Solutions for cities and communities

Solutions for cities and communities to help clear the air : Delivering at scale across cities and communities

A collaborative approach to addressing air pollution is required.

All levels of government need to play their part and make cleaning the air a joint priority, given its serious, negative effects on public health and education, transport infrastructure, housing and business. Only a fully integrated approach which brings together planning, environment, transport and health policies along with citizens, communities and commercial priorities will be able to address the issue effectively. To tackle this issue efficiently, it must be done at scale.

District heating schemes, for example, need planning consent, the co-operation of developers and energy partners, so-called ‘anchor’ customers from business or government and a policy framework designed to encourage the necessary commitment and investment from all.

Local authorities can influence planning requirements for new buildings to ensure that new buildings do not exacerbate, and potentially help to improve local air quality – for example, by mandating green infrastructure and encouraging more sustainable and active travel, car-free transport specifications or parking restrictions along with distribution hubs for delivery companies.

Measures to address air pollution can have many positive effects on other serious challenges. Studies82 show the positive effects of improved living conditions not only on chronic health problems, such as asthma, but also in educational attainment among children.


Inspiration for cities and communities tackling air quality can be found across the world

Cycle lanes in Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen aims to become the world’s best cycling city,83 and policies have been introduced to reduce the need for private car usage and promote the use of bikes.

Commercial buildings are required to have 0.5 bicycle spaces per employee,84 and residential developments 2.5 bike parking spaces per 100 square metres. The city currently has over 469 kilometres of cycle paths while new ‘cycle superhighways’ are being built to reach the suburbs. Focus is also placed is on broader lanes, improved design of intersections and behavioural campaigns to help make Copenhagen a safer cycling city. Through these kinds of initiatives, Copenhagen wishes to achieve a rise in the proportion of inhabitants feeling safe while biking from 67% in 2010 to 80% in 2015 and further to 90% in 2025.85

Concurrently, Copenhagen has also discouraged private car use through a tax increase of up to 150% on new car sales (albeit with reduced amounts for smaller, less polluting vehicles).86

As a result, cycling is on the up: 62% of commutes by Copenhagen residents are done by bike, as are 41% of trips into the city by workers and who live outside.87

The world’s largest air purifier in Xian, China

Like much of China, Xian can experience heavily-polluted air – particularly in the winter, with much of the city’s heating relying on coal. Developed to find an effective, low-cost method to artificially remove pollutants from the atmosphere, the Xian Tower was built, with construction completed in 2018.88

The tower is over 100m high, but it’s at the base where the air-cleaning process begins. Polluted air is sucked into a network of greenhouses, and is then heated via solar energy. The hot air rises through the tower and passes through multiple layers of cleaning filters before emerging from the top.

Although the project is in early stages, improvements in air quality have been observed over an area of 10 square kilometres (3.86 square miles) in the city and the tower has produced more than 10 million cubic meters89 (353 million cubic feet) of clean air a day since it opened.

Preliminary results show an average reduction in PM2.5 levels of 15% during periods of heavy pollution. And anecdotally, a number of locals say they have noticed a difference in the air quality,90 even during the winter when the city is especially prone to pollution.

Hållbarheten in Malmö,Sweden

Hållbarheten (which translates into English as‘the sustainability’) is one of the world’s most ambitious pilot projects for future energy homes. The project was conducted during 2012-2016 and showcased how sustainable development can be at the heart of urban development, offering a future where clean air is available to all.

E.ON invested in an eight-family apartment building to test a variety of energy solutions. The heat for the building came from three sources: a high-efficiency electricity-driven heat pump, an innovative gas-driven heat pump and district heating. These solutions were all integrated with local generation through solar collectors that also provide the heat for the pool and ground heating. A wind turbine and individual solar panels provided each apartment with its own locally produced renewable electricity.

Transport was also factored into the design. Electric vehicles and e-bikes were made accessible. Smart home devices made it possible for homeowners to control appliances remotely and schedule activity, to reduce energy usage. Each apartment was equipped with over 100 metering points that provided detailed feedback on individual consumption of heating, electricity and tap water – along with the means to actively improve energy efficiency.

The project validated the model of sustainable urban development and led to the commercialisation of products and services that are on the market today.

The neighbourhood solution: ectogrid

When neighbouring businesses work together balance their energy consumption, remarkable things can happen. E.ON’s ectogrid connects energy users in the same neighbourhood, sharing their heating and cooling. For example, a bakery that would otherwise waste the heat from ovens can input that energy into the ectogrid for use elsewhere where the heat is needed. Buildings can make energy ’deposits’ or ‘withdrawals’ from the grid, balancing the energy demands across buildings and eliminating the need for separate businesses to generate their own, sometimes competing, heating or cooling needs. The unusual factor is the temperature – the ectogrid operates at between 6oC-30oC, compared to 75oC -80oC in standard heat networks – meaning there are low, to practically no, distribution losses.

Distributing thermal energy flows between neighbours means energy is only added to the system when needed, effectively using and reusing all available thermal energy and making it possible to decrease both pollution and the energy consumption in a city.

The European Space Agency tackling emissions

E.ON is working with the European Space Agency (ESA) and Earth observation specialist Astrosat, capturing satellite imaging data to accurately identify areas across the UK where energy efficiency measures are most needed.

The project uses near real-time and archived data gathered from orbiting satellites – including optical sources, thermal-infrared for heat mapping and air quality and pollution tracking –combined with Astrosat’s ThermCERT software to help tackle issues such as housing condition and insulation, air quality, and even traffic management.

When cross-matched with existing housing or data on vulnerable customers, the unique platform provides local authorities and even entire cities with a street-level view of where improvements are most needed. This means they can better target their approaches to upgrading housing stock, optimising energy efficiency installations, improving air quality or easing congestion across communities.

Fraser Hamilton, Chief Operating Officer at Astrosat, said: “We’ve applied our technical knowledge to E.ON’s wealth of experience with local authorities and ESA’s space acumen to create something truly unique that will add real value to the UK energy market - a space age solution to Earth’s energy challenges by leveraging the power of space technology to deliver real-world benefits.”

“Our work with the European Space Agency and Astrostat is a truly innovative and exciting project is about harnessing the power of space, alongside our experience working with local authorities and delivering real change in terms of fuel poverty and carbon emissions, to help reduce heat loss and unnecessary energy expenditure in regional areas across the UK.”

Michael Lewis, Chief Executive of E.ON UK

Suggested policies to help communities clean the air

Widespread monitoring of air quality

  • Open data should be used to analyse local air quality.
  • Data can also be used to support public awareness campaigns to increase awareness of air quality concerns, so people can take steps to avoid hotspot areas.
  • There should be a particular focus for air quality monitoring around areas such as around schools.
  • Central Government funding for tackling air quality should be supplemented at a local level from revenues raised from Clean Air Zone charges.

Invest in alternatives

  • Encourage more cycle and pedestrianisation routes to support a reduction in traffic congestion.
  • Promote low-carbon heat networks such as ectogrids which use fuel sources that have a limited impact on local air quality.
  • This should include consideration of both financial incentives and the role of regulations and standards within housing standards to drive deployment.