Cities of the future: these new neighbourhoods are all about protecting the climate

Buildings account for a very large share of greenhouse gas emissions. But this does not mean that buildings cannot be energy-efficient. Six projects show how energy-efficient neighbourhoods are helping to move forward the energy transition.

Couple taking pictures of the sunset.© iStock/Kerkez

More than a quarter of Germany’s final energy is consumed in the homes, particularly for heating and taking showers. The problem is that many homes are poorly insulated or not insulated at all and that their heating systems are often outdated. As a result, the German building stock accounts for more than 30 per cent of the country’s total carbon emissions. The Federal Government has set itself the goal of reducing carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 compared with 2008 levels. In order for this goal to be achieved, German buildings and entire neighbourhoods need to become more energy-efficient and climate-friendly. This is a huge challenge, but – with the help of the Federal Government – it can be mastered.

Six flagship projects show what the city of the future could look like

The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy has a wide range of funding programmes that are tailored to the needs of homeowners. In addition to this, the Ministry works with the Federal Ministry of Education and Research to transform the use of heat in buildings and neighbourhoods. Under the 'solar construction/energy-efficient cities’ programme, funding is available not only for the energy-optimised construction, renovation and operation of buildings and neighbourhoods, but also for connecting the sectors of electricity, heat and mobility in a smart manner. This includes using renewable energy for heating, cooling and for powering vehicles (for more information, please click here).

Six flagship projects have been initiated to show ways in which this can be done in practice. They will receive a total of €100 million from the two Ministries for this. The goal of the projects is to develop and test a number of approaches under real-life conditions, making sure that these can be transferred to other neighbourhoods and cities across Germany.

From sewing machines to solar facades

For more than 150 years, the premises of Pfaff AG, a company located in the city of Kaiserslautern, were used to produce sewing machines. Now, the industrial site is about to be turned into a climate-neutral neighbourhood for both residential and commercial use, where new technology will be developed, demonstrated and optimised. The idea is to develop and test coordinated solutions for energy supply, buildings, electric mobility and digital networking. The energy for the neighbourhood will be supplied via a smart grid in which all electricity generation facilities, electricity consumers and storage units will be connected with one another. This helps match supply and demand in the best possible manner. Rooftop solar panels and innovative solar facades are used to generate renewable energy directly where it is needed. The renewable energy can be used for charging electric cars. At the same time, these cars can serve as storage units, using the charging stations to feed back electricity from their batteries into the grid.

Using surplus electricity from wind farms

At the end of February of this year, the city of Heide, located in Schleswig-Holstein, launched the QUARREE100 project. Under this project, the city’s Rüsdorfer Kamp neighbourhood – a patch of land of 20 hectares – is to be supplied with renewable energy that is generated directly in the neighbourhood and also with energy from wind farms located in the north of Germany. Most of Germany’s wind power is generated in the north of the country, often more than can be fed into the grid, leading to wind turbines having to be switched off. This is to be avoided by using some of this electricity to power neighbourhoods. In addition to this, QUARREE100 seeks to optimise battery and gas storage units, so that any surplus electricity can be stored and used at a later point in time. When it comes to mobility, the project also provides a number of different options for powering vehicles, from hydrogen generated from renewable sources, to methane and electricity.

Connecting energy producers and consumers in the neighbourhood

Another flagship project is being implemented on the former Fliegerhorst airbase in Oldenburg. Under this project, an energy-efficient neighbourhood featuring around 110 residential units will be built under the motto ‘connecting energy producers and consumers in the neighbourhood’. The main goal is to generate the bulk of the neighbourhood’s energy locally and prevent any energy from being wasted. Energy producers and energy consumers are to interact directly with one another. Any surplus energy will be converted into other forms of energy and stored (for more information about the energy-efficient neighbourhood, please click here.)

Linking up smart homes to form a smart street

In Zwickau, urban planners are working towards making housing climate-neutral by using connected and smart technology. The residents of a housing project entitled ‘’Demonstrating the Energy Transition in Zwickau (ZED)” are to be supplied with heat and energy at exactly the times when they need it. Whilst the heat is supplied via heat pumps, the electricity is generated by solar installations. Any surplus electricity is stored. In the first stage of the project, regular homes are upgraded to smart homes that integrate heating systems and electricity consumers into a smart network. This means that every smart home can identify its energy needs and supply its residents accordingly. In the second stage of the project, the individual smart homes are then linked up in a way that allows the supply of heat and energy to be controlled along the entire street and in a smart manner. What is special about the Zwickau project is that it focuses on affordable housing: the idea is that everyone should be able to afford to live in an energy-efficient and climate-neutral home, irrespective of how much they earn (to find out more about the project, please click here).

Connected across neighbourhood borders

The city of Esslingen is currently building its new ‘Neue Weststadt’ neighbourhood, which is to be entirely carbon-neutral. The neighbourhood, which is to provide around 500 residential units plus commercial areas, office space, a hotel, and several higher-education buildings, is to be completed by 2025. Power-to-heat (P2H) and Power-to-gas (P2G) are to ensure that the neighbourhood will be carbon-neutral. The hydrogen which forms during the P2G process can be used for heating, generating electricity, and powering vehicles. ‘Neue Weststadt’ is also to be connected in a smart manner, and not only within the neighbourhood itself; it is also to be linked up with adjacent neighbourhoods (for more details about the ‘Neue Weststadt’ in Esslingen, please click here).

An interactive neighbourhood app

The sixth flagship project – ‘Stadtquartier 2050’ – is being carried out under the motto ‘Working together to master challenges’. Two neighbourhoods, one located in Stuttgart and one in Überlingen am Bodensee, which together account for more than 960 housing units, are to demonstrate how innovative solutions can help make buildings carbon-neutral, whilst ensuring that housing remains affordable in an already tense housing market. This is being done, for example, by linking up renewable energy installations located in the neighbourhood with a district-heating network and heat and electricity storage facilities. In addition, buildings are fitted with high-quality thermal insulation. Furthermore, an interactive neighbourhood app has been developed, through which residents are to be rewarded for energy-efficient behaviour. The project is to be launched before the end of this year.

Berlin Energy Days from 7 to 9 May

Presentations of the six lighthouse projects will be given on 8 May 2018 as part of the Berlin Energy Days (detailed information on the event in German only). The Energy Days are the annual showcase event for the German energy transition. Held for the first time in 1999, the event has developed into a key forum for promoting dialogue between policymakers, practitioners and researchers at the Federal level. The Energy Days feature more than 50 specialist sessions which are targeted at political decision-makers, regulators, associations, public institutions, energy experts, architects, engineers and advisors. Around 350 experts are expected to attend the event.