Digitalization as the driver of the urban energy revolution


The energy revolution in Germany is currently undergoing a transition. In recent years, the focus has been on the development of renewable generation in rural regions. The second phase of the energy revolution now needs to focus particularly on urban regions. The EU and the federal government have drafted ambitious climate protection targets that require long-term and intelligent urban development. To achieve these climate protection targets, digital use of energy related data is particularly important, as this enables interaction between the power, heating, cooling and mobility sectors.

In implementing the urban energy transformation, experience has shown that towns and communities are well advised to focus on some key elements for sustainable urban development. Key guidelines for the community, private organizations and partnerships need to be defined for this purpose.

Key guidelines include:

  • Clearly defining the objective, e.g. in the form of a climate protection programs
  • Anchoring this objective in urban planning, e.g. through appropriate specifications for urban contracts or by including CO2-reduction targets
  • Developing  reference projects to create  inspiration for sustainable, intelligent urban development

The example of Malmö

One example for Smart City development is the city of Malmö in Sweden. Some years ago Malmö set an objective for 100% of its energy requirements to be provided by renewables by 2030. The new district of Hyllie will serve as a reference project, to provide a model for the region and to transfer solutions in Hyllie to the entire city of Malmö.

Development of this new district began with a vision and a climate contract. The city of Malmö, the local waste management company, and E.ON signed an agreement in February 2011 in which the overall objectives for Hyllie were specified:

  • 100% renewable or recovered energy by 2020
  • Integrated smart grids to synchronize supply and demand
  • Efficient waste management and energy recycling
  • Energy-efficient and smart buildings
  • Sustainable mobility with biogas and electricity

In the years that followed, Hyllie succeeded in establishing itself as Sweden’s national reference project for climate smart city development. Since then 2,000 apartments, 8,500 jobs, a 4,500-metre-long heating grid and a 900-metre-long cooling grid have all sprung up in the district. A flexible and sustainable energy system enables individual solutions for various user groups and integrates Hyllie's residents by using demand-response solutions in the provision of energy consumption.

A key element of success for Hyllie was an integrated concept and plan, established at the outset, for integrated energy solutions. From the first phase of the concept, politicians, local administration, and energy suppliers all worked together. Meanwhile, at an international level, the district is also seen as an example for sustainable and participative urban development that respects the environment.

With the continuing and rapidly increasing technological change, the future sustainability of the energy supply in the district poses a particular challenge. A local network infrastructure for power, heating, and cooling offers flexibility to incorporate innovative and sustainable generation technologies, enabling consideration to further expansion of charging infrastructures for electro-mobility and future customers’ requirements.

The local network infrastructure should therefore not automatically be seen as a competitor of conventional district heating supplies, but rather as complementary, in the sense of an integrated and innovative approach. Several projects being run by E.ON and the regional supply companies associated with the Group show that using a local network on site can balance out different customer requirements and avoid peak loads meaning that part of a customer’s cooling requirement can be covered in the district by a neighboring customer's heat consumption.

Digitalization of districts

Digitalization of a district is a necessary requirement to achieve improved efficiency by interconnecting sectors. For example, energy data in the district can be used to intelligently control the overall energy systems, the demand-oriented use of self-generated power (e.g. electro-mobility solutions), or improved maintenance of networks and generating plants. To put things in perspective, digitalization enables closer exchange between users, e.g. direct peer-to-peer connection of electricity producers and consumers or financial settlement by means of block chain technology.

In built-up developed urban districts, digitalization takes on a different role from that of new construction. It is the first step in energy district development to increase energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions. The key task is to first develop an efficient information and communication technology infrastructure to maintain the necessary transparency via measured values, maintaining the energy status of a district. A number of individual measures are available to develop the measuring infrastructure as efficiently as possible. Each measure should make its own positive value contribution to district development, as essentially, energy efficiency should be financed by energy cost savings. In this context, the forthcoming smart meter rollout can be seen as an opportunity to develop a key element of the information and communication technology infrastructure for a district without any additional costs.

Hyllie/Malmö Smart City concept

Hyllie/Malmö Smart City concept

Energy data can be used to derive the necessary steps for sustainable district development. Technical system optimization is already frequently achieving significant savings. Exact system parameters are only usually available after operational optimization when they can be used as the basis for decisions to modernize. The actual data for a district therefore form the basis for commercially viable replacement investments. In larger housing stock, this process is used to achieve the basis for the strategic management of carbon emissions and stock efficiency.

Another appealing measure resulting from current legislation in creating a developed urban district is the implementation of tenant power models. The installation of PV systems and highly efficient CHPs in residential properties results in a reduction of carbon emissions. Tenants of these properties are involved in the urban energy revolution and benefit from inexpensive electricity tariffs as the electricity produced directly on site is used with lower taxes being charged.

Digital solutions for urban climate protection

With the increasing decentralization of the energy world, data and their digital use are becoming increasingly important. Urban climate protection targets should therefore also be implemented by means of digital solutions. However, for success to be achieved, the urban energy revolution can only be managed if it is organized by a number of players together. Politicians, managers, local businesses, real estate managers, energy companies and industry working together as partners is of key importance in this regard. Not least, the active involvement of all residents is also necessary for success. This is how the sustainable Smart City becomes a reality.

  1. Smart Home
  2. Smart Building
  3. Local generation
  4. Integrated smart networks
  5. Sustainable mobility
  6. Climate-neutral carbon footprint
  7. Local energy storage
Marten Bunnemann

Marten Bunnemann, Member of the Board of Avacon AG

Before his appointment, Marten Bunnemann was a member of the board at Avacon AG in the Business Development and Local Energy Division at E.ON Germany. His work activities have focused on the area of “Sustainable Cities”. Avacon AG is one of Germany’s largest regional energy service providers with its head office in Helmstedt/Lower Saxony. The network area extends from the North Sea coast to South Hesse. Avacon AG is part of the E.ON Group, yet distinguished by its strong community focus. More than 80 local authorities and districts hold 38.5% of its shares.