The UPC proposes key actions to advance towards a new energy paradigm

The UPC has developed a roadmap that sets out the strategic lines it will pursue in research and technological development to help move beyond the energy paradigm that has prevailed for the last 150 years, which is based on growing use of non-renewable resources.

Oct 31, 2017

The document Keys to a new energy paradigm: analysis of the current situation and trends – future UPC lines of action for the transition to a new energy model is the outcome of a process of internal reflection, convergence and debate within the University carried out from 2014 to 2017 with the participation of many researchers and research groups, as well as some external organisations. The initiative is intended to provide the UPC with a framework to give impetus to technologies and forms of organisation and management that contribute to energy transition based on the use of renewable energies.

The document is grounded in the UPC’s expertise in teaching and research in this field, which is reflected in projects such as Energy Campus (recognised as an International Campus of Excellence) and InnoEnergy KIC, one of the first knowledge and innovation communities supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT). In the document, the UPC proposes a series of cross-cutting actions that include anticipating future research, creating new technological solutions in collaboration with local actors, and running pilot schemes in campus buildings and facilities. The University also aims to foster a cultural change that puts technology at the service of people by training new generations of professionals within the framework of an educational project based on sustainability. In addition, the UPC intends to play a leading role in the broader debate on the new paradigm for energy and society by contributing forward-looking proposals.

Six areas for analysis and action
The report warns that while a transition to renewable energy sources is possible, “It will take a huge collective effort to change mentalities and approaches, as well as a major transformation of the technical, management and governance systems of contemporary human civilisation.” After an introduction to the energy transition and the change of paradigm, the report focuses on six thematic areas: food, habitability, accessibility and mobility, information and communication technology (ICT), technological processes and governance. For each of these areas, the report analyses the current situation and trends, and proposes lines of action that could be pursued at the UPC to move beyond the energy paradigm that has prevailed for the last 150 years, which is based on growing use of non-renewable resources.

In the food area, the authors advocate integrating the key enabling technologies of Industry 4.0 (electronics, ICT, photonics, nanotechnology and robotics) in the agri-food sector. Another proposal is to work on reducing food and water waste, and to offer services to prepare food balance sheets for Catalonia (correlating production with the supply of the main plant and animal products, uses, human health, energy supply, etc.).

In the habitability area, the report proposes that the UPC should work to increase efficiency and ensure appropriate uses of energy and other resources with respect to utilisation of buildings and urbanised spaces, with a particular focus on the challenge of developing nearly zero-energy buildings. According to the authors, one of the main problems that will need to be addressed in the future is the maintenance of existing buildings and their adaptation to new renewable energies. It is also proposed that work be done to develop new utility paradigms that include green infrastructure that connects with the territory, and that provide the fabric needed to transform existing cities.

The UPC also wants to offer government agencies tools to participate in the analysis of accessibility—both physical (transport) and virtual (information and communications)—and the development of new forms of accessibility. The proposal is therefore to focus on new concepts related to battery-driven urban electric vehicles and support technologies, and to conduct research on hydrogen as an energy carrier for heavy and long-distance transport. It is also proposed that researchers focus on analysing a new approach to mobility and its management that prioritises local activities, public transport, and, in particular, the pursuit of synergies with virtual accessibility.

In ICT, the report recommends conducting research on methods and materials to minimise the energy needed to manufacture integrated electronic circuits, which reduce the need for rare earth elements (chemical elements that play a vital role in consumer electronics), highly polluting materials and materials from conflict zones. Another goal is to develop and improve energy-harvesting techniques. The authors also recommend analysing the opportunity cost of using ICT in energy-saving and efficiency processes and working to avoid the effects of technical failures, human error and external attacks on the overall efficiency (and energy efficiency) of the economic system.

Although ICT consumes energy, it also helps save it (in activities in the primary sector, industry, services, transport and residential [AL1] contexts) by dematerialising (digitising) information and improving understanding and control of processes. The report therefore proposes that ICT should be a focus area. The challenges identified include introducing the principles of a circular economy in ICT and increasing second uses and recovery of materials (especially scarce ones) and energy.

In technological processes, the UPC recommends focusing on three points prior to the introduction of new renewable energies: first, creating a guide to the transformation of technological processes associated with various activities in order to improve their energy efficiency; second, drawing up reference lists of materials to encourage responsible use (producing cement, ceramics, glass, steel, metals and polymers generally has a greater energy and environmental impact than the subsequent construction and transformation processes); and third, developing a map of industrial waste and analysing the end-of-life of products in order to foster the circular economy.

Finally, the report focuses on the question of how the energy system of the future and its governance system should be configured. The UPC is committed to investigating renewable energy sources (solar thermal, hydropower, photovoltaic, wind, geothermal and biomass) and their uses. The report identifies a series of technological challenges, including new actors (producers of power for own use), new functions such as large-scale energy storage (where hydrogen will play a key role), and the need to transform power grids into distributed networks (multiple producers and users—some very small, others very large—coexisting in the energy system).

Another proposal is to study regulatory and pricing systems suited to the dynamics of the new distributed renewable energy system.

Pilot schemes at the University
In all these areas, the UPC campuses and facilities can serve as a testing ground for pilot schemes such as energy saving in buildings (measures are already being applied), use of roofs and other spaces to test renewable energy generation systems (now happening on the Terrassa Campus), and the installation of an electricity-hydrogen-electricity pilot plant to experiment with energy storage. Sustainable mobility for members of the University community travelling to and from its facilities is also a subject of study.