Making sustainability Crystal clear

AERL members visit the Future of
Cities exhibition at The Crystal

Ahead of make-or-break UN climate change talks in Paris in December, economic attachés from the AERL met at The Crystal, one of the world’s greenest buildings, to find out about sustainable urban planning.

Martin Powell, Head of Urban Development at Siemens, which owns The Crystal, set out the three factors that make a city sustainable, including switching to cleaner energy sources, low-emission transportation and constructing or retro-fitting buildings that are sustainable, The Crystal being the benchmark of what is achievable using current technology.

A tour of the building revealed that solar panels, a wind farm off site and underground heat pumps provide the bulk of the energy needs, which is electric.

A 3000-litre tank of rainwater is recycled for the toilets and the biodiverse garden. The crystaline shape of the building is designed to be self-shading to lower energy needs. It’s also a smart building, with 3000 sensors that adjust the temperature of the rooms depending on the number of people in the room.

Although the cost of the initial investment in green technology is relatively high, these will be off-set over the long term through savings in energy and water usage.

Siemens infrastructure economist Elaine Timble introduced AERL members to the City Performance Tool (CYPT) which analyses the unique conditions of a city and then suggests a menu of tailored infrastructure investments in transport, energy or smart technology that will make a city more sustainable, create jobs and improve quality of life in the long term.

For instance, when it looked at Munich and Vienna and suggested replacing petrol cars with electric cars, the result was a 5% reduction in emissions for Munich and 9% for Vienna. Why the big difference in two similar cities? Munich’s power is coal based while Vienna’s is mainly hydro, which is cleaner.