Research into the use of smart energy systems in the Netherlands and China

More efficient energy use and energy saving is also people work

20 December 2018

What counts as smart in the Netherlands is not necessarily smart in China. The sustainable development of urban areas in the Netherlands and China exhibits many similarities. This applies not just to the challenges but also to the smart solutions in terms of innovative technologies. Nevertheless, there are also differences, certainly with respect to the sociodemographic factors. This conclusion was shared by researchers who have worked in the Joint Scientific Thematic Research Programme (JSTP) – Smart Energy in Smart Cities. They presented their research during the concluding meeting on 26 November in Stadskasteel Oudaen, Utrecht.

Five projects within the Joint Scientific Thematic Research Programme (JSTP) – Smart Energy in Smart Cities are now in the concluding phase after a project duration of four years. The aim of the programme was to encourage collaboration between researchers in China and the Netherlands in the area of sustainable urban development and smart solutions for more efficient energy usage and energy saving. During the closing session in Utrecht, researchers from the different projects talked about their approach and findings as well as their experiences of working with the Chinese partners.

Involve the resident in sustainable innovation strategies

In the project "Smart retrofitting of urban housing in China and the Netherlands”, researchers from Wageningen University & Research(WUR) and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences studied various large renovation projects in Amsterdam, Beijing and Mianyang, a city in Southwest China.
Ultimately 40% of the expected energy saving in large-scale sustainable renovation- so-called retrofit projects- was not realised. According to a German study, this is due to a lack of involvement from the residents, said Frank de Feijter, researcher at WUR, in his presentation. In the project, the researchers therefore examined the situation before the renovation and the challenges faced by the residents in using the complex energy-saving technologies. For this, 150 interviews with residents were held. Meetings also took place with representatives from the government, the construction industry and architects. This revealed that, although these retrofit providers were mainly concerned about energy efficiency, for residents the main issues were the inconvenience caused during the retrofit, the comfort it yielded, the role of traditions and most important of all, health. This was undoubtedly the case in China and especially in Beijing where air pollution is a severe problem. The research also revealed the importance of visualisation: model homes where residents could experience the consequences of energy-saving measures first hand.
‘Retrofitting’ is a major societal challenge with various dimensions. Residents play an important role in this. The researchers therefore call for residents to be more intensively involved in large-scale sustainable renovation projects throughout the entire process.

Smart energy solutions require value congruent information

Researchers from the "BIGS – Beijing Groningen Smart Energy Cities" project, from the University of Groningen and the Institute of Industry Economics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, draw a similar conclusion. Research into smart energy solutions in the urban environment concerns not only smart innovation and technology applications, but also the behaviour of the users.

In the project, presented by Dr Berfu Ünal, researcher at the University of Groningen, the research therefore not only examined optimal energy use in buildings by means of automated systems, but also cultural differences that influence the energy use, the influence of the design of interventions on that behaviour, and also the effect of the communication strategies chosen. Simple interventions, such as an experiment with automated lighting in the in-house restaurant of the University of Groningen, revealed that an 80% saving on electricity could be achieved if people were not just aware of this, but were also involved in such smart energy-saving solutions. Feedback and information played a key role in increasing the commitment. Value-congruent information, information that takes into account the values underlying people's actions, whether these be financial or environmental considerations, increases their willingness to adopt energy-saving measures. Besides similarities in the underlying psychological processes, the research also revealed important differences between China and the Netherlands with respect to people's behaviour but also the control over their energy use. For example, in China central heating is mostly organised collectively, whereas in the Netherlands this is usually on an individual basis.

Presentation Berfu UnalPresentation Berfu Unal

Sociodemographic factors as an indicator of behaviour

In the project "Energy efficiency of households in cities", researchers from the Institute of Policy and Management of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing worked together with the International Centre for Integrated Assessment and Sustainable Development of Maastricht University under the leadership of Prof. René Kemp. The project investigated which factors determine the choice for smart mobility on the one hand and the energy consumption of urban residents and their willingness to embrace energy-saving measures on the other hand. Scenarios for energy efficiency were also developed.
The research was mainly based on data, and use was made of Chinese databooks but also of an extensive survey held under hundreds of Chinese, Dutch and German households. This examined factors at the micro (individual) level, such as living circumstances, and factors at the macro level, in other words, the infrastructure and social factors such as which group people belong to. Who do people consult when they take decisions? This revealed that sociodemographic factors are better indicators for people's behaviour than environmental considerations, even when these people state that they do prioritise environmental considerations. Economic factors, in turn, were found to underlie the decision to insulate or to purchase solar panels. In the research, a clear distinction was made between homeowners and people who rent their homes. For renters, four situations were distinguished: whether or not they paid for the energy bill and whether or not they had a say about technology. Home ownership was found to influence behaviour, such as switching off the heating before going to bed, switching off the light when leaving a room, et cetera. The research revealed that behavioural change aimed at energy saving was more readily accepted than energy-saving technology, and energy-saving measures in the home had a higher priority than measures concerning sustainable mobility. It also became clear that in the decision-making process, all values, such as comfort, concern about the environment, health, ownership, but also policy frameworks, played a role.

René Kemp and Mingming HuRené Kemp and Mingming Hu

Reducing energy consumption through a symbiotic design of smart industrial parks

In the project "Smart Industrial Parks in China: Towards joint design and implementation", researchers from Leiden University, Delft University of Technology, Chongquing University and Tsinghua University worked together. The project was presented by Dr Mingming Hu, assistant professor at the CML, Institute of Environmental Sciences at Leiden University and at Tsinghua University.
Smart Industrial Parks (SIPs), whether or not in combination with agricultural and residential areas, are part of smart cities with a low CO2 emission. The focus is on the exchange of heat and cold surpluses, exergy and CO2 between the participating companies. Smart Industrial Parks are particularly important for China, as 70% of the CO2 emission in the country is caused by industry. Within the project, the key question was how energy consumption could be reduced with the help of eco-industrial symbiosis and the institutionalisation of joint designs. Who are the most important players in this regard? Which physical and institutional activities do they undertake to create a symbiosis within a specific regional industrial system? The research examines not only the governance and the technology aspects, but also the actual system. For example, the Chinese top-down and the European more bottom-up approaches were compared with each other. With an analysis of all these factors, the researchers think that in the future they can predict which approach will be the most effective.

Use of large-scale energy storage from solar energy and industrial waste heat for city heating

In the project "Seasonal storage for solar and industrial waste heat utilisation for urban district heating”, researchers from Eindhoven University technology and Tsinghua University worked together. Prof. Jan Hensen, Professor of Building Performance at Eindhoven University of Technology (not present at the concluding conference) acted as the project leader on the Dutch side. Within the project, research was done into the possibilities of large-scale underground seasonal thermal energy storage (STES). This allows energy from low-grade renewable energy sources to be used for district heating. For this, a large-scale test system was set up with 500,000 m3 of STES and 1000 m2 of solar collectors. After a stabilisation period, a storage efficiency of 84% was achieved. Results were also obtained from a computer simulation of a test setup. This revealed that a lower temperature is needed to withdraw heat from the STES to thus achieve a higher storage coefficient and a short stabilisation period. The STES system performance was found to be largely determined by the heat-conducting capacity of the ground material. The researchers therefore recommend further research into the data quality and the design of these aspects as equally an evaluation over a longer period of time to assess the energy performance of subterranean STES systems.

Source: NWO