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12 technologies for the decarbonisation of our cities

Reducing emissions is a fundamental part of the fight against climate change, but it is also an extremely complex endeavour that cannot be tackled without breaking it down into several sections. One of the aspects that concerns us most closely, for instance, is the decarbonisation of cities. Large urban areas are home to more than 50% of the world's population and generate 70% of all emissions. It is not possible, of course, to envisage a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in urban areas without a collective effort, starting with governmental action, then extending to businesses, technological innovation and - finally - the lifestyles of individuals. Technologies and innovations, of course, are indispensable allies in this process. The report 'Sustainable disruption: 12 decarbonising technologies for cities', prepared by Osborne Clarke for Cop26, identified 12 such technologies that can be instrumental in the decarbonisation of cities.

Osborne Clarke's research on decarbonising cities

The report analysed 26 technologies, looking at their application in ten major cities around the world, with varying levels of success in terms of reducing and containing emissions, but all sharing the fact that they have a high CO2 levels and a commitment to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. The cities in question are Barcelona, Seoul, Paris, New York, London, San Francisco, Delhi, Berlin, Singapore and Florence. The parameters used to assess the technologies are, among others, their proven effectiveness, financial sustainability, scalability and potential to achieve the carbon neutrality targets set by international agreements. Within the urban context, distinctions have also been made between technologies operating in the fields of construction, infrastructure and transport.

Efficiency is key

Particularly in the construction sector, efficiency in the planning, construction and management of buildings is the basis for the successful decarbonisation of cities. The concept of efficiency must go upstream of the work of construction companies, starting with research into more environmentally sustainable materials as an alternative to concrete, but also into energetically efficient buildings, with smart networks and meters for energy distribution, high-efficiency heat pumps and district cooling and heating technologies. Also the use of materials such as high-performance glass and the creation of "green roofs", i.e. green structures on the roofs of buildings that combine thermal insulation with the positive effect of vegetation on the atmosphere.

Transport and infrastructure: artificial intelligence can open up new avenues for decarbonisation

Have you ever heard of 'waste robotic', 'vehicle to grid' and 'digital twin'? These are innovative technologies that use artificial intelligence and deep learning to optimise processes of various kinds, with the aim of reducing emissions. In some cases their effectiveness is proven, while in others, according to the Osborne Clarke report, further research and investment is needed to verify their long-term effects. In simple terms, waste robotic refers to the automation of waste management using machine learning to optimise the entire process from an energy perspective. Vehicle-to-grid technology, on the other hand, is the technology that enables the re-transfer of energy from the electric vehicle to the distribution grid, to avoid waste and keep the energy produced from renewable sources in circulation for as long as possible. Finally, the 'digital twin' concept has to do with the AI-driven simulation of a process, with all its variables, in order to assess its efficiency without implementing the actual process, so as not to waste emissions in the evaluation phase. These technologies, together with autonomous vehicles and 'mobility as a service', are being considered in the area of infrastructure and transport efficiency.

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Published on 25-11-2021

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