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Residential Renovation towards nearly zero energy CITIES

Gloria Piaggio – Genoa, a Smart City

New technologies and energy management could soon lead to sustainable cities.

Gloria Piaggio – Genoa, a Smart City

Cities substantially contribute to European air pollution as they are the source of about 36% of the total CO2 emissions. Modern cities therefore raise sustainability concerns. Now R2CITIES aims to test solutions that should cut energy consumption by about 50%. The project will focus on the districts of three Mediterranean towns as case studies. Their current consumption will be recorded before testing possible solutions based on building renovation and changes in energy sources and distribution. The case studies include districts in Valladolid, Spain, in Genoa, Italy, and in Kartal near Istanbul, in Turkey. These will be refurbished and improved at a cost of €100 per square meter, as required by the EU commission, which supports the project.

Gloria Piaggio, director of the Smart City program at the Genoa municipality, connected to the project, talks about how architects, engineers, and technicians are planning to make a test case in an estate of about 160 council houses, spread over 18,000 square meters, to create an environmentally friendly district.

What did you call your project Smart City?
Cities are growing fast and there is a need to improve quality of life. The improvement is based on an economic development that must be sustainable, both economically and environmentally. Once seen as mere bureaucratic agencies, municipalities are now shifting towards acting as planning offices. In Genoa, we have created a Sustainable Energy Action Plan, where we set 80 actions towards a long term development. Few action examples are the energy efficiency improvement in public buildings, energy saving technology in street lighting, boosting of car-sharing, plans to convert house heating systems from oil to methane.

Is this plan achievable?
Yes, this is ambitious and the road to a Smart City is all but easy. However, as a municipality we could keep on dealing with growing towns and increasing economic and environmental pressures forcing us to be reactive in the face of emergencies. Alternatively, we can develop long term plans. Planning also serves the purpose of guiding us towards economic benefits. For example, shifting to LED street lighting will lead up to 70% energy reduction. In two years, the investment will be paid back.

How will you handle the fact that long term planning and politics do not well mix together?
Because politicians often have a short term horizon, we want to promote a dialogue between institutions, academics, citizens, and the private sector. To do so, we have created the Genova Smart City Association (AGSC). It engages with citizens’ associations and NGOs, as we need to dialogue with as many stakeholders as possible.

What is the novelty of this specific project?
The project is a strong co-operation between the Genoa municipality, which owns the Lavatrici social housing district, the university, and the private sector. Establishing a dialogue between these three actors is a major challenge. As most of European buildings erected after the Second World War, the building quality in the district is poor. However the householders have demonstrated that they care considerably about the buildings and they are keen to test new solutions. 

We are experimenting with an ideal Smart dwelling in two flats, with new windows, energy saving refurbishing, temperature controllers, and more. They will be monitored for one year to measure changes in energy consumption. Once this has been completed, the plan is to refurbish and change the heating distribution systems while applying new controlling technologies in about 160 dwellings.

How would you rate householders’ engagement in this project?
In social housing there is a disconnect between the owner, the municipalities and the users. In the Lavatrici district, inhabitants understand that householders will benefit from this program because the houses will undergo significant improvements. Their feedback is positive, they are engaged and eager to co-operate.


Article by: Jacopo Pasotti