Lake Eola in Downtown Orlando, Florida (Justin Brodt/Shutterstock.com)

Simulation tool helps Orlando deliver on environmental goals

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer has no shortage of plans to improve the central Florida city’s environment through technology. What he needed, however, was a way to verify that those plans would pan out. To do that, he turned to the Siemens City Performance Tool (CyPT).

“The No. 1 strategy is how do you attract and retain talent to your community," Dyer said. "The talented young people who are going to make the city successful in the future want to work in cities that have sustainable practices,”  he added.

The simulation tool collects about 350 to 400 city data points related to transportation, energy use and existing buildings along with more general characteristics such as population growth projections, the mix of sources of electricity generation, resident's travel patterns and more.  Once the data is cleaned and standardized, it's used as a greenhouse-gas emission baseline.  CyPT then evaluates the effect of deploying a combination of up to 70 different technologies – such as heat recovery systems, electric buses or photovoltaic cells -- might have on that baseline and estimates the economic and environmental impacts of investing in those technologies.

For example, as part of the 12-year-old Green Works initiative to make Orlando one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the world, the city has about a decade's worth of data on greenhouse gas emissions. The city-owned Orlando Utilities Commission annually reports electricity, gas, and gasoline and diesel consumption by public and private vehicles. To ensure that Green Works is on the right track, the city shared that data with CyPT to determine what technologies it should encourage so it can  meet its goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 90 percent by 2040 and achieve 100% renewable energy by 2050, said Chris Castro, the city’s director of sustainability.

“This study showed us that the goals Mayor Dyer set out to achieve are attainable,” Castro said. “Often, we’re not sure whether a big, hairy, audacious goal is even realistic and even possible, but it is supposed to encourage the marketplace and set a tone as to what our priorities are," he said. "It was really heartening to see through the due diligence that Siemens has done with all of the data that they have their fingertips on, that running the numbers on this is realistic.”

A surprising finding in the report was that the city should be pushing the use of heat pump water heaters as a core technology to heat and cool buildings, Castro added. Currently, chilled-water coils regulate temperatures in the vast majority of buildings.

CyPT also found that Orlando could use solar energy to meet all of its power needs by 2040. To figure out how, the city is now conducting a study on solar and battery energies with the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. One measure is how adding more solar capacity will affect expanding electricity needs as the city puts more electric cars on the road, Castro said.

“Today we can produce twice as much power as we need in Orlando with solar just on the available rooftops that our city has. That’s not just city-owned rooftops, but rooftops across the entire city – homes and hotels and businesses,” he said.

CyPT is flexible, said Martin Powell, head of urban development at Siemens. If a city wants to implement light rail or congestion pricing on a highway, the tool can model those to see what energy sources can be mixed to provide the best -- and fastest -- results. CyPT measures the effects of a city’s strategic plans and compares them with traditional methods, and it reports environmental and economic key performance indicators -- like job growth -- across transportation, building and energy sectors.

“One thing I really liked about this report is it didn’t give us just the impact concerns of reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” Castro said. “It also underscored the environmental and economic impact of moving toward these goals. One thing it highlights here is about $19 billion of capital and operating expenditures between now and 2040 that are going to be invested into the city to help us achieve this goal. That’s economic development.”

The tool looks at three main indicators: greenhouse gas emissions, three air quality measures and job creation in terms of how much opportunity a city creates based on different technology options. CyPT can use city-submitted data or Siemens can obtain the data itself, often by partnering with a university and mining data online and then verifying its accuracy with the city.

“The issue is finding the right data,” Powell said. “Some cities collect information by passenger kilometers traveled, some by passenger miles, so we have to do these conversions, which are fairly easy, but we’ve got to make sure we’re being absolutely consistent.”

The project can take anywhere from six weeks to nine months, although six months is the average, he added.

“The reason we use this tool is to help cities see what their technology choices are, what they really need, get some fact-based outcomes that they can do further work on,” Powell said.

CyPT launched in 2015, and Siemens plans to provide more applications for city officials and the general public that would inform them about environmental trends  in their cities, similar to its City Air Management tool. An outgrowth of CyPT, CyAM focuses on indicators for air quality and local concentration emissions.

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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