Pan and Guindas in Palencia; San Francisco, in Santander, 4 de Marzo, in Valladolid. For those who do not know this Spanish cities, these names say little, however, these are the names of three neighborhoods, each with its own characteristics and idiosyncrasies, difficulties and potential. They were also the neighborhoods that were on the table of an original initiative of the Spanish Association for Energy Recovery from Biomass (AVEBIOM), on 26 February in Valladolid. A Smart Biomass workshop, or in other words, “how to integrate the biomass in a Smart City,” as Silvia Lopez said, from the organization.
The energy sector is at the center of discussion, the entire world is searching for viable and sustainable alternatives to, on one hand, reduce dependence on fossil fuels and on the other hand (result), reduce pollutant emissions to the atmosphere, meeting protocols and international agreements.
Europe has long intended to take over as the great “driving force” of research and technological development of truly alternative energies, “and biomass is one of the sources of energy that is gaining adherents”, as referred by the Organization, and there is already a cluster in virtually all countries. A technologically advanced cluster, with research and sustainable business model, for both the recipients (end-users) and for companies incorporated in the Biomass sector.
The AVEBIOM initiative – is part of the SMART BIOMASS project, supported by the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Spanish Tourism and funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) –, brought together about 30 participants, not only from or connected directly to the energy sector, but also many professionals related to planning, management, new Information Technologies, consultants, government officials and policy makers. This heterogeneity triggered an in-depth debate about the sustainability of cities and countries themselves increasingly dependent on energy and ‘big players’ and stakeholders in the sector. This dependency, up to the level of governance, could be compromising a real and effective sustainability and adherence to existing models of alternative energy, that need to be “subsidized” to gain scale and finally take off to the forefront of development, massive use and, in a perfect world, help to extinguish pollutant emissions, largely caused by the use of fossil fuels.
Biomass has a market
Moreover, biomass has been a type of alternative energy which is quite competitive with traditional energy sources. In private consumption, for example, many users have already opted for the installation of systems based on the use of biomass for heating. They do so mainly because of the quality/price ratio, but we also have faith and believe that there is a niche that recognizes the obvious environmental benefits of using this type of limited natural resource, undoubtedly, but nevertheless abundant and renewable.
But the adoption of this type of alternative energy is complicated for cities and communities, and in most cases have nothing to do with the advantages and healthy use of biomass (or solar, or wind, or geothermal), but are due to the costs of installation and competition with the more “traditional” energy sources. And those costs are, in most cases, related to past mistakes (and some present and even future). With poor urban planning, inefficient buildings in terms of energy, lack of strategic vision in the energy sector that 20, 30 or 40 years ago was secondary, despite public opinion and the successive crises forcing a discussion and reflection, which was not accompanied by political and administrative power.
That’s what we all realized in this Smart Biomass Initiative in Valladolid, that Pan and Guindas, San Francisco and 4 de Marzo, although they have a community which is raising awareness about environmental and sustainability issues and balance of the planet’s resources, they would never be able to adopt alternative energy models without its public funding to solve problems of poor building construction (poorly insulated, with facades without thermal break, distribution systems with incomplete infrastructures, etc.), bad territorial planning, difficulties at the level of production logistics, storage, distribution, etc. “We had to have an unlimited budget or increase consumer’s bill”, to take forward some paradigm-shifting energy projects. And not just here in these three examples. This is a problem in many cities in the world.
A problem that initiatives such as AVEBIOM, using tools as simple as the Lego and a mix of people who are interested, creative, innovative and with power of decision or at least of persuasion, can help counteract some “inevitabilities”. And this is the right time, because the energy sector is one of the leads in “European funding lines of Horizon 2020”. The poles of R & D, policy makers, the associative movement of citizens, everyone will have to look at the energy in another way, take forward pilot experiments and put existing clusters at the top of priorities.
Finally, the end user, who was highlighted in this workshop. All groups had to put themselves in the main actor’s shoes, figure out how to receive the stimuli and, at the same time, almost in a schizophrenic fashion, adhere to the savings campaigns and understand how the balance between “need” and “excess”, is minimum resulting in an increase in the monthly bill. “They did everything possible, and more“, said one of the participants, and for the quality of the solutions and conclusions, “it was worth the meeting”, assures another. Thinking about problems is good, “it forces us to find solutions” concludes, Orla De Diez, the driving force behind the workshop.
The alternative energy business plans must work and must be competitive
The alternative energy business plans must work and must be competitive. Consumers don’t always look for the most advantageous proposals for the environment, but, “if they have both options at the same price, they choose the greener option”. However, schizophrenia will always remain, unless the energy policies end the energy business and profits, transforming it into a universal right of citizens and then finding the mechanisms to support, finance and subsidize.
It is Utopian to think in an ideal world with smart people and smart Governments. For now, we have some more than others and vice versa. With all the problems this causes to mankind.