The Sense and Non-Sense of PEDs—Feeding Back Practical Experiences of Positive Energy District Demonstrators into the European PED Framework Definition Development Process
1. Problem Statement
2. Materials and Methods
- the implementation of PED pilots in the Horizon 2020 SCC Lighthouse project +CityxChange [16,17]. These pilots are situated in Trondheim (NO) and Limerick (IE). In Trondheim, three pilot areas distributed across the city test positive energy blocks (PEBs, see further for the relation with PEDs) and local flexibility markets for exchanging and trading energy, both heat and electricity. In Limerick, one pilot area is situated in the historical Georgian city centre while a turbine in the Shannon river completes the pilot’s energy infrastructure. Realising PEBs and exchanging and trading energy are also the main goals. In Limerick the pilot project includes the energy retrofit of heritage buildings. Two challenges needed to be addressed: translating the general PED definition of the H2020 call into an operational framework on the ground, and subsequently realizing the operational requirements in practice. This included substantial challenges, especially with regard to effectively building the PED pilots under the present regulatory, economic and societal circumstances. In addition, realising PEDs in existing urban districts is considered more difficult than through newbuilt areas, but the city and PED ambitions include the transformation of existing areas;
- the editing of a PED ‘solution booklet’  for the Smart Cities Information System (SCIS), now integrated in the Smart Cities Marketplace. The booklet was a co-production between SCIS and four H2020 SCC Lighthouse projects focusing on the realization of PED pilots: Atelier, SPARCS, MakingCity and +CityxChange. The resulting guidance document is based on a systematic analysis of the barriers and opportunities encountered in the different PED pilots;
- participation in the Alignment Core Group for a PED definition and integrated approach (see Section 6), led by JPI Urban Europe. Participating organisations include EERA JPSC PED modules, SET Plan Action 3.2 PED Programme/DUT PED pillar, COST Action PED-EU-NET, IEA EBC Annex 83, UERA PED WG, PED-related H2020 SCC projects, H2020 SCC Task Group Replication, Scalable Cities (EU SCC Lighthouse Project group) and the Smart Cities Marketplace. The working group is thus composed of members from academia, research & technology organisations (RTOs) and the field of practice, and aims to formulate a PED framework definition that can be used throughout the EU by combining a scientifically sound approach with requirements of accessibility and ease of use by all concerned stakeholders. It operates through regular working meetings of the core expert group while broader consultations of PED stakeholders (e.g., JPI Urban Europe member state representations) provide for feedback from the field of practice.
3. Background: The Emergence of PEB and PED Concepts from 2015 Onwards
“Positive Energy Districts (PED) are energy efficient districts that have net zero carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and work towards an annual local surplus production of renewable energy (RES). Such districts help raise the quality of life in European cities, while reaching the COP21 targets and making Europe a global role model. An open innovation framework with cities, industry, investors, research institutes and citizens’ organisations all working together will help develop PEDs and the necessary R&I Activities. The approach integrates the technological, spatial, regulatory, financial, legal, environmental, social and economic perspectives.”  (pp. 28–29).
“Positive Energy Blocks/Districts consist of several buildings (new, retro-fitted or a combination of both) that actively manage their energy consumption and the energy flow between them and the wider energy system. Positive Energy Blocks/Districts have an annual positive energy balance. They make optimal use of elements such as advanced materials (e.g., bio-based materials), local RES, local storage, smart energy grids, demand-response, cutting edge energy management (electricity, heating and cooling), user interaction/involvement and ICT.
Positive Energy Blocks/Districts are designed to be an integral part of the district/city energy system and have a positive impact on it (also from the circular economy point of view). Their design is intrinsically scalable and they are well embedded in the spatial, economic, technical, environmental and social context of the project site.” , (p. 117, ).
- “Focus on mixed use urban districts and positively contribute to the overall city goals;
- Develop solutions that can be replicated/gradually scaled up to city level. The technical, financial, social, and legal feasibility of the proposed solutions should be demonstrated in the actual proposal.
- Make local communities and local governments (particularly city planning departments) an active and integral part of the solution, increase their energy awareness and ensure their sense of ownership of the smart solutions. This should ensure sustainability of Positive Energy Blocks/Districts;
- Promote decarbonisation, while improving air quality.
- […]” 
“Positive Energy Districts are energy-efficient and energy-flexible urban areas or groups of connected buildings which produce net zero greenhouse gas emissions and actively manage an annual local or regional surplus production of renewable energy. They require integration of different systems and infrastructures and interaction between buildings, the users and the regional energy, mobility and ICT systems, while securing the energy supply and a good life for all in line with social, economic and environmental sustainability.” 
4. An Operational PED Definition with 4 Subtypes: Addressing the Practical Implementation Challenges from a Bottom-Up Perspective
- economic feasibility and cost efficiency: in particular, energetic retrofitting of existing buildings remains costly with long payback periods—often going far beyond the range of a 30 years investment horizon . In the European context, most PEDs are expected to be urban retrofit PEDs. Business models that turn the PED opportunities into benefits are being developed, but many secondary benefits cannot be captured in financials while being invaluable for cities;
- optimum renewable and sustainable energy provision: in many cases, the amount of renewable or sustainable energy needed for the district could possibly be produced in a cheaper and more efficient way outside the district or the city, but such a setup would at least partly go against the PED ambition. Nevertheless this can be balanced against the reduced needs for grid upgrades or other ‘hidden’ costs;
- the stated need of PEDs to flexibly interact with their hinterland in terms of exchanging energy flows and helping to balance energy grids : whereas the theoretical need for this faculty is commonly recognized, its practical implementation through operational schemes such as Energy Communities (in line with the recast EU directives in this field) is yet at the experimentation phase—see also below;
- the share of mobility energy to be provided by a PED: none of the current definitions have managed to define a desired performance level. It can be argued that mobility can only be partially included in PEDs as transport tends to act at a different scale. Examples of emission accounting models for mobility can also be widely varying in different regions;
- regulatory barriers: beneficial local cost sharing models are not yet possible in the electrical grid and markets. Examples include no opportunity for local exchange of energy through the grid while extra wires would break the system, or feeding back energy for prosumers not being viable under present regulations and technicalities, or no feed-in tariff for surplus energy from prosumers being available, meaning they could not receive any payment . Currently the implementation of the Clean Energy for All Europeans Package , including the facilitation of Energy Communities and peer-to-peer trading, is not yet finished in several Member States (like Belgium  or the Netherlands  to name just a few), thus prolonging the stated difficulties;
- cultural factors such as landscape and heritage value: rarely the full technical potential of onsite renewable energy generation can be realised. For example, neither shall all building roofs and façades be clad with PV panels nor shall urban wind turbines be installed wherever possible throughout the urban texture.
- organisational and governance factors: PEDs are not a status, but a process. Taking this further, PEDs are also not a single product. They are a multi-stakeholder undertaking, addressing the full complexity of urban (re)development.
4.2. Supporting Evidence from Cases
4.3. Outcome: PED Definition, 3 System Boundary Modes, 4 Ambition Levels
“Positive Energy Districts (PED) are mixed-use energy-efficient districts that have net zero carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and actively manage an annual local surplus production of renewable energy (RES). They require interaction and integration between buildings, the users and the regional energy, mobility and ICT system, while ensuring social, economic and environmental sustainability for current and future generations.” 
- Geographical boundary: Spatial-physical limits of the PED in terms of delineated buildings, sites and (energy) infrastructures—these may be contiguous or in a configuration of detached patches;
- Functional boundary: Limits of the PED in terms of energy grids, e.g., the electricity grid behind a substation that can be considered as an independent functional entity serving the PED; a district heating system that can be considered as a functional part of the PED even if the former’s service area is substantially larger than the heating sector of the PED in question; or a gas network in the same sense;
- Virtual boundary: Limits of the PED in terms of contractual boundaries, e.g., including an energy production infrastructure owned by the PED occupants but situated outside the normal geographical PED boundaries (for example an offshore wind turbine owned through shares by the PED occupant community).
- PEDautonomous: ‘plus-autarkic’, net positive yearly energy balance within the geographical boundaries of the PED and internal energy balance at any moment in time (no imports from the hinterland) or even helping to balance the wider grid outside, not expected as a common case (see Figure 1);
- PEDdynamic: net positive yearly energy balance within the geographical boundaries of the PED but dynamic exchanges with the hinterland to compensate for momentary surpluses and shortages (see Figure 2);
- PEDvirtual: net positive yearly energy balance within the virtual boundaries of the PED but dynamic exchanges with the hinterland to compensate for momentary surpluses and shortages (see Figure 3);
- PrePED: candidate PED, no net positive yearly energy balance within the geographical boundaries of the PED but energy difference acquired on the market by importing certified green energy (i.e. realizing a zero carbon district).
5. From Technical Solutions to Urban Transition Governance for Systemic Change: Addressing the Contribution of PEDs towards Realising Climate Neutral Cities and Regions
6. Current Work on an EU-Wide PED Framework Definition: From PED Types to Context Factors—Situating PEDs in Their Wider Energy Generation Landscape
- Urban density: the higher the urban density, the more difficult it becomes to generate all needed energy on-site. Therefore a reversely proportional context factor can be applied, allowing the district to self-generate lower shares of its operating energy with increasing urban densities;
- Heritage: the more heritage buildings or protected views are present in a district, the more restrictions there will appear on building envelope interventions and the installation of renewable energy generation capacity such as PV panels. Therefore, another reversely proportional context factor will allow to reduce the self-generation share of the district with increasing heritage value.
- Mobility: it should be pointed out how much of the mobility energy for the users of the PED shall be generated onsite. This is a discussion that remains far from established, even for PEDs that can be considered as having the potential of generating 100% of their own energy needs. As mobility strongly relates to higher functional scale levels than the district itself, it may be expected that the mobility energy produced in a PED will always remain a share of the total mobility energy needed by its users, be they inhabitants, commuters or visitors;
- Climate and embedding in the regional or national energy system: each region has its own challenges to address in terms of generating sufficient renewable and sustainable energy. In this way, the regional energy equation may be more difficult to solve in a context of cold and dark winters with high heating demand and little available resources to supply heat pumps, versus warm and sunny summers with dominant cooling demand and ample potential for PV-input. The complete energy balance for the region will thus influence the share of energy production that is assigned to a PED.
7. Conclusions and Outlook
- Further mapping on-the-ground experiences in creating and managing PEDs, to extract viable technical, social and economic pathways to PEDs for use by cities, real estate developers and other urban decision makers. In particular, further elaborating context factors to account of the wider sustainable energy potentials and inquiring practical feasibility of this method;
- In this way, developing a definition framework that is at the same time sufficiently precise to allow PED benchmarking, sufficiently flexible to accommodate for the many contexts in which PEDs will be developed, and sufficiently simple not to repel urban actors such as city administrators, project developers or building owners in using the definition framework;
- Further investigating the quality-related factors, co-benefits and potential negative externalities of PED applications better, and identifying how these may contribute to generating willingness to invest in PEDs (public, private and citizen funding);
- Analysing which efforts are best fit at district or at city level, to see PEDs as important stepping stones towards climate-neutral cities and regions. This makes PEDs not only targets in themselves, but establishes them as growth and transition enablers.
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
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Vandevyvere, H.; Ahlers, D.; Wyckmans, A. The Sense and Non-Sense of PEDs—Feeding Back Practical Experiences of Positive Energy District Demonstrators into the European PED Framework Definition Development Process. Energies 2022, 15, 4491. https://doi.org/10.3390/en15124491
Vandevyvere H, Ahlers D, Wyckmans A. The Sense and Non-Sense of PEDs—Feeding Back Practical Experiences of Positive Energy District Demonstrators into the European PED Framework Definition Development Process. Energies. 2022; 15(12):4491. https://doi.org/10.3390/en15124491Chicago/Turabian Style
Vandevyvere, Han, Dirk Ahlers, and Annemie Wyckmans. 2022. "The Sense and Non-Sense of PEDs—Feeding Back Practical Experiences of Positive Energy District Demonstrators into the European PED Framework Definition Development Process" Energies 15, no. 12: 4491. https://doi.org/10.3390/en15124491