#48 - 2 October 2020

To put technology at the service of the energy transition, we must put an end to the paradox of the Internet

The paradox of the Internet is well-known: Internet users are exposing themselves more and more dangerously on social networks, installing applications that allow them, their consumption habits and their purchases to be tracked ... all while worrying about the surveillance of their personal data. Nothing new under the sun, except that this paradox is growing stronger: the greater the exposure with the increasing digitalization of our activities, the greater the concern about the collection and uses of this data. In the dual context of a health crisis that is strengthening the grip of data over our lives and organizations and of an ecological crisis that is exacerbating individuals’ desire to take action, how can this be resolved?

Microeconomics long ago answered this question through the theme of intertemporal trade-offs: the choice we make to overexpose ourselves on social networks or to consent to share data that makes our lives transparent to digital service operators provides us with an immediate, easy gain (notoriety, mobility services...), while the associated risks are perceived as random and medium to long term.

On the contrary, this could explain the debates around communicating meters in France, and specifically around Linky: the immediate gain is not perceived while the associated risks are considered significant and short term. And yet, observation of what is happening in other European energy markets – the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Norway or the United Kingdom – carry many lessons. Start-ups are multiplying, offering a mix of energy transition products (solar panels, water heaters, heat pumps, charging stations for electric vehicles) and services (home temperature, maintenance, bill minimization), which give substance to the concept of “energy-as-a-service”. Needless to say that through all these devices connected downstream of the meter, sensitive personal data – the data of our home's privacy – is collected and aggregated en masse, in real time.

Yet these new models are constantly expanding: why? Far from the "active consumer" announced for years, far from the technophile passionate about all these connected objects that are multiplying in our homes or the militant city-dweller – very minority profiles as shown by the sociology of energy research, the energy consumer, likes simplicity, comfort... and not making any effort. These new players on the market allow him to do so, putting the citizen who is concerned about the respect of his private life to sleep – which is moreover protected by a solid legislative arsenal (GDPR). In doing so, by pursuing his particular interest, our citizen and consumer, a worthy heir to Adam Smith, also contributes to the flexibility and stability of networks and to avoiding heavy investments in network resizing. He thus becomes an agent, certainly passive, but fundamental, of the collective interest. This is good news for the energy transition because, by relying on the human being as he is and not on an ideal human being who will only ever exist through coercion, it will be all the more rapid and efficient. – Cécile Maisonneuve, President


No time to read? La Fabrique de la Cité has got you covered.

“TOULOUSE, TERRITORY OF THE FUTURE” The commission trusted with this foresight mission, chaired by Marion Guillou and sponsored by Jean Tirole, has just submitted its conclusions. In order to make the Toulouse metro area “a more sustainable, more inclusive, and more innovative territory in the future”, the commission made eleven proposals that aim to strengthen the excellence and attractiveness of the territory as well as to make it a major pole not only of aeronautics and space but also of climate and technology. – Cécile Maisonneuve

Housing tensions are more linked to unmet demand, due to location, standing or size, than to the overall availability of housing units. From this perspective, Japan’s building policy stands out, as its “zoning laws are set at the national level and then applied by local governments”. This policy is said to have helped Tokyo’s housing remain more affordable than many of its global counterparts. – Romain Morin, Research assistant

→ Related: our report about affordable housing strategies in European cities.

– According to the International Transport Forum, the Latin American cities are among the most congested in the world. Congestion charge and demand management strategies can replace less efficient taxes on car users. – Cécile Maisonneuve

→ Related: our report about funding mobility in a post-carbon world and its associated online tool to discover practical funding solutions.

While some cities have abandoned some of the developments implemented during lockdown, the transformations carried out in the City in London seem to last so far. In this part of the city with some old, narrow and busy streets, sidewalks have been widened and roads reduced or even closed to solve road safety problems and improve air quality. Will it or won't it last, “that is the question”. – Sarah Cosatto, Research Officer

→ Related: our study project “Across cities in crisis” in which you will find op-eds, notes and interviews about cities’ adaptation to the pandemic.

- Improving mass transit has a direct impact on equity. It can be measured by the change in access to opportunities of low-income population and lesser impacts on air quality and road safety in Bogotá, as shown in a thoughtful piece from Juan Pablo Bocajero, former Secretary for Mobility of Bogota and Professor at University de Los Andes. – Cécile Maisonneuve

→ Related: our interview of Laurent Vigneau, Director of Research and Innovation for Artelia, about the differences between Paris and Amsterdam in terms of active mobilities.

The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary obtained three referendum questions in the next elections to regulate the arrival of cruise ships in the sanctuary, notably by limiting the number of vessels and passengers allowed to disembark, but also by favoring ships with better environmental performance. The cities of Santorini (Greece), Venice (Italy) and Cannes (France) have also introduced restrictions on these tourist practices. – Sarah Cosatto

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