Arup Thoughts: Smart grids and the city

Smart grids could deliver a flexible, affordable, reliable, and efficient power infrastructure.

By Maria Brucoli, Arup September 16, 2015

Smart grids could deliver a flexible, affordable, reliable and efficient power infrastructure. They can facilitate and support sustainable growth processes by enabling city planners, designers and operators to make the most efficient use of power, whether that’s on the demand side or the supply side.

Any urban intervention has an impact on the power supply infrastructure. It requires either integrating with the existing system (as in the case of urban infill) or new assets if a new supply is required (as is the case with a new city or urban extension). Smart data, technologies and solutions have been shown to ease the pressure on networks and resources, facilitate growth and even add value to the projected image of the new urban landscape.

On a large planning scale, microgrids can bring together local generation and demand for residential communities. There’s an even stronger case formicrogrids in new cities, which present additional challenges. These can include high local power demand from wealthy residents, a location outside the main city boundary, weak grid connection and larger-than-usual installed renewable generation as a part of the sustainable lifestyle the development promotes.

When it comes to densifying an existing city, the pressure placed on the existing infrastructure by the increased population can cause problems. TheDistrict Information Modelling and Management for Energy Reductions(DIMMER) project shows how smart use of data can relieve this pressure. By mapping the energy use of individual customers and collating it into a bigger system picture, the project hopes to find ways to deliver better integrated infrastructure solutions, use energy efficiently, optimise distribution, integrate low carbon technologies and engage consumers.

At a smaller scale, the revitalisation of the beachfront in Palma de Mallorca is a good example of how the use of smart data and control together with a coordinated plan for power, water, waste and mobility infrastructure can bring added value in a streetscaping intervention.

The project aims to transform the 10km seafront into a sustainable smart holiday destination over the next 25 years. The area will become carbon neutral by promoting efficiency and renewable energy in buildings (estimated 50% reduction), by integrating distributed renewable generation (estimated 25% reduction) and by offsetting the remaining 25%.

In the short term, Palma de Mallorca now provides free WiFi along 5km of the beachfront, with a reported increase in daily connections in the area from 3,500 to 25,000. Coupled with purpose-made applications, the Apps Palma, this means wireless usage is already helping tourists to access cultural sites, leisure attractions, mobility services, restaurants and accommodation.

I believe experience shows that planning with smartness can offer not only technical benefits but can also help cities become more sustainable and even more attractive. So how can we bring this into the mainstream?

Getting a client’s buy-in at a very early stage by quantifying the benefits is vital. Architects and planners need to be onboard too. Weekly design team meetings are the perfect opportunity to explain to the project team smart solutions that can support sustainable growth.

How would you make more of smart power solutions?

Maria Brucoli is a senior engineer in the energy and climate change consulting team at Arup. This article originally appeared on Arup Thoughts. Arup is a CFE Media content partner.