Citizen engagement and the City-Zen project


On Thursday 5 October our colleague Sarah Bogaert gave a presentation on the City-zen project during European Utility Week. The City-zen presentation was part of the “citizen engagement” session. The key-takeaways of the presentation can be found below.

The objective of the City-zen project is to develop and demonstrate energy efficient cities and to build a methodology and tools for cities, industries and citizens to reach the 20-20-20 targets. In order to make this possible 20 projects were set up in Grenoble and Amsterdam.

Citizen engagement as core starting point

One of the common points raised in the various presentations during the “citizen engagement” session was the importance of involving citizens. Supplying services and technologies is only useful if the citizens involved want to implement them, if they don’t the advancements are not future-proof.

There are more than 20 demonstrators in the City-zen project, but in this presentation a closer look was given into what can be learned so far from the retrofitting demo and the virtual power plant/home battery demo.

The retrofitting demo

A good way to involve more inhabitants is to find ambassadors in the buildings to be retrofitted to convince other inhabitants to be positive towards (N)ZEB retrofitting. Social housing corporations can also cooperate more and exchange best practices. If there are more requests for renovation, they can be brought together in an automated way through a platform to make it more attractive to banks. It will be worthwhile to check how to involve the energy savings in a justifiable way in the credit viability checks.

The government could stimulate homeowners to make an individual energy assessment/plan for each house, which shows how the building can be retrofitted to (nearly) zero over a longer period of time and prevents lock-in measures (where once renovated or built, it will not be cost-effective to further upgrade the energy efficiency of these buildings for several decades). Another possibility is for the city to do more serious scenario planning, investigating in which districts energy efficiency measures would be the most interesting, where investments could be made in district heating networks, etc.

Recap of the takeaways from the retrofitting demo:

  • Retrofitting is very situational. Even though problems are the same, the solutions are not, each citizen is unique.
  • Stimulate cooperation within buildings and districts and between social housing companies as it can deploy more optimal solutions.
  • Assessment of effective renovation planning is important, by both citizen and city, and should be based on the right information.
  • We can’t neglect questions such as: who gets subsidy support/what is the cost-effectiveness? This is to prevent that the money is only spent on households that do not necessarily need the support.
  • Grouped investment requests/insights in energy savings can make it more attractive for banks.

The virtual power plant/home battery demo

This demo consists of 50 home battery systems that form a virtual energy plant. This makes it possible to store solar energy in home battery systems, using this energy for trading on the energy market or for supporting the grid. The battery systems are placed in the homes of willing customers. Below the motivation to (not) participate is explored.

Among the motivations to join, we can point out three factors. Firstly it provides excitement: customers believe participating is interesting, sophisticated and cool. Secondly it provides a calibration of their own perception (of the environment and household) and the objective data of smart devices (PV and battery) in the house. Thirdly, the idea of acting as a stronger collective instead of individual households. Customers appreciate to not only talk about energy efficiency but act together with their neighbours to create a cleaner world.

It is equally interesting to look at why people did not want to join. There were some physical barriers: the home battery system takes up space and needs to be connected to the smart meter. About one third of the people that were interested did not participate because the battery system would not fit or the cable would run through their living room. There were also mental barriers, more specifically insufficient headspace. People occupied with daily routines and stress do not take the time to consider the pros and cons of participating in such a project.

What could help to break through this mental barrier is establishing a deeper connection with the customer. What can be taken away from this project that customers want a face, not a company to deal with. They desire a personal connection in the relationship with the provider of the service, since they are part of the same community and environment. If a connection is made on the deeper level, the fuss of installing such a home battery is more easily accepted.

For more information on the City-zen project and the other demos, please check out the project website.