CIVIS project: cities as drivers of social change

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The University of Trento is leading the CIVIS project, with the aim of raising awareness on energy saving through the active participation of the community. CIVIS has received a grant of 2.9 million Euros for three years under the call "ICT-Smartcities" of the 7th European Framework Programme. The aim of the project is to reduce CO2 emissions by focusing on citizen empowerment and the involvement of non-economical values such as collaboration and sharing, in order to communicate with the traditional providers and to build a new form of participated energy service.  

Three pilot sites in Italy – Trento city and the nearby municipalities of Storo and Stenico – and other two in Europe – Stockholm, Sweden, and at the Otaniemi University Campus in Helsinki, Finland – will be the first to test CIVIS. In these pilot sites, the various districts involved will be an active part of the research project and the project itself will be developed depending on the context in which it is placed.

“Until now,” says Matteo Bonifacio, the project’s creator at University of Trento, “the way of producing energy has led to the evolution of our society. The big question we must answer is therefore how society will look like, now that we are heading towards distributed and complex energy systems. The first response comes from the web. Today's society does not coexist with the web; it is the web. A form of participated energy use must therefore draw inspiration from the web to achieve social objectives. Energy is our currency, thus, a social revolution of technology is necessary.”

This project goes beyond the scope of renewable energy and the reduction of CO2 emissions. “So far, the debate focused mainly on two points that we have questioned,” says Bonifacio. “First, that people’s energy-related behaviors can be influenced only through economic incentives and, second, that most processes take place on an individual basis in terms of producer and consumer relationship.”

In fact, CIVIS is at first a new way of thinking about energy. The project does not include the existing energy networks, but it operates on users’ awareness of being citizens, that should collaborate to transform the energy into a way to provide services for people. “A good use of energetic power should help poor people, build retirement homes for elderly people, or organize public spaces for children into the city,” explains Bonifacio “and not only through the community pressure on the energy providers, but also through a partnership with them. What matters is producing green energy for social objectives.”

“We are just at the beginning,” says Giacomo Poderi, researcher for CIVIS project at University of Trento, “the official start of the work was in October 2013 and, at the moment, one of our main effort is to better structure the collaboration with the pilot sites stakeholders, and to plan their involvement in the project. By June or July we hope to have the “ok” for a plan to work with stakeholders and by the end of September 2014 we aim to pose the groundwork for the collaboration itself. This objectives are our  milestones. By the end of the second year (September 2015) we should have concluded the data collection and built the models for the analysis, which will be used to validate CIVIS model by the end of the three years of the project.” 

The working groups are nine and involve 12 partners, all working in parallel: 4 Italian and the other divided between Sweden, Finland, Germany, The Netherlands, UK and Portugal. One group focuses on the system infrastructure, another on the development interfaces for users as apps for smartphone and other groups are studying the social issues of community building, and the impact of this ecosystem on the energetic system.

One of these work packages works on case studies, i.e. the three pilot sites in Europe. “The project in fact does not work on the energy infrastructure, but on the possibility of a dialogue between the community of users and providers”, says Bonifacio. This characteristic is a potential of the project, because it makes it easily adaptable to any kind of context. “It's like having a full meal, appetizer main course and dessert, wherever I go.”

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