Unlocking New Frontiers: SESA’s European Study Programme Explores Smart Energy Solutions in Three Vibrant Cities

Jun 4, 2023

From 8-13 May, SESA hosted the European Study Programme in three cities across Europe – Cascais (Portugal), Barcelona (Spain), and Gothenburg (Sweden). Organised by ICLEI Europe, the European Study Programme is the first part of the peer-to-peer exchange and took representatives from Living Labs from eight of the SESA countries to Europe.

The programme allowed the delegation to visit these three cities with the objective of learning more about smart energy solution technologies and their deployment in a different context. It offered as well, the opportunity to exchange with European cities and businesses on the possible ways of cooperating with a large ecosystem of actors including private sector, public sector, academia and the local communities. The ultimate goal of the study programme was to provide participants with the opportunity to learn from a wide range of experiences, which could help inspire possible developments of the Living Labs and support in their further development.

Beginning in Cascais (Portugal) from 8-9 May, the delegation met with João Dinis, Head of Climate Action Department at Cascais Ambiente to discuss the city’s approach to reach climate neutrality and the role that renewable energy solutions play in this ambition. Examples of climate mitigation measures included Cascais SDG 2030 and the city’s Carbon Neutrality Route 2050, the first municipal commitment to carbon neutrality following the country’s commitment to climate change. The delegation had the opportunity to visit sites employing these policies in action at the NOVA School Business of Economics as well as around the city.

Key to Cascais’s success here has not only been the technologies themselves, but rather a focus on community engagement. In the city’s Action Plan for Climate Adaptation, the number one measure focused on creating stakeholder awareness and the challenges faced in Cascais in implementing renewable energy solutions are not unlike those faced in SESA’s living labs.

For Edem Foli, Programme Manager at Nelson Mandela University: uYilo e-Mobility Programme, such exchanges drew parallels to her own experience in South Africa. “Engaging with community stakeholders is so important in getting your project off the ground. I was very surprised and relieved to learn that local governments in Barcelona and Cascais are facing similar challenges, getting buy-in from the community to accept these new technologies and convincing them of their advantages, in both an economic and social respect. This study programme created the opportunity to exchange with my peers, both in Europe and Africa in developing strategies to address this challenge.”

 This sentiment was echoed by Ibtihal Ait Abdelmoula, Research and Development Engineer, Head of Digitalization at Green Energy Park in Morocco, “The carbon neutral smart city was not a concept only discussed in technological and research centres but also a real practical roadmap adopted by local municipalities and citizens. I believe that this is the main challenge that we need to overcome in our African living labs. Technology is not the issue. What we really need to improve is the local engagement of communities and stakeholders. I believe that Africa is actively working on that and is on its way to unlock its full potential.”

From 10-11 May, the delegation moved on to Barcelona (Spain) where they met with SESA project partner, LEITAT, one of the leading technology management entities at the Spanish and European level, working closely with SESA’s Ghanaian living lab developing waste to energy solutions. This was complemented by a visit to Vallès Circular, a centre at the forefront of processes for transformation and evolution towards a more sustainable economic model which promotes public-private collaboration and focuses circular economic principles, transforming waste into energy.

This part of the study programme put a focus on the technology and its relation to the circular economy, which opened discussions around what makes for a sustainable economic model and how to meaningfully engage in public-private partnerships. The delegation also had the opportunity to meet with the Municipality of Barcelona to learn and discuss how, for example, the city engages with the private sector to help accelerate the city’s energy transition.

The final stop in the study programme brought the delegation north to Gothenburg (Sweden), a city whose innovative renewable energy solutions are most notably related to its district heating system. Here, discussions with Gothenburg’s Climate Transition Office, the city’s energy company, Göteborg Energi, and Johanneberg Science Park (JSP) revealed how the city is approaching the current energy transition from a municipal, business, and research perspective. Bringing innovative technologies into focus, the programme then had the opportunity to move onto JSP’s HSB Living Lab, a sustainable housing system.

The living lab is a great example of collaboration between industry, the city, and academia that tests smart energy solutions in a real context and in doing so, helps accelerate the energy transition. The final element of the time spent in Gothenburg focused on synergies drawn between SESA’s Sister project ENERGICA and SESA’s living labs, and a session hosted by mentors from SESA’s Incubator program at Smart Innovation Norway, to discuss business models and draw synergies between the living labs at the SESA project partner RI.SE Institute.

Exchange programmes such as this open the door for a two-way dialogue. On the value of peer-to-peer exchange and how the SESA project can help the City of Cascais reach its carbon neutrality goals. João Dinis contributes, “The SESA project engages the best stakeholders from different regions that share the same challenges that we do. The geographical and social context may be different, but our goal remains the same. It’s valuable for us to learn how different regions have approached smart energy solutions in their communities, and it presents an opportunity for us to share our own.”

Subsequent opportunities for exchange will involve SESA’s European Cities having the opportunity to visit the project’s living labs and discuss smart energy solutions in a different context, the most forthcoming opportunity taking place in October 2023 in Ghana for SESA’s next Regional Event.