Flexible and creative – a unique science conference

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Established as a platform to disseminate the results of two projects, seven years later Sustainable Places is a world-renowned conference showcasing results coming out of the EU’s H2020 and welcoming similar research activities worldwide. This agile and inclusive event is dedicated to the innovations of EU projects and how they are addressing the sustainability of the built environment

N 2013, two EU FP7 research projects, RESILIENT and PERFORMER, banded together and tasked themselves with organising a conference to act as a platform for the dissemination of their results and to cluster like-minded researchers. Over time this cluster space, Sustainable Places, has expanded, successfully outliving the project’s funding from the EC and cementing the forum as a valuable platform for those tackling the sustainability targets of the EU’s buildings, districts, urban environments, transport and energy infrastructures.

CEA and R2M Solution are the joint organisers of Sustainable Places, drawing on different streams of expertise to foster the continued attraction of a far-reaching and loyal audience. From CEA, one of the founders of Sustainable Places with valuable experience in energy research, the forum gains increased credibility and participation from its close connections with the EC. R2M on the other hand as an exploitation company, draws on it proficiency in planning and pulling together the local actors and companies that are closer to the market. 

Together, these two streams have created a space that offers a unique collaborative community focused on the research, networking and creation of market opportunities through the clustering of EU projects. This more accommodating and flexible approach, with EU projects at its heart, is proving appealing as a destination that combines aspects between a Brussels event, a scientific conference and an exposition. 

Changing EU sustainability landscape

Since the first Sustainable Places in 2013, the trends in the energy markets, construction and retrofit have continued to progress and develop and the conference has evolved with these transformations to keep relevant and impactful.

Thomas Messervey, founder and CEO of R2M Solution explains: “The conference in its earlier years considered one of its forward-looking themes to be how buildings connected with the smart grid and, over time, we have looked to maintain this progressive vision of where sustainability is going as it continues to have increasing importance. 

“The fact our projects disseminate EC sustainability topics has meant the EC is constantly pulling us forward, especially with supporting policy and the momentum of the funding instruments at both EU and national level. This EC drive is reflected in some of the themes this year as we move beyond buildings to districts, neighbourhoods and cities,” continued Messervey.

When it comes to deciding on the themes for the annual forum, Messervey describes the process as being judged three-fold: remaining inclusive of all sides of sustainability, such as energy storage and solutions; applicable to the EC’s topics in question that year; or based on the location of the event that year. The hot topic of SP2019, therefore, is island sustainability and demand response (DR). Hosted on the Italian island of Sardinia, it makes sense that 2019 addresses the momentum behind DR trials that are opening on the island and at the same time, the EC programmes and funding

instruments that look specifically at addressing the challenges facing their detachment from the mainland. “In a negative way, islands have to deal with the fact they don’t have everything (fuel, water, basic items etc.) and that they are usually seasonally affected in population size; they will go from being very small to very big which is a challenge for infrastructure. However, islands are also a unique opportunity. With respect to the grid, they have more freedom to manage their own grid, install renewables and balancing programmes for flexibility management that the mainland doesn’t. They often make a nice test case for future mainland grid set-ups,” explains Messervey.

It’s attention like this, to the scope of DR across Europe and to the evolution of the energy market and an evolution of the sustainability market that keeps Sustainable Places a burgeoning stage for stakeholders to come together and share their research.

Facilitating policy

Each year the conference sees a 20 to 30 per cent growth, with 2018 attracting 150 attendees and this year set to reach around 200 with at least 50 EU projects participating that are carrying out the EC’s call topics. With such niche numbers, Sustainable Places is able to effectively cluster these projects together to collaborate knowledge to help facilitate the adoption of policy.

“The EC is always asking projects how they can contribute to the creation of new policies related to green energy, so when projects meet at Sustainable Places and discuss their results the event is actively fostering the involvement of industries in helping push for changes in policy,” says Nizar Touleimat, European project manager in data science at CEA. This clustering approach helps EU projects discuss common problems and best practices so that they’re not replicating each other’s research but helping answer each other’s questions to help move faster.

“This is what makes us different to other scientific conferences,” explains Messervey. “Unlike traditional scientific conferences that may focus more on individual research and scientific dissemination, it is accurate to state that we focus more on collective research and all aspects of clustering, communication, dissemination and exploitation. The conference is flexible and adaptive and features thematic plenary sessions, workshops, technical tracks and an exhibition space for posters and result prototypes.” 

“This year will also feature an EU info-day and brokerage event, a focus on smart cities, sustainable island workshops, free environmental training for local professionals provided by GBC Italia and a clustering of local area officials targeting sustainability in Sardegna. It is going to be quite an event and the social program is also very nice.” 

Future digitalisation

Sustainable Places is also constantly pushing to address future market trends across the EU and every year it attracts more trail-blazers and more renowned international figures and founding partners of important companies who are bringing these concepts to their keynotes. 

One example is this year’s opening keynote for SP2019 by Don McLean, founder of IES whose new platform is going to apply sustainable analysis to communities of any size or purpose to look at energy use and other sustainability metrics beyond buildings toward communities, holistically. Another example is Niccolo Sovico from the new Italian start-up Ener2Crowd, which is launching a platform for the crowdfunding of sustainability projects.

“These are just two exciting sessions for us this year and it’s the broader input of novel companies and individuals like these which are helping further drive the innovation and impact of the projects at Sustainable Places,” continues Messervey. “Of course, there’s more data, more measurement, more digitalisation which leads to AI and the expansion of what it means to be sustainable. We are seeing it go from energy efficiency to carbon and material efficiency and how it interacts with all infrastructures, not just buildings.”

“By addressing the larger, forward-thinking topics of digitalisation and sustainability, at Sustainable Places we are able to connect more municipalities, local actors and engineering professionals, for example, in evolving their concepts into intelligent solutions for lasting impact upon sustainability and climate change,” he concludes.  H

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