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12 July 2019

Promise we’re not Siemens shills, but smart city tool makes big claims

It has just occurred to us that we’ve been on a bit of a Siemens spree lately, which might be because of the slow summer news cadence, or that the German industrialist has been on a streak. Either way, Siemens has said that if Pittsburgh heeds its advice, the city could cut carbon emissions by 75% and create 110,000 new jobs.

This is a pretty enticing proposal for many cities around the world, struggling with rising air pollution, increased municipal operating costs, and strained services. Siemens says its City Performance Tool (CyPT) is key, which it launched in 2015 as a data-driven software platform that is intended to help cities calculate both the environmental and economic impacts of infrastructure technologies.

The City of Pittsburgh itself published the CyPT summary, which found that it could reach a 75% carbon emission reduction target by 2030, instead of the current 50% reduction plan. The implementation of the changes needed in the energy infrastructure and supply chain could create the 110,000 new jobs apparently.

The CyPT is, of course, a sales channel for Siemens, as it is involved with many of the 70 technologies that it recommends. There are case studies spanning Europe, APAC, and the Americas, including Madrid, Vienna, The Hague, Shenzhen, Adelaide, Mexico City, Orlando, Portland, and now Pittsburgh.

The main carbon reduction recommendations for cities like Pittsburgh concern solar electricity generation, district heating systems, electric buses, car-sharing initiatives, and non-residential building automation. Siemens notes that while on-shore wind electricity generation has the biggest overall impact on carbon emissions, the city could use a power purchase agreement (PPA) to source this instead.

As for air quality improvements, cities should unsurprisingly be looking at their transport systems. An Intelligent Traffic Management System is the most cost-effective way to improve traffic flows, as vehicles will use less fuel during their trips and output less pollution. Electric taxis are also cited as key, but Siemens says that transport needs immediate and urgent attention.

“Siemens, with support from our partners at the University of Pittsburgh Center for Energy, have helped to provide a critical technology roadmap for energy and resilience activities here in the City of Pittsburgh,” said Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto. “We’ve been learning and applying these lessons along the way, but the City Performance Tool shows that we can create jobs, clean our air and reduce carbon emissions. By investing in local renewable energy, district heating systems, accelerating energy efficiency efforts in our buildings and investing in smart technologies we can really connect the economic and social benefits of climate action. In fact, the same lessons in Pittsburgh’s City Performance Tool can be replicated across the region and create a Marshall Plan for the Midwest.”

The city and Siemens have worked together since 2017, when Pittsburgh collaborated with its namesake university to investigate how it could comply with the Paris Agreement. Siemens has a pretty big presence in the Pittsburgh area too, with 1,200 employees and the Siemens Rail Automation and Pittsburgh Service Center (PSC) complexes.

As for the CyPT report itself, Siemens says that the city “must become very specific about the projects it needs to deliver, and put its weight behind those with the most potential for positive change. This is because, through no fault of its own, the local grid electricity mix is set to become far more carbon intensive. This means that the goal posts for Pittsburgh’s climate targets have been moved further out, and the challenge becomes even harder.”

The report does outline the current and anticipated future energy mix in detail, but the illustration of the difference between the current plan for Pittsburgh and what Siemens thinks it can achieve if it is really ambitious is most impressive. On the Climate Action Plan track (BAP, Siemens is not great at abbreviations …), by 2030, the city will have reduced carbon emissions by 2.2mn metric tons, saved $5bn in capex and opex, and created 47,000 new jobs. If it targets the more aggressive Deep Carbon Reduction Scenario (50×2030) recommendation in the CyPT, these figures reach 6.2mn metric tons of CO2, $17bn in savings, and 110,000 jobs.

As for Pittsburgh’s inputs for the CyPT model, Transport accounted for 39%, Energy for 15%, and Buildings for 44%, with General (population, geographical size, and emissions target) the remaining 2%.

The Buildings sector accounts for 1,503 GWh of residential consumption, with non-residential accounting for 4,147GWh. Given the disparity between the two, it’s not hard to see why automation systems are favored, but Siemens also models the impact of more low-tech solutions like wall installation and window glazing.  Building automation is expected to grow from 3% today to 25% in 2030.

In Energy, rooftop solar is expected to grow from 0.1% of electricity generated to 15% in that period, and natural-gas district heating is expected to shift from nothing today to 50% of the total energy demand in the city – which would be a pretty hefty change. Wind power is expected to shift from 2.1% today to 50% of electricity generation in 2030, and Electric Air Sourced Heat Pumps from 2.6% to 35 of total heating demand%.