A team of researchers from Lithuania, Cyprus and Germany provide insights into how the application of remote working models can help combat energy and environmental problems and thus contribute to smart cities development. The results of the study, which was conducted in Cyprus and coordinated by Kaunas University of Technology (KTU), Lithuania demonstrated that at least 4,0 L of transportation fuel and 7,4 kg of carbon dioxide can be saved per hour of remote work per 100 employees.
To stop the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the activities in various countries were suspended, people visited shops less often, the number of entertainment activities, trips, and especially flights decreased. Many people in the world were working or studying from home. Researchers immediately began looking for ways to stop the spread of coronavirus, but the situation raised another question: how will reduced human activity affect our environment?
“Many energy and environmental-related benefits arise with remote working. These are mainly related to the elimination of the necessity to commute to the main premises of the organisation or the reduction of the distance required travelling to the coworking space,” says Dr Paris Fokaides a Chief Researcher at KTU Faculty of Civil Engineering and Architecture.
The study looked into the role of teleworking during the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on sustainability in the context of smart cities.
“We have used as a case study the working habits of a University staff, where mixed scenarios of a home office – coworking and office working were developed with the use of location-allocation modelling. Our study introduced the key elements of remote working and smart cities and the intersections between them,” explains Dr Fokaides.
The novelty of the scientists’ approach arose from the establishment of impact indicators that numerically demonstrate the potential of remote working models in contributing to saving fuel resources and carbon dioxide (CO2) and reducing the emitting of other pollutants. The study analysed the changes in energy consumption patterns that have emerged amid the COVID-19 pandemic, where the largest percentage of the working population switched to home office working. The well-established GIS tool was used for mapping the locations of the employees.
According to Dr Fokaides, in addition to the benefits of using less transportation, which includes less consumption of fuel and less CO2 and other atmospheric pollutants emissions, one of the most profound changes that have been observed during the lockdown, was the patterns of energy consumption: “The majority of the organisations during this period ceased operation, immediately reducing the energy demand and drastically modifying the energy consumption patterns from what was until then known to be the typical and the business-as-usual case.”
The KTU researcher adds that working remotely includes other direct and indirect environmental impacts, such as reduced noise pollution, diminished need for land for road networks and infrastructure, decreased road congestion and savings in energy and material resources from less use of paper and plastic.
According to scientists, teleworking can make a significant contribution to the development of smart cities, in particular by reducing the need for transport.
“The transportation sector is a major key player for the realisation of the smart cities with targets set for reduced congestion, accidents, and air pollution in European cities, remote working can contribute significantly to the development of sustainable urban mobility model,” says Dr Fokaides.
In a smart city, digital and telecommunication technologies are used to make the traditional networks and services more efficient for the benefit of its inhabitants and business. According to Dr Fokaides, this means using smart urban transport networks, upgraded water supply together with waste disposal facilities, and smart energy-efficient buildings, all of which save on the energy and material resources and minimise carbon emissions.
“Smart cities target the improvement of the quality of life of its citizens, as well as the strengthening of the economy through the promotion of sustainable urban mobility and the increased use of clean and energy-efficient vehicles,” emphasises KTU researcher.
Researchers point out that the important aspects for the development of smart cities are the Internet of Services (IoS) and the Internet of Energy (IoE), which determine how natural resources and networks, including electricity, gas, transport, water, public services, data, buildings, should be managed and used properly.
“The up-to-date and real-time information and data that can be collected and transferred using CPS systems ensures the implementation of timely and efficient actions that will be able to keep the operations of the city running in stable and secure conditions, while resource savings are achieved and carbon emissions minimized,” says Dr Fokaides.
According to him, the long-term consequences of the pandemic will trigger more permanent changes connected to the digitalisation of work and other daily activities and consequently will lead to reductions of mobility needs and overall fossil-energy consumption.
The above-described study was published in a prestigious scientific journal Energy Sources, Part A: Recovery, Utilization, and Environmental Effects and has already generated more than 13 thousand views.