Whether simply for reporting or to drive more sustainable outcomes, cities around Australia are seeking to more accurately track and monitor their performance.  

However well intentioned, the city level data that they have access to is crude to say the least.  Annually, utilities and government agencies report high level electricity, gas, water and transport data.  For a city to respond to this information, it needs to understand more than just these high level totals. 

At Kinesis, we have worked hard with utilities and government agencies to break up this high level data to suburb or building level information, giving cities a greater granularity of understanding. Just last week we established a new approach with Sydney Water to deliver fine grain, suburb level water consumption data to all local governments.  But the truth is, a utility only knows a fraction of the total story.  

How can we unpack these high level datasets to provide truly insightful information about the performance of a city?  And how does this help us drive change towards a more sustainable, resilient and affordable future?

The solution is integration - joining the dots on disparate datasets that are available to all cities but not yet enabled or are simply ignored.  

At its simplest level, we can cross tab resource consumption with planning, development and demographic data to understand the impact of built form and urban design on overall city sustainability. South Sydney Region of Councils (SSROC) recently launched a solar leasing program, allowing residents lease solar systems from vetted suppliers.  The key assumption here is that the barrier to solar PV installation is upfront capital cost. 

However, with solar PV prices having fallen by 80% in the last 10 years, is this really the issue? 

We investigated this further with work we are currently undertaking with Randwick City Council through cross-tabbing solar PV installations with dwelling type, household ownership and demographics. What we found was a that dwelling type and ownership had a significant impact, with take-up rates being only 2% in suburbs with a high proportion of renters and apartments and were closer to 10% in suburbs with a high proportion of detached, owner-occupied dwellings. This allows us to create a policy and program that provides opportunities to those who don’t own or have access to roof space to install solar.

But there are ways to make data work even smarter for cities.  

Tracking fine grain data at the building or asset level allows us to understand what these high level data sets are telling us and how city managers should or could respond.  

Ausgrid has recently reported that electricity consumption is starting to drop across the network. But this isn’t universal. Working at the building level, for example, we are tracking the electricity and gas consumption of commercial and retail building’s within Sydney’s CBD.  Matching this building level data to the City of Sydney’s floor space and employment survey allows us to understand why electricity consumption is going up in places like Pyrmont and going down in the CBD.  And, importantly, are the new so-called ‘green’ buildings really using less energy than their predecessors?

Further, the Bureau of Transport Statistics is reporting that per person car use across Sydney is falling. Tracking bicycle counts along the new bike lanes through the CBD helps us understand whether the bike lanes are contributing towards this change.  Cross-tabbing parking rates in new developments with local car ownership and reported car use also helps to establish appropriate parking policies that respond to changes in our travel patterns (more on this in another blog).

So what can we take out from all of this? In order to establish a truly insightful picture of a cities environmental performance, you need more than just environmental data alone. Just in the way corporates are now adopting a more integrated approach to define a holistic picture or their collective impact, so too must cities integrate a wider data set in order to develop a richer picture of performance in the context of the human systems that exist within it.

We can no longer say that city managers don’t play a significant role in creating a low carbon, more resilient and sustainable future.  How and where we rezone, development controls, parking rates, will all have an impact on how our businesses and residents live, work and travel, consume energy and generate emissions.  Importantly, we now have the data to enable cities to make good decisions and drive change.