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25 September 2015

Opinion: Sustainable Cities & Renewable Energy

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As part of our featured articles on sustainable development & innovations, we’ve interviewed Etienne Cadestin who is Managing Director at Longevity Partners in the UK. We asked him about sustainable city developments in Europe, but also about the developments in his own city. Moreover, we were curious to find out what he sees as the biggest challenge for developing sustainable city projects and how he sees the future of our cities.

What is a Sustainable City in your opinion, and what city do you see as an example for sustainable cities in Europe?
I see cities as clusters of complex inter-connected and inter-dependant systems.
Sustainable cities have systems that operate in a way that do not impact the environment negatively and have a positive impact on wellbeing and prosperity of its inhabitants. They use resources in a sustainable way.
Frankfurt has been crowned the most sustainable city in the world. London is not far behind. It has a lot of green spaces and investment is being made to encourage more walking and cycling in the city. Local authorities are beginning to understand waste as a resource and contracted waste companies like Veolia are helping London to innovate towards a circular economy. However, London is a major European attraction and global business centre, it is facing demographic growth challenges, and there is bad air quality and congestion. New homes and manufacturing sites being built for the rising population and they are much more energy efficient but London is still not making the best use of solar technology or investing enough in green-building construction

What do you think is the biggest challenge in developing sustainable city projects?
Adaptation and demographic changes are the two biggest challenges that cities face at the moment. Cities grow over time, some faster than others. It’s easier to develop a perfect miniature city but it’s more challenging to respond to economic and demographic changes in an already existing environment.
Future cities will need to innovate as well as integrate new technologies in existing buildings and construct new commercial and residential buildings that meet the future needs of residents as well as local business.
Cities are centres of attraction, they create their own inertia. For the last 100 years people have moved from rural to urban areas. In 2050, more than 66% of the world population will live in cities. If Cities want to address energy security, wellbeing, air quality and social cohesion challenges that urban sprawls lead to, they will need to embrace technological innovation to deliver more whilst consuming less, adapt quickly to remain competitive and regulate to provide an appropriate framework.

How do you see the (sustainable) developments in your city?
London is an amazing place to live and is moving towards sustainability but the changes taking place are too slow and not enough is being done to innovate in the face of huge demographic challenges. It is the biggest city in the EU and it faces big environmental challenges. Air quality is a burning issue in London where we can find three of the 10 most polluted streets in the EU. The Mayor put together a road map back in 2011 where they have committed to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2050 based on 1990’s levels. There are 8.6million people living in London and it is expected that more than 10million people will live in the UK capital by 2030. It’s a 100,000 more people every year on average. So reducing carbon emissions whilst providing more services is the challenge this city is facing.
More and more people are cycling to work but congestion is still a huge problem. And although sustainability requirements of planning policies are more stringent, London could do a lot more. The city attracts and invests in innovative technologies and start-ups, attracting the best entrepreneurs. I think that, as a city, this role for London has much more global impact than just operating as a green city as it provides exemplars and allows other cities to become more sustainable. There is a real new silicon-valley dynamic going on in London and it is very exciting. I love what Rohan Silva is doing, we need more people like him to lead the movement.

What developments do you see with regards to renewable energy?
The uptake of renewable energy projects in the UK has been remarkable in the last five years. National Government has been largely supportive but also because it makes good economic sense –especially roof-top photovoltaic installations. Decentralised energy generation reduces demand peaks, reduces GHG emissions, improves the value of property assets, increases the reputation of property investors and occupiers as being environmentally aware, and generates great profits. It ticks a lot of boxes!

What opportunities and barriers do you see for the small-scale production of renewable energy (at home or offices)?
The greatest opportunity for tomorrow is storage. It is possible to store the electricity produced by your own home, and it’s quite amazing to think that tomorrow’s homes will be entirely self-sufficient. The greatest barriers for these kinds of developments are the lack of knowledge (people don’t know it makes sense), the lack of skilled people to perform installations, the administrative burden in some countries and the lack of sun, of course!

What is the biggest challenge for the large-scale application of renewable energy in the UK?
Large scale solar developments in the UK are not as profitable as they used to be. The red tape is more and more cumbersome, and therefore projects are not as attractive as they used to be. The Government had to cut subsidies because these investments became too popular and they spent their budget much faster than they thought they would.
But up until now, the Government subsidies allowed these investments to be extremely profitable and the uptake for solar and wind energy project has been remarkable. In the future the main challenge will be to store renewable energy when it will become the cheapest source of energy. Then I believe that will get into a position where up to 80% of a country’s energy generation could come from renewable sources.

What will London as a sustainable city look like in 2030?
2030 is around the corner! My hope is that transportation will be entirely electrified, more cycling space will be provided, and more green spaces will be created. By then, new buildings should generate and store their own energy, urban farming will be business as usual and homes will be entirely self-sufficient. Water should be harvested, treated and re-used on-site and homes should all be connected to a waste recycling network to make recycling easier but also more efficient. Innovative street furniture items have been developed like the strawberry smart bench for example which allows you to sit, socialise, get local information and charge your phone directly from batteries charged by PV cells. Future cities should not only be green but also smart and enable people to live their modern lives!

Tell us a bit more about Longevity Partners and how you aim to work on the above topics and challenges.
Our role is to make the transition to a greener economy happen. We provide specialist advisory services to property occupiers, developers and investors to improve the environmental and economic performance of their assets. There are two ways Longevity Partners is assisting with the development of green cities: we provide guidance and information to unlock new opportunities and also provide capital investment to get these opportunities off the ground.