Urban planners and energy experts worldwide have started testing and implementing new ways of managing energy, which involve organizing both production (solar, wind and biomass) and usage (housing and mobility) at the same level, be it the district, city or region. This is how “local energy communities” have come about.
In most industrialized countries, the traditional blueprint for urban services is a “silo” organization, with large autonomous electricityForm of energy resulting from the movement of charged particles (electrons) through a conductor..., gas, water, urban heating and public transportation sectors. Energy distribution has been designed from the top down, with concentrated production systems and transmission networks extended by increasingly fine local networks.
However, a local, community-based approach has been developing for some years now1. The concepts of “energy‑positive buildings” and eco-districts came about with the objective of producing and consuming onsite, aiming for a positive balance. These energy concepts are always connected to other components of urban operations, such as mobility and economic, cultural and leisure activities. Cities, followed by regions, have drawn up “climate action plans”. The new French region, Occitanie, (formerly Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées) has expressed its ambition to become Europe’s first energy-positive region2.
In Japan, these new entities are called “smart communities”. The European Commission has proposed the creation of “local energy communities” to foster self-consumption. In the United States, “community choice aggregations” aim to provide local entities with an organizational framework enabling them to enter into contracts with service providers.
In more advanced cases3, this approach is realized at city level through a “control center”, which establishes multiple links:
- With residential buildings and energy-positive offices. These have their own control center that manages consumption and regulates air conditioning and ventilation as well as decentralized powerIn physics, power is the amount of energy supplied by a system per unit time. In simpler terms, power can be viewed as energy output... generation.
- With companies that have developed supervisory services for their facilities.
- With houses, which have the same qualities on a smaller scale with the development of home automationRefers to all the automation and programming processes used in homes... and smart meters.
- With local solar and wind farms and biogasA product of the methanation (anaerobic digestion) of organic waste... production units, which each have their own storage facilities.
- With new generations of gasoline service stations and tomorrow’s hydrogenThe simplest and lightest atom, the most abundant element in the universe. filling stations, with power terminals for electric cars.
- With public transportation management centers and mobility-sharing platforms.
- And of course with networks transporting electricity and other energy carriers to which the urban area is connected. This is essential for managing energy flows and ensuring access among districts and also regions.
Some examples from around the world illustrate this approach.
The electricity production of solar panels can be predicted minute by minute by observing cloud movement.
In Japan, the tradition of the State and the large industrial conglomerates forming alliances resulted, in 2010, in the launch of four major projects gradually implemented in different environments: the major conurbation of Yokohama, the heavy industry city of Kitakyushu, the planned community of Toyota City, which is home to the headquarters of the large automotive company, and the university hub of Kansai Science City.
These projects even go beyond energy issues and cover a range of functions including remote surveillance, remote maintenance and assistance for the elderly.
In the Hawaiian Islands, the second-largest island, Maui, has significantly increased the number of electric vehicles, the business model of which benefits greatly from the short distances, the large fleet of rental vehicles for tourists and the high cost of gasoline.4 The number of often wireless charging stations has soared in hotels, golf courses, shopping malls, churches and single-family homes. These are managed to operate during off-peak hours, making use of the substantial local wind power production.
In France, near Paris, the Issygrid project has broken new ground in the management of solar power generation from rooftop photovoltaic panels (see the Op-Ed Article by Valérick Cassagne). Cloud cover is monitored minute by minute by cameras and data are analyzed in real time to predict changes in electricity production. Lyon, meanwhile, has introduced various innovations in its Confluence pilot district (see Close-Up: “Greater Lyon Is Embracing Big Data”).