrupt marine life, and destroys natural habitats. There are also high start-up costs and high maintenance costs for projects such as tidal power plants, which is also a reason why it's not commonly built.

Hydrogen Cars

Hydrogen

Background: Hydrogen (H2) is a naturally occurring element that can be found in small quantities on Earth. As a fuel source, it can be produced by humans in many ways. The most common production methods are to separate it from either methane gas (CH4) or water (H2O). A less common, but more environmentally clean method, is to utilize a solar driven process to create hydrogen through reactions with plants, semiconductors, or metal oxides. With the rising issues with climate change and carbon emissions in the atmosphere, hydrogen is a very attractive fuel source. Like other fuel types, it is used as an energy source because it can carry, store, and transfer energy. By nature, it does not create carbon emissions when ignited, thus making it a clean burning fuel source.[18]

To use hydrogen as energy for vehicles, the most common applications are as a fuel cell or as liquid fuel.

Fuel Cells

Basic hydrogen FCEV diagram [19]

A fuel cell uses a fuel source, in this case hydrogen, to produce electricity.

How it Works: The hydrogen and oxygen react within the cell and produce waste water and electrical energy. When applied in a vehicle, the energy produces power which drives the motors. Compared to a battery, this does not require a draw of power from the electric grid as electricity is generated within the car by the fuel cell. This application leads to an overall efficiency of 64%, significantly more than the 20% efficiency of gasoline vehicles. [20] [21]

Benefits: The main benefit to fuel cells is environmental sustainability. Due to its thermal efficiency, its fuel economy is equal to approximately twice that of a gasoline vehicle. In addition, hydrogen is a by-product of many industrial processes and treated as waste. Cleaning this hydrogen for use in fuel cells can be a way of upcycling this hydrogen. Finally, there is a benefit in the fueling time as it is much quicker than charging a lithium ion battery electric vehicle, taking approximately three to five minutes. [22] [23]

Downsides: There are also a few downsides to fuel cells. First, the cost to produce hydrogen is significant. This can be mitigated by economies of scale as more research and more production is done. This relates to another downside, which is the availability of hydrogen fueling stations. There are only four in the province of British Columbia as of August 2022, and that is considered a high number. [24] In addition, the storage of hydrogen can be difficult as hydrogen gas is highly flammable. This is a major drawback combined with the lower energy density of hydrogen, necessitating a larger fuel tank compared to a conventional gasoline vehicle. Finally, the processes used to create hydrogen fuel are energy intensive and release carbon emissions, so the processes associated with this technology are not entirely carbon free. [25]

Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle: A hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) works by incorporating an onboard hydrogen tank, fuel cell, and electric motors. The vehicle requires an air intake for oxygen and is filled with hydrogen much like a conventional gasoline vehicle. An example of a hydrogen FCEV is the Toyota Mirai. This is the first mass produced hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, available in the market in 2014. In 2020, the second generation of Toyota Mirai was introduced, retailing at $54,990 CAD as of July 2022. A single tank of hydrogen has a range of 647km, significantly more than the traditional battery electric vehicles sold. [26] For comparison, a Tesla Model 3 Long Range can travel an estimated 538km between charges but is much more expensive at $76,990 CAD. [27]

2022 Toyota Mirai FCEV [28]

Hydrogen Fuel Internal Combustion Engines

De Rivaz Hydrogen Internal Combustion Engine [29]
BMW Hydrogen 7 [30]
Toyota and Yamaha's joint project hydrogen V8 engine [31]

How it Works: An internal combustion engine (ICE) works by igniting a compressed air and fuel mixture. In a traditional gasoline ICE powered vehicle, this compresses the engine pistons, which spins the crankshaft. This rotational force is carried through a transmission into a driveshaft, which spins a differential and spins the wheels attached to the axle. A hydrogen engine aims to complete this same process by using the ignition of a hydrogen fuel source to generate the initial force. [32]

Timeline: Although the development of hydrogen ICEs has progressed in recent years, its history started in 1807, when the de Rivaz engine was patented. The de Rivaz engine was the world’s first internal combustion engine and used hydrogen as a fuel source. [33] As technology advanced, the conventional gasoline powered ICE we know today became the standard for automobiles. In recent history, BMW built 100 examples of its Hydrogen 7 car in 2005. This was a BMW 7 series that was modified to run on both hydrogen and petrol. Although flawed, it marked significant progress of the hydrogen ICE from a major automaker. [34] Next, in 2021, five Japanese automotive companies (Kawasaki, Mazda, Subaru, Toyota, Yamaha) announced their plans to control their carbon emissions by the use of alternative fuels in racing. This plan was outlined with three initiatives: racing vehicles with carbon-neutral fuels, exploring the use of hydrogen ICEs in vehicles, and continuing to race vehicles with hydrogen ICEs. [35] Finally, in June 2022, Toyota announced the progress achieved from this plan. The highlights were improved vehicle performance, increased hydrogen fuel production, and advancements in hydrogen fuel transportation. [36]

Hydrogen ICE Fuel: Hydrogen fuel for ICEs can be derived from the same processes as the hydrogen fuel used for FCEVs. This brings the same benefit of low to zero carbon emissions but also drawbacks such as the cost and availability. The issue of storage is more pronounced in this application as a hydrogen ICE vehicle is much less efficient than a hydrogen FCEV. Typically, 25-35% efficiency is seen in hydrogen ICEs while hydrogen FCEV typically see around 60% efficiency. This means a hydrogen FCEV can travel nearly double the distance from the same volume of hydrogen fuel. In addition, the weight gain from larger on-board storage tanks and increased fuel volume further reduces overall vehicle fuel efficiency. [37]

Applications and Development: Despite the drawbacks, one major reason for the development of hydrogen ICEs over hydrogen FCEVs is the driving dynamics offered. The sounds and vibrations of a conventional gasoline car is desirable to many, so the use of hydrogen can replicate this in a cleaner way. Although there are no hydrogen fuel powered ICE vehicles sold to the mass market at the moment, both the engine and synthetic fuel are being developed.

Examples of major automotive companies producing and developing this technology are Toyota and Porsche.

Toyota has been an industry leader in hydrogen through its promotion of the Toyota Mirai FCEV. However, they have also pursued hydrogen use in an ICE. In early 2021, they experimented by creating a hydrogen powered racing engine. Their stated goal was to reduce carbon emissions while retaining the enjoyment of a traditional combustion engine, such as the associated noise and vibrations. Finally, in late 2021 Toyota revealed their joint project with Yamaha. This project was a 5.0 litre V8 engine that runs on hydrogen, being based on the brand’s existing V8 engine used in Lexus vehicles. [38]

On the other hand, Porsche has been pursuing a similar goal with a focus on the applications of fuel. This project includes a $75 million investment in Chilean company Highly Innovative Fuels (HIF), which has developed a synthetic liquid fuel that can be used in any gasoline-burning engine. As of July 2022, Porsche has planned the production of 130,000 litres of this alternative carbon neutral fuel. One major benefit of this development is the fact that the fuel is able to be used in existing engines that purely run on petrol. [39] [40]

Electrification

What is electrification?

Electrification refers to the process of replacing technologies that use fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) with technologies that use electricity as a source of energy. Depending on the resources used to generate electricity, electrification can potentially reduce carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions from the transportation, building, and industrial sectors, which account for 65 percent of all US greenhouse gas emissions. Addressing emissions from these sectors is critical to decarbonizing the economy and, ultimately, mitigating the impacts of climate change. This electrification is any product or technology that had traditionally used fuel as a source and has been converted to the capacity of using electricity to power the device.[41]

Why is electrification important?

It is clear that a primary focus for Canada will be to protect the environment and ensure that future generations are not plagued by the actions of the past. In doing so, Canada plans to achieve strict climate goals to deviate from a path of destruction. The top 3 reasons on why electrification is important include: the unhealthy reliance on fossil fuels, the efficiency benefits of electric-powered devices, and the rate of greenhouse gas emissions to date.[42]

Greenhouse Gases: Greenhouse gases are gases that trap heat on the earth in the atmosphere. Some examples of greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, water vapour, and methane. These gases are emitted into the atmosphere by both anthropogenic and natural sources causing difficulty for heat to escape our planet. Due to these greenhouse gases, our planets average temperature is warming at an alarming rate causing issues such as climate change, global warming, and chain reactions that involve multiple natural systems.[43] Greenhouse gases are not entirely bad, as they are crucial for humanity. Without greenhouse gases, Earth would have never been habitable from the ice age. Due to the warming effect it has, the greenhouse gases were able to create a habitable planet for humans to live in. However, the main problem lies within the rate at which humans are mass emitting greenhouse gases.

Reliance on Fossil Fuels: Historically the world has been dependent on its fossil fuels as these resources are quick and combustible to create fast energy. However, Canada has begun to diversify its energy portfolio in building a stronger and more resilient economy by harnessing clean energy. The reliance on fossil fuels not only emits greenhouse gases at an alarming rate but also leaves the country susceptible to the consequences of political and economical change. Whether or not resource scarcity becomes a factor with fossil fuels, having multiple means of energy sources will create a more resilient country. Having renewable energy sources will make it so that Canada is meeting their targets by reducing its emissions and creating a better future for the next generation.[44]

Electric Efficiency: As electric-based products are being created and designed at a more frequent rate, it is evident that products that consume fuel are relatively inefficient in terms of their efficiency rate. Internal combustion engines (ICE) generally run at 20% efficiency while 80% of it is waste, however, electric vehicles (EV) are able to put 80% of their input into turning their wheels.[45] This is why often, electric vehicles are often a lot faster than traditional gas-powered vehicles. As electric vehicles are generally 5 times more efficient than internal combustion engines, this is only one example of the advantages that electric products hold in terms of efficiency.

Electric Aviation Sparks Decarbonization

As drone use has become more acceptable in policy by policymakers, the concept of electrification has been a pillar of innovation to decarbonize aviation. Electrification in the aviation industry could result in zero-emission aviation protecting both human and animal life. The aviation industry is not the only benefactor when it comes to electric aircraft. Reducing greenhouse gases and targeting a difficult to decarbonize industry are some of the direct impacts of this solution, however, cities can also benefit from a municipal level. A study was done to predict the effect of electric and hybrid-electric aviation on noise pollution. Overall, reduction of noise pollution was found to be one of the most significant improvements with a transition to fully electric or hybrid-electric aircraft [46]. Not only do citizens of neighbouring cities reap these benefits of noise reduction but wildlife will also be inhabitants of this benefit.[47] Loss to biodiversity links to noise pollution, not to mention, a lot of animals rely on acoustic cues to hunt for their food. Noise pollution not only makes it difficult and impairs the ability of animals to hunt but has impacted the survival of many species that rely on their senses. [48] If a keystone species were to be affected by anthropogenic noise, likely their species would be part of a long list of species to be affected. A keystone species has a disproportionately large effect on its environment compared to its relative abundance and when a keystone species is removed from a system, the ecosystem may change drastically even if they were a small part of it. An example of an affected keystone species is the cave bat who use acoustic cues to find their prey. [49] Traffic noise pollution reduces their ability and hunting efficiency. If a greater form of anthropogenic noise pollution such as aircraft noise pollution were to cause the removal of the bats, this could lead to a trophic cascade where entire ecosystems can be negatively impacted. [50] Overall, a holistic view of how electrification in aviation should be considered when deliberating the investments and policies for this sector. The benefits carry over from the aviation industry to city-level human impacts, and all the way down to biodiversity as aviation encompasses and affects more than just the industry on its own.

Electric aviation technology is not far behind us as there is already an electric seaplane that plans to carry passengers by 2023 from Harbour Air.[51] As of 2019, solar and wind renewable electricity costs would be able to compete with fossil fuels. [52] Meaning that money is no longer the reason why we rely on fossil fuels as innovation continues to drive down the price of renewable energies. Using fossil fuels is a habitual dependence that we have built our technology around when the focus should be on sustainable solutions such as the electrification of planes. One of the downfalls of electric planes is that battery technology has not advanced to the point where they are able to sustain long-term flights over 2-3 hours.[53] Currently, the technology has limited electric aviation to short-term flights with the capacity of approximately 115KM of distance before the battery runs out which is the distance between Vancouver, BC to Victoria, BC.[54] These electric planes are unfortunately not designed for country-to-country long-haul flights. However, according to data from the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), long-haul flights are not the main cause of CO2 emissions from passenger transport. In fact, “approximately one-third of passenger CO2 emissions occurred on short-haul flights of less than 1,500 km.” [55] When comparing the share of passenger CO2 by stage of length and aircraft class, short-haul flights with narrow body aircrafts produce over triple the amount of CO2 compared to long-haul flights with wide-body aircrafts.[56] These findings indicate that transitioning to a hybrid and electric airplane model for short-haul flights may initiate the first big push towards decarbonization in the aviation industry.

The First Air Conditioner[57]

Air Conditioners

In the 1900s Willis Carrier created and designed the first air conditioning system because he was trying to find a solution that would solve the humidity problems for his printing process. Since there was a humidity issue in his factory, his employees were unable to work resulting in a negative impact on his business. When he created the first air conditioning system, this would blow “manufactured weather” across the factory to control its humidity issues which were then later adopted by other businesses. As the first air conditioner was a fuel-based product from the origin of the energy source, it is now in the modern day a purely electric product. Electrification can be seen dating all the way back to the 1900s from converting fuel-based products to electric products. The first air conditioner evolved into an electric air conditioning unit solely powered by electricity that aerates the room and blows cold air.[58]

Heat Pumps

A heat pump is a device that can take hot air from outside regardless of if it is cold and transfer the heat into a home. The reverse can also be done with heat pumps where it takes the hot air from inside a home and makes it cool. It works by having the heat pump collect heat from a colder source and uses the compressor to compress that source creating a reaction that turns the gas into a very hot liquid. It then goes through the pipelines to emit heat throughout the home warming the structure. Alternatively, the same process can be done in reverse where the heat pump is able to transfer heat from a warm home and disperse it outside making the inside of a home cooler. Heat pumps seemingly break the second law of thermodynamics when making the claim that it is 300% efficient, when the reality is that it is in fact, not technically 300% efficient.[59]
Heat Pump Efficiency Diagram[60]

Although there are claims that say a heat pump is 300% efficient [61], the heat pump on its own is not 300% efficient. It is only 300% efficient because it measures 2 systems. Take for example the compressor of a heat pump that creates the heat for the house uses 1/4 energy but results in 4/4 energy dispersion. This seemingly not only breaks the second law of thermodynamics but also results in a 300% increase in efficiency. The second law of thermodynamics is when “energy changes from one form to another form, or matter moves freely, entropy in a closed system increases. Differences in temperature, pressure, and density tend to even out horizontally after a while” meaning if the input of a system is 1 the output of the total system should also result in 1, not 3 in a closed loop. However, what the claim of 300% efficiency neglects to include is the external energy input that it uses such as the air, ground, and water that feeds the compressor from outside which carries 3/4 of the energy and is being transferred into the home. Therefore, the 300% is not being created necessarily, but being transferred from the outside making it appear 300% efficient. The equation of the heat pump would result in a system that balances out: 3/4 (External input) + 1/4 (Compressor input) = 4/4 (Output).[62]

UP Case Study: Risks to Electrification

Union Pacific Railroad (UP) is a freight-hauling railroad company in the United States. The company covers 23 states across the western two-thirds of the United States. Its goal is to connect the nation’s businesses and communities to each other and the world and deliver North America’s safest, most reliable and most efficient supply chain solutions. [63] In the 1970s, UP railway planned to convert 3/4s of their diesel fleet to electric. In the case study, the company found 4 main risks to the project and unfortunately abandoned the project after the inability to find mitigation plans for each criterion as their ambitions were too forward thinking.[64]

Electric-power Availability

The case study required the demand for its operating scenario of around 3 billion kilowatt-hours, which would require a 560-megawatt power plant or multiple plants to supply that amount of electricity. At the time this was a capacity they did not carry nor were they planning to undergo the construction of electrical infrastructure.

Financial Rate of Return to Delays Once Construction Commenced

There was a 32% average annual ROI spread over a life cycle of 30 years. In the first 5 years of construction, the estimated net cash flow was reaching over negative $367 million. Any delays from any source would eliminate the rate of return and diminish the ROI so that the project would no longer be profitable within the timeframe.

Uncertainty About Relationships with Utilities and the Ability to Negotiate Long-term Electricity Rate Contracts

The railroad electrification service contract had to be a long-term agreement. Long-term service and price were unknown but the close cooperation between utilities and the railroad would be essential. However, this would have attracted attention from lawmakers questioning about antitrust activities which they would ultimately run into legal issues.

Electricity Supply and Support From Manufacturers Domestic or Foreign

Characteristics of North American rail operations are radically different from those outside North America. European and Japanese railways were tailored to the passenger while cargo was secondary; however, in North America, it was the opposite where freight was prioritized over passengers. Since the electric fleet would be entirely new in North America, they would unlikely be able to learn and get support from overseas manufacturers since the construction would be built differently.

Future of Electrification

The future of electrification is intertwined with Canada’s targets and goals in reducing their emissions towards reaching net zero. It relies heavily on Canada’s ability to provide more power plants to be created, new infrastructure to be built such as site C dams, and new technologies to be developed through the innovation of our emerging industries and businesses. In today’s modern day, we also cannot currently supply the electricity demanded by all of Canada to meet net-zero targets.[65] The report called “The Big Switch” shows that Canada’s electricity system will need to double or triple its capacity by 2050 by using renewable technologies if Canada wanted to meet their climate targets.[66]In addition to electricity, the system needs more battery storage for peaks in demand as vehicles and home heating systems switch to electric.

Gartner's Hype Cycle[67]


Although electrification dates well past the 1900s, it is still in its infancy with regard to Gartner's Hype Cycle. Although the world right now is in a digital age with rapid advancements in technology, electrification has only just gone past the point of the 'Technology Trigger.'[68] Arguably, electrification is just below the halfway point towards the peak of the hype cycle where we are experiencing high prices and lots of customizations needed. Since time is relative, the peak is unlikely to be reached in the distant future. In relation to this claim, Canada's 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan aims to take action to achieve cleaner air and a stronger economy. Policies that are described such as switching Canadians to electric vehicles and driving down oil and gas sectors are passive approaches toward electrification.[69] Meaning that the full potential for electrification will only be realized once electrification is widespread and adopted on a federal, provincial, and municipal level. Until then, technologies such as electric mobility options like the LiveWire from Harley Davidson, e-micro-mobility options such as e-scooters and e-bikes, and smart cities such as Neom/ Oxagon will continue to be developed and pave the way for the future of electrification.

Smart City Applications

Concept of Smart Cities and Digitalization

A smart city is one that prioritizes the application of information and communications technology (ICT) to improve aspects of urban planning, design, and operations [70]. As smart cities began to evolve, so did its definition. The concept has recently expanded to include economic and social innovation, sustainability, and governance. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s definition focuses on stakeholder engagement, labelling it as a catalyst to improve overall well-being and building sustainable and more resilient societies.

Strengths of smart city initiatives include the opportunity to adopt widespread digitalization, and many benefits to efficiency, such as optimizing traffic fluidity and detecting leaks. The most commonly cited disadvantages include large capital investments, budget constraints, and the lack of infrastructure capable to handle this widespread digitalization. A significant threat of smart city technology is the loss of data, privacy, and safety – commonplace with most digital technologies. This may also exacerbate the inequalities among digitally marginalized groups. However, there are many opportunities to look forward to. It can be a source of inclusivity and efficiency, offer new perspectives and ideas with regards to sustainability, and build more resilient cities.

This opportunity for digitalization will transform cities across the globe. By 2024, up to 83 billion connected devices and sensors will collect data on air quality, traffic patterns, energy consumption, and geospatial data [71]. Digital tools can more effectively and efficiently analyze data, offer new and unique insights, and provide a foundation for sustainable policymaking. Integrating smart and digital solutions into energy systems can provide useful data, such as heating, ventilation, and air conditioning levels, providing real-time insights. This can then be used to balance energy use alongside maximizing comfort.

The concept of smart cities can be taken further – adopting a perspective on sustainability. We will explore the concepts of smart sustainable cities and smart renewable cities. Several cities best demonstrating these relatively new definitions will be explored further, providing a practical and tangible example of concepts in practice.

Smart Sustainable Cities

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) collaborated with over 300 experts to coin the term smart sustainable city. According to the UNECE, a smart sustainable city is “an innovative city that uses ICTs and other means to improve quality of life, efficiency of urban operation and services, and competitiveness, while ensuring that it meets the needs of present and future generations with respect to economic, social, environmental as well as cultural aspects.” [72]

Vancouver, Canada

A tangible example in the development of smart, sustainable cities begins in Vancouver. The goal of Project Greenlight is to encourage collaboration between the region’s public and private enterprises, in an effort to create a smarter and more sustainable city [73]. This originated with the Vancouver Economic Commission in 2021, alongside partners such as FortisBC, TransLink, and QuadReal. Sourcing of ideas to develop smart and sustainable cities begins with these public and private enterprises, reaching out with calls for action and innovation. It is a membership driven platform between members and innovators to accelerate smart and sustainable transformation. Recent challenges the organization has pitched for innovators to solve include greenhouse gas emission reductions, incorporating digital technologies to improve municipal effectiveness, and transitions to renewable energy.

Brisbane, Australia[74]

One significant initiative undertaken by Brisbane City Council is the Brisbane Smart Poles project. This involved installing 20 eight-metre-tall smart poles across the city with sensor technology. These poles collect and transfer data into a central management system for further analysis and insights. Smart and sustainable technology being applied include LED location beacons, pedestrian and cyclist detection, environmental noise monitoring, climate monitoring, air quality monitoring, and Wi-Fi capabilities[75]. This contributes to Brisbane’s 2031 vision and is one of the main highlights of its sustainability goals.

Location and Design of Brisbane Smart Poles[76]

Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen has made significant strides in becoming the world’s most smart and sustainable city. It aims to become the world’s first carbon-neutral city by 2025[77], with green targets surrounding energy consumption, production, green mobility, and city administration. For example, in 2025, the city aims for the use of alternative fuels for all city vehicles, a 50% reduction in energy consumption for street lighting, and over 60,000m2 of solar panels on municipal buildings. According to the Digital Cities Index released in 2022, Copenhagen was the top performing city overall[78]. This global ranking was a result of four thematic pillars, including connectivity, services, culture, and sustainability.

Other smart sustainable cities may include Hong Kong, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Singapore, and Oslo.

3DEXPERIENCity

3DEXPERIENCity is a virtual reality urban planning tool designed by Dassault Systèmes[79]. Its 3DEXPERIENCE platform leverages current, virtual world technology to allow government, citizens, and other stakeholders to support sustainable city planning. 3DEXPERIENCity provides a digital universe where sustainable decisions can be made and the impact on cities visualized. Several cities have now adopted the technology, including Singapore, India, and France. Use cases from the platform allow for a plethora of urban planning decisions to be undertaken, including designing city parks based on data from shadows and vegetation.

City of Rennes, France in the 3DEXPERIENCity platform[80]

The 3DEXPERIENCity platform utilizes the data generated by cities and transforms it into a user friendly, 3D interactive visualization. It uses both building information modelling (BIM) and city information modelling (CIM) to produce these visualizations. This encourages collaboration from citizens to urban planners and government entities. For example, this type of technology could be applied to a new real estate development. All stakeholders could access the visualization, and simulate the potential pollution or noise added to the area. This develops well-informed citizens, and feedback could be given to council regarding whether to proceed with this new development. CIM can be used to also fight climate change. 3DEXPERIENCity is able to produce what-if scenarios, with the virtual environment able to simulate the effects of added noise, wind, air circulation, geographical risks, and physical threats[81]. This tool is useful to see the possible effects before actually conducting an action in real life. It can provide a digital model using all types of city-collected data, from topographical data to mobility data and health data.

Smart Renewable Cities

Deloitte has developed the concept of a smart renewable city (SRC)[82]. This SRC framework encompasses all cities using solar and/or wind power alongside their smart city plans. To be considered, these cities must have an existing, easily accessible municipal plan to integrate renewables and smart city initiatives. These cities also have greater than 1% of its energy deployed through renewable forms such as solar and wind. Under this classification, there are three types or levels of SRCs.

Types of SRCs

1. Biggest SRCs – Meet the SRC definition criteria stated above and contain more than 1,000,000 residents. Examples include Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Istanbul, and Santiago. Adelaide, Australia has the highest proportion of wind and solar power among all SRCs in this category. Often very dense and large population centres as there is increasing pressure from government and other stakeholders to intensify decarbonization initiatives.

2. Purest SRCs – Meet the SRC definition criteria stated above and have solar/wind accounting for greater than 51% of the current mix of energy. Examples include the cities of Denton and Georgetown in Texas, and Orebro in Sweden.

3. Newest SRCs – Are up and coming smart city projects entirely focused on renewable forms of power. Only four SRCs currently meet this definition: Peña Station Next in the USA, Xiongan in China, Neom in Saudi Arabia, and Hyllie in Sweden. These SRCs have targets of either becoming carbon-neutral or using 100% renewable energy. In Neom, all essential services, including medical facilities, parks, and schools will be within a several minute walk. A series of communities connected using artificial intelligence is being developed, with no cars or roads, powered entirely by 100% clean energy.

Locations of SRCs

North America

For instance, the city of Calgary in Canada has a 5% share of wind and solar renewables in their electricity mix, while 10% of the electricity mix consist of renewables (wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, hydropower)[83]. The city has a goal to reduce emissions by 80% before the year 2050. Chicago, Illinois in the United States has a wind and solar share of 3%, with 5% overall share in renewables. The city has a renewable target of 100% renewable energy in all municipal buildings by the year 2025.

Europe

Barcelona, Spain has a 7% electricity mix of wind and solar power, with renewables making up 18% of its electricity mix. The city, categorized as a Biggest SRC, has targets to reduce emissions by 45% by 2030 from their baseline of 2005 and aim to be carbon-neutral by 2050. Nationally, the country of Spain has a 100% renewable energy target for electricity by 2050. Manchester in the United Kingdom uses a 6% share of wind and solar electricity, accounting for a total of 13% share of renewables. Notably, the city aims to be carbon-neutral by 2038[84].

Greenfield Case Study: Neom/Oxagon

Neom is a region in Saudi Arabia, designed to serve as a vision for the future. It is an economic engine, built from the ground up, with humanity and sustainability at its core. The region is powered using 100% renewable energy. With its location being a six-hour flight away from 40% of the world, this makes Neom a key logistics and trading partner for many nations. One specific city within Neom is Oxagon, a blueprint for advanced and clean industries. Most importantly, the city brings together industry 4.0 and the circular economy. Projections anticipate that by 2030, Oxagon will have a population of 90,000 residents and house 70,000 jobs[85]. It is considered the largest floating structure in the world, powered solely using clean energy. Oxagon’s strategic location fosters global connectivity, with 13% of trade passing through the Suez Canal. The first residents are expected in 2024, with logistics in place by 2025.

The city of Oxagon in Neom, Saudi Arabia[86]

Several initiatives make Oxagon stand out from other cities. These initiatives include[87]:

1. Prioritizing advanced and clean industries

2. Developing a technological hub for research and innovation

3. Building a next generation port and supply chain, fully automated and integrated

4. Encouraging the development of thriving communities

5. Powering the city using 100% clean energy

Oxagon also prioritizes seven manufacturing clusters in its development. These clusters and industries include[88]:

1. Renewable energy – solar power, hydrogen (building hydrogen production facility located in nearby Red Sea), on-shore wind

2. Autonomous and sustainable mobility – green watercraft, heavy duty vehicles, autonomous shuttles

3. Modern construction – 3D printing, sustainable steel, zero emission machinery

4. Water innovation – wastewater treatment, management, desalination

5. Sustainable food production – sustainable packaging, greenhouse use, meat alternatives

6. Health and well-being – biotechnology, medicine, nutrition

7. Technology and digital – robots, 5G infrastructure, space exploration, advanced equipment

Oxagon's circular economy philosophy[89]

Renewables and Smart City Goals

There are three ways renewable energy can contribute to the goals and objectives of smart cities across the globe: economic growth, sustainability, and quality of life[90].

SRCs help promote economic growth as renewables are competitive and conducive to job creation and innovation. In markets where most of the SRCs are located, the cost of adopting renewables compared to conventional sources is almost equivalent. Utility companies may soon realize that adopting renewables into the city’s electricity mix is much more efficient and cheaper than using conventional methods. Benefits seen in Georgetown, one of the Purest SRCs, were significant – electricity costs decreased, gas prices dropped, and the need for storage was reduced. This ensured renewable power was affordable, reliable, and sustainable. Another benefit in the economic growth category would be the ability to attract companies pursuing the use of renewables and therefore providing green jobs for citizens. Several companies showed interest in moving their operations to Georgetown immediately after the city announced plans for the significant adoption of renewable energy. Deploying renewables are seen as an opportunity to create local jobs and can be used as a value proposition to attract new talent. The final benefit in economic growth is the encouragement of innovation through renewable business incubators. Many SRCs foster innovation with the integration of renewable microgrid technology, developing net-zero communities and enhancing reliability.

World's first road that recharges electric trucks in Sweden[91]

Buildings powered using renewable energy and investments in electric mobility are ways that SRCs can stimulate sustainability. Sustainability goals include managing energy from smart renewable-powered buildings, recycling and using alternatives to building power plants, and using zero-emissions energy to reduce carbon footprint. Using Internet of Things (IoT) technology, smart buildings can be built with solar panels, smart meters, and smart thermostats. Cities have considered producing their own renewable power, installing solar panels on residential properties connected to a central power grid. Distributing renewable energy and focusing on clean mobility are other key priorities for SRCs. Renewables can be harnessed from many sources, powering local transit systems and electric vehicle charging stations. The electrification of renewables requires input from key stakeholders, including utilities, government, and the automotive industry. Most notably, a significant advancement in electrification occurred in Sweden. A fully electrified road was built, providing a tangible solution for dense urban cities. These electrified pathways allow for consistent charging of electric vehicles and will likely be part of urban development and mobility in the years ahead.

Last but not least, SRCs provide a higher quality of life. One of the main initiatives of SRCs is the distribution and accessibility of renewables, primarily focusing on households with lower incomes. Cities have expanded the use of renewables and are making them much easier to obtain. Several cities have taken the extra step and subsidized the use of renewables by lowering initial building costs. Utilities have absorbed the costs associated with installation, insurance, and maintenance, in exchange for the expansion of renewables and rooftop space. SRCs that have adopted 100% renewables are integrating this into their urban design. Initiatives that many cities have undertaken include the introduction of car-free areas and related legislation, creating zero-emission zones and city centres, and limiting the use of combustion engines[92]. Only through these ambitious targets and stakeholder involvement will we see smart cities transformed into ones with economic growth, sustainability, and quality of life top of mind.

Deloitte's urban future equation that urban definitions, goals, and foundations should focus on[93]

Authors

Brendan Wong Cynthia Xuan Stephen Wong Wilson Wan
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada

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