Published: 23.05.12

Climate-KIC Innovation projects involving ETH Zurich researchers launched

Three Climate-KIC Innovation projects, “Visualization of Energy Efficiency and Performance and User Behaviour", “Off4Firms” and “Smart Urban Adapt”, were launched in early April. These projects are taking different approaches, yet they all have the same aim: partners in research and practice are joining forces to develop climate-friendly innovations.

Rebecca Wyss
Climate KIC is the EU's funding programm aimed to develop concepts and technologies that help to counteract global warming or to adapt to current changes. (Image: J. Kuster / ETH Zurich)
Climate KIC is the EU's funding programm aimed to develop concepts and technologies that help to counteract global warming or to adapt to current changes. (Image: J. Kuster / ETH Zurich) (large view)

Just over two years ago, the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) gave the EU’s Climate-KIC funding programme the green light to develop climate-related innovations. In addition to ETH Zurich, the programme also involves other European universities, business partners, representatives of public authorities and a federation of various regions. As of early April, the go-ahead has now been given for the first three innovation projects, in which ETH Zurich is participating.

Everyone is an energy saver

The purpose of the "Visualization of Energy Efficiency Performance and User Behaviour" project is to reduce heat consumption in private households. Room heating and hot water use play a central role in this. Often more heating or ventilation is provided than is necessary, or too much hot water is used, which drives up energy consumption. If this is to change, it is necessary to start with each individual resident, as Thorsten Staake of "Sense4En" says: “We want to motivate people to use energy consciously and economically”. According to Staake, many people know too little about their ecological footprint.

Working in collaboration with the Technical University of Berlin, Staake’s interdisciplinary team plans to change this. IT and electrical engineering researchers, for example, are working on low-cost methods to collect consumption data on a large scale. From these measurements it is possible to derive specific behaviour patterns, which in turn make it possible to provide practical energy-saving tips and incentives. Behavioural psychologists are also developing playful and effective incentive concepts.

Some initial ideas have already emerged, including an intelligent display of water consumption in the shower, intended to promote desired behaviour in the family. Corresponding devices are being trialled in conjunction with the ewz, the City of Zurich’s municipal electric utility, and the ETH Zurich spin-off company Amphiro, and may help to improve the effectiveness of the respective incentive concepts.

Employers motivate their staff

The second project co-financed by Climate-KIC is Off4Firms. This project was initiated by ETH Zurich Professor Renate Schubert and her team, and is also committed to reducing energy consumption. But that’s not all: “We want to motivate people to generate less CO2 as well,” says project coordinator Katja Halbritter. The project is breaking new ground in the process.

Nowadays governments try to guide their citizens’ energy behaviour through regulations, taxes and grants. So far, however, energy and CO2 savings have remained far below the target. Instead of starting with individual households, the Climate-KIC project is now focusing on employers. The latter can use internal corporate means to enable their employees to buy electric bicycles, hybrid cars or heat pumps, for example. In this respect, Off4Firms is based on the assumption that social structures, such as contacts between work colleagues within companies, can lead to a bigger change in behaviour than government actions. Businesses benefit from a boost to their reputation and the opportunity to offset their employees’ energy and CO2 savings against mandatory reduction targets.

The Off4Firms project aims to include research into which methods are acceptable to employees, what savings are actually achievable, how costly the methods are for companies, and how the amount of energy and/or CO2 that someone saves can be measured. For this purpose, Off4Firms is also collaborating with the ewz, a reinsurance company, the former ETH Zurich spin-off company and Climate-KIC partner South Pole Carbon, and a team of behavioural economists from Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

Reducing urban CO2 emissions

The third Climate-KIC project has set itself the aim of reducing CO2 emissions at a higher level: Smart Urban Adapt is focusing on towns and cities. Increasing numbers of towns and cities have committed themselves to ambitious energy targets. One example of this is Zurich, with its vision of a 2000-watt society. Achieving this is no easy task. These days towns and cities already have access to information about pollution levels, local climate change and energy consumption, but as yet there has been no correlation between this information and an overall urban model.

This is where Smart Urban Adapt comes into play. Researchers from ETH Zurich and Imperial College London, together with partners from the private sector, are developing a kind of 3D geographic map on which factors such as the local climate, the use of transport and land and topographies are plotted. The data is collected via, for example, climate measurements or measurements of traffic and pedestrian flows.

Thanks to the 3D model, in future it will be possible to simulate a wide variety of scenarios in order to gauge the effectiveness of measures designed to achieve the objectives set over periods of 20 years or more. According to project director Jan Halatsch, Smart Urban Adapt plans to use this to “Help towns and cities to run through their self-imposed targets and the methods intended to achieve them”. Another aim of the project is to enable users to supplement the map interactively by adding new parameters. Towns and cities can therefore not only carry out long-term planning, but can also run through scenarios that are specifically tailored to them.

So far, Zurich and London have participated in Smart Urban Adapt. The intention is for other cities to join them after the Climate-KIC pilot phase ends in 2014.

"Visualization of Energy Efficiency and Performance and User Behaviour" and Off4Firms also hope to be able to bring other major energy businesses or large employers on board in the future. The ultimate aim is to reach the mass market with the finished products. This is the only way in which they can help to achieve the overriding goal of the EU’s Climate-KIC funding programme: slowing down climate change.

The Climate-KIC initiative

The Swiss Climate-KIC coordination office, which is based at ETH Zurich, is one of five coordination offices of the EU’s Climate-KIC funding programme, an initiative launched by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT). Each coordination office works together with a network of researchers, corporate enterprises and public sector representatives. The purpose of these networks is to develop concepts and technologies that help to counteract global warming or to adapt to current changes. A precondition for all projects is that they must have a beneficial effect on the climate and offer great innovation and market potential. The close cooperation between Climate-KIC partners enables them to gain access to expertise, funding and a large European network. The focus is on four key topic areas: water and energy, regional planning and land use, predicting climate change and managing the factors influencing it, and towns, cities and urban development.

Reader comments: