SINFONIA: The importance of measuring the environmental, economic and social impacts to improve energy efficiency in cities

The solutions developed in Innsbruck (Austria) and Bolzano (Italy) can be fully applied in 12 countries of the European Union, demonstrating the representativeness of the pilot cities. The social impact studies will become relevant in the implementation of similar initiatives to face current societal challenges.

The word “SYMPHONY” often refers to a "set of voices, instruments, or both, that play chords in harmony with each other for an extended period of time." This definition is equally apt to describe the SINFONIA project, funded by the European Commission, which for the last seven years has developed and tested integrated energy efficiency solutions at the district level with the aim of reducing both energy consumption (50%) and CO2 emissions.

To achieve this objective, the 38 partners of the project, belonging to 7 different countries, have joined forces, pooling their knowledge and experience, to propose an integrated energy retrofit model that can be applied to districts of medium-sized European cities - the most common/prevalent on the continent. These models have been implemented and tested in two European cities: Innsbruck (Austria) and Bolzano (Italy).

Among the partners, ZABALA played to the tune, leading the study of environmental and socioeconomic impact and the analysis of the replication potential of the measures and solutions developed in the project. The resulting outcome was a replication study of the “SINFONIA approach” across the 27 EU countries.

This analysis, developed mainly in the deliverable "Impact assessment for the remaining 20 Members States",  allowed the identification of technologies and methodologies from which other member states can benefit taking into account the following parameters: weather conditions, energy pricing, National energy policies and regulations, urban profile and sociological characteristics.

Using a “distance approach”, the similarities between the cities across the 27 European member states and the two pilot cities were analysed, classifying the countries into three groups: going from very similar conditions to totally different conditions. This classification revealed that the solutions of the project can be applied in their entirety in 12 EU countries, demonstrating the representativeness of the pilot cities.

The project, however, has the potential to benefit all member states through the developed methodologies and social tools: support tools for decision-making, coordination lessons from actors at the local level, and tools facilitating relationships with local groups. These solutions,  termed "soft measures", play a key role in streamlining decision-making prior to the implementation of energy retrofit projects, promoting maximum coordination among local agents and ensuring full use of energy efficiency measures through the promotion of responsible behaviour and training in energy saving techniques.

The replicability of these measures also yields a relevant conclusion about the evolution of the social aspects in energy projects: citizen participation has become key to the success of this type of initiative. The commitment of local communities is essential to achieve the energy efficiency objectives in their entirety. The inclusion of a methodology for measuring social impact is a future recommendation for this type of initiative.

Achieving the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs requires these energy efficiency measures. Most of the world's population lives in cities and the challenges are even greater if we also take into account the recent COVID19 pandemic. In this context, tackling current challenges from a transversal perspective (health, innovation and technology, social aspects, equality) is a priority.

In conclusion, like with a Symphonic orchestra, it is necessary for all the actors in the cities to work at the same pace, knowing the route to follow and participating when necessary. A single note out of tune can jeopardize the harmony of the entire piece, therefore the maximum collaboration of all agents is essential so that the established objectives are met, and cities can contribute more to the achievement of our common climate goals.

Author: Leire Martiarena

Senior Consultant in Social Innovation and European Programmes

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