"Citizen participation is a critical success factor for urban projects"
The director of EIFER, an acronym for European Institute for Energy Research, Ludmila Gautier took part as a jury member in the 2016 EDF Pulse Awards, selecting finalists in the 'Low Carbon City' category. Interview.
First of all, tell us a bit about the Institute you manage...
EIFER was founded in 2002 as a European Economic Interest Grouping. It's a kind of public-private partnership between EDF and the University of Karlsruhe – which became the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in 2009. The institute acts as a link between research and industry. For EDF, it's a different and international way of carrying out R&D, allowing the company to benefit from a network of scientific and industrial partners in Germany as well as from innovations that might emerge outside the country. The aim is to take a close look at an energy system that is very different from the French model, with very decentralised and distributed generation. And as a scientific partner, our aim is to work on questions raised by an industrial player that may lead to operating solutions. For example, EIFER and KIT provide scientific support to two geothermal projects in Alsace.
What are your main research themes?
We are currently working on three main topics, inspired by the German model. Firstly, we are working on developing local energy systems – in other words, everything to do with distributed generation – technologies with a power below the MW level, cogeneration, renewable energies on a local scale. Another of our key activities involves engineering sustainable cities. The model was developed very early on in Germany, where municipal utilities were established for each city, combining urban planning and energy issues. And it's a model that is starting to emerge in France. As major consumers of energy, cities are responsible for large greenhouse gas emissions, but they also have all the drivers needed to better manage their energy use. Through work carried out on behalf of cities, including Karlsruhe and Berlin, the institute is hoping to develop methods for urban energy planning.
Finally, our last task revolves around the interaction between local and global. In France, this involves seeing how we can integrate local production into the centralised model. In Germany, the energy transition instead involves gradually increasing regulation at the federal level. Our role is to consider the best system to meet the aims of integrating renewables and reducing greenhouse gas emissions while advocating energy efficiency.
And to do this, EIFER isn't just relying on engineers...
Yes, the institute has a range of very multidisciplinary skills at its disposal. All aspects have been studied in collaboration with architects, city planners and political scientists in order to discuss urban planning policies, with economists in order to find an optimised model, and also with sociologists, specialists in environmental economics and agronomists in order to make the best use of local resources. In total, EIFER employs 110 people who are approaching energy issues in the most systematic way possible.
With the emergence of the low-carbon city, you share one of the priorities of the EDF Pulse Awards. How have you taken part?
EIFER had a twofold role at the 2016 EDF Pulse Awards. Firstly, we played a sourcing role, informing innovative start-ups in Germany, France and the rest of Europe about the launch of the Awards through our partnership with competitiveness hubs and clusters. Then, as part of the jury, we provided our expertise on issues relating to the low-carbon city, i.e. technological and IT developments that allow us to better manage energy in cities.
What did you give priority to when making your choices?
I gave priority to applications that showed how they would set themselves apart from the competition in their sector. I think it's important for competitors to look at what's happening around them. I also wanted candidates to specify who their project was aimed at. Does it bring value to citizens, cities, industrial actors, etc.? Finally, I kept a careful eye on the ability for them to be marketed within the year. After all, the competition aims to promote projects that are already fairly mature – advanced prototypes, a platform that's already online, etc.
Have any trends emerged in applications?
A lot of submissions focused on renewable energies, mobility and lighting. That's no coincidence: these are the three sectors where energy is most visible, and where local authorities have the power to drive action. Candidates have understood this. More surprising and striking is the rise of collaborative approaches, the sharing economy. It's a clear indicator that citizen participation is a critical success factor for city projects, particularly energy projects. Cities and industrial players can launch projects, but if citizens don't take part, there's a big risk they'll fail. So it's essential that citizens get involved in projects as soon as possible, for example through collaborative platforms based on making the largest possible amount of information available, in order to teach citizens about energy and responsible ways of using it.