Running cities on clean energy may be technically feasible, but it is very tricky from an organisational and economic point of view. The EU project City-Zen is readying hearts and minds for the challenge. The Delft Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment is doing its bit in the form of trial projects, serious gaming and Roadshows through European cities. 

Calculation plays an important role in City-Zen: where does the demand for energy in cities come from and what potential sources of energy are available to meet that demand? If you combine them in a smart way, most questions about sustainability and reducing CO2 emissions can be solved. But everyone needs to play their part. “Realising energy-neutral cities is not a technological problem, but a social and institutional one”, says TU Delft Project leader Andy van den Dobbelsteen (Professor of Climate Design & Sustainability). “The best thing you can do about that is to give examples that show what is possible.”

In his view, inspiring examples include the heating network in the cycling city of Copenhagen, Vancouver's master plan for improving sustainability and the closed-loop ecological recycling in Stockholm. With twenty practical projects, City-Zen intends to add Amsterdam and Grenoble to that list. For both key cities in the project, a roadmap is being drawn up for the gradual implementation of the energy transition. 


City-Zen is a major international project in which the EU has invested € 22 million as part of the Seventh Framework Programme. The ambitions are high: City-Zen innovations are intended to result in a reduction in CO2 emissions of 59,000 tonnes per year and future-proof infrastructure.

In the section of the programme on knowledge dissemination, the Faculty of Architecture and the Built environment is making major progress. Delft is developing energy plans, with an accompanying toolbox, and organising Roadshows in 10 European cities. For this a team from TU Delft and other academic partners spend five days in a city looking to collaborate with local authorities, citizens and market players. Preparations for the Roadshow are done by a SWAT Studio – an MSc3-studio from the Building Technology programme. In the intensive workshops, plans are drawn up for the energy transition of neighbourhoods in each city. “The main challenge is to find a disadvantaged neighbourhood and open doors there”, explains Craig Martin, Leader of the City-Zen Roadshows. “In cities, everything is about people. They need to start doing things differently.”

This can be quite a challenge in a difficult city district like West Belfast, designed to enable a single military vehicle to seal off roads rapidly and primarily intended for taxi transport. The Roadshow there was based in a community centre and developed ideas for a zero-energy city with enthusiastic residents, entrepreneurs and local politicians.
In the Croatian city of Dubrovnik, Martin even received a local award for a Roadshow held in a deprived neighbourhood close to the harbour. Activities included investigating how the neighbourhood can become more closely involved with the vibrant cruise marina. Both could benefit from recycling opportunities and waste-water treatment in the neighbourhood. The Roadshow also looked at the opportunities for energy conservation, 'greening' and the introduction of sustainable personal transport, possibly powered by hydrogen.

You need to look for bespoke measures for each city. For Amsterdam and Grenoble, these are being linked to a roadmap with an action agenda for the far future. In Grenoble, progress has already been made on a smart heating network and smart grids. The Amsterdam roadmap will follow next year.

Serious games bring the programme to life for citizens, politicians and businesses. A special digital game shows how innovative ideas work in practice. Van den Dobbelsteen: “This gives all stakeholders an idea of the complex considerations at play in the process of increasing sustainability, thereby simplifying decision-making. Energy transition is not simply one-way traffic imposed by government.” City-Zen has also developed a special app for this.

City-Zen was initially a four-year programme, but it is almost certain that the project, together with the Roadshows, will be extended by at least nine months until the end of 2019. The EU is highly impressed by the project. This month, the Roadshow is spending a month in Menorca, following previous visits to Belfast (Northern Ireland), Izmir (Turkey) and Dubrovnik (Croatia). Upcoming Roadshows already programmed include Seville (Spain), Roeselare (Belgium) and Klaipeda (Lithuania).

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