In 2015, the Paris Agreement formalised a renewed international ambition to combat global warming. In the wake of the agreement, the IPCC set targets in the hope of limiting the rise in average temperatures to 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels: reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 45% by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Responsible for 67% of global GHG emissions, cities are at the forefront of this challenge. What are the drivers of action and what are the appropriate scales? This is what is being explored by the interdisciplinary innovation project, “Quartier Bas Carbone 2040” (QBC40 – low-carbon neighbourhood 2040), led by the Ideas Laboratory and the Centre Michel Serres and commissioned by the Bouygues Group, the Yvelines Departmental Council and the Union Française de l’Electricité (UFE). Françoise Cadiou, project manager at the French Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies Commission (CEA), explained.
How did the QBC40 project come about and what are its goals?
This project followed two studies conducted between September 2019 and February 2020:
- POLETE #1 (project for local and environmental organisation of the energy transition) carried out by the Ideas Laboratory on behalf of the Bouygues Group, Faurecia and the CEA to explore energy scenarios for the convergence of mobility, building and energy;
- “What local energy lifestyles in 2030?”, a project run by the Centre Michel Serres on behalf of the Bouygues Group’s innovation laboratory (ELAB) and designed to come up with scenarios based on social, political and technological changes.
The QBC40 project (POLETE #2) is therefore part of ongoing partnership-based exploration aimed at exploring the potential for designing, programming and managing low-carbon neighbourhoods by 2040.
The first step was to consolidate a 2040 vision and the pace of change in the energy systems at the level of a low-carbon neighbourhood. Secondly, we identified trajectories in the form of scenarios taking into account technical, economic, regulatory and use changes, as well as new governance models. At the end of the project, we will propose tools to incorporate these scenarios into a concrete development programme at neighbourhood level.
You have worked in an open and interdisciplinary manner, involving many partners and contributors. What is the value of such an approach and how was it organised?
A multidisciplinary and collaborative approach is absolutely essential on such complex subjects, where the issues may go beyond one single organisation. The cross-fertilisation of skills and knowledge adds to the discussions and ensures complementarity. The CEA is developing energy mix models at local and regional levels, the OpenLab Ideas Laboratory is deploying its methodological expertise in the construction of scenarios, while the Centre Michel Serres (CMS) is contributing by decoding changing lifestyles and uses at regional level. To this end, CMS selected a team of eight students from various backgrounds (political science, engineering, architecture, etc.) to work on the project for six months, three days per week.
The presence of partners brings an operational dimension to the project. The Bouygues Group’s construction businesses (Bouygues Construction, Bouygues Immobilier, Colas), Vicat (cement manufacturer), the Yvelines Departmental Council, the City of Sartrouville and the Union Française de l’Electricité contributed their vision and expertise in two collaborative workshops.
The issues of use are central to the approach. Could you explain why you chose this approach and its impact on the methodology and tools?
We were convinced from the start of the project that a technical, expert approach to the low-carbon vision was insufficient. In addition to technical solutions and public and private expertise, the acceptance and buy-in of users are essential for genuine transition. With this is mind, the focus then shifted: how do we put users at the heart of a low-carbon neighbourhood approach and how do we re-synchronise expert and user knowledge to promote the emergence of low-carbon lifestyles?
These questions guided the methodology and the design of the tools. The CMS students thus imagined a “network of neighbourhoods in transition”, which supports the links between neighbourhoods and between the parties involved (citizens, companies, communities, associations, etc.). A website, Quartiers en transition, was set up to provide the network with tools in order to foster commitment and engage the parties involved, and facilitate dialogue, share and develop methodologies with the parties involved. Each brick of the site contributes to these goals. The “je trace mon quartier” (I map out my neighbourhood) tool, an interactive map allowing users to share or project their vision of the neighbourhood, and the “Pas de quartier” (no nonsense neighbourhood) podcast, which deconstructs preconceived ideas that may hamper ecological and social transitions, are examples of tools that support the “Foster commitment” goal.
As part of this project, the CEA has developed a carbon footprint configuration tool, Conemca. How is it designed and how does it fit into the project?
Conemca was born out of a process with partners that led to us identifying the carbon footprint in tonnes of CO2 equivalent per capita per year as the “champion parameter” for the neighbourhood transition system. The aim, as set out in the Low Carbon Strategy, is to reduce emissions from 4.5 to 0.5t of CO2-eq per inhabitant per year. But what does this data, taken from average national statistics, actually mean? How does it take into account the diversity of neighbourhoods and, above all, how does it enable suitable, accepted, effective and sustainable low-carbon scenario choices to be implemented?
The Conemca concept makes it possible to represent the large contributions to greenhouse gas emissions from activities directly related to the neighbourhood. This tool is intended to be included in a collective approach that engages stakeholders in a new or existing neighbourhood project. It allows them to create the energy model for the neighbourhood and check its overall consistency, and provides two overall evaluations: one in Euros and the other in tons of CO2 emitted.
The innovative character of Conemca – which does not claim to be precise in every area, as other tools do – lies in its comprehensive approach to the neighbourhood energy system and its connection to the national energy grid. Conemca provides a very simplified answer to a complex problem, that of production and consumption variability.
Conemca supplements another tool designed by students at the Centre Michel Serres: the usage profile. This diagnostic tool segments population categories based on national averages according to their uses in relation to carbon issues: food (e.g. frequency of red meat consumption), mobility, digital technology, etc. It provides an overview of the impact of users’ lifestyles on the neighbourhood’s carbon footprint and outlines specific areas of work for the neighbourhood. Once this diagnosis is complete, the Conemca tool can be used to define optimum scenarios in terms of the carbon footprint of the neighbourhood, based on national and local data. The scenarios are continuously adjusted through the gradual addition of local data by the parties involved.
What are the next steps and the outlook?
The project has been renewed for a period of six months with the Michel Serres Centre. The priorities from now on are to continue to produce website content, develop the tools for the diagnostic phase and design adapted tools for the programming phase, but also to test the methodology in the field through the project’s various partners. The towns of Le Vésinet and Aigremont, with the support of the Yvelines Departmental Council, have already expressed an interest in testing the methodology.
At the Ideas Laboratory, a POLETE#3 season is also being considered for 2021. Its purpose will be to:
- Confirm and make scientifically robust the assumptions and variables of the accounting system (carbon footprint and cost)
- Design and test the Conemca concept (user interface, features) in targeted neighbourhoods (in connection with the Centre Michel Serres and their experimental field)
- Define the specifications for a first version that may be deployed in the short term
Such a project requires an ecosystem of participants, specialists and data providers in the various fields (energy, mobility, buildings, etc.) to be identified and involved, in order to trial the co-construction of low-carbon scenarios and new models of governance at neighbourhood level.