Group photo of the RENKEI Tohoku school programme

Understanding Global Challenges

What pathways can cities take to become more sustainable in terms of their energy supply and consumption?


To date, more than half the global population live in cities. This is projected to exceed 66% by 2050. This urban population growth will put more pressure on the existing infrastructure, including energy supply, transportation, water, sewage, and spaces utilised by urban inhabitants. This is due not only to the increase in population density but also to the increase in commercial and industrial activities needed to provide jobs and services to support such population growth. In addition, the cityscape is expected to change through higher building density, taller buildings, and growth towards suburban and rural areas.

Therefore, we need to apply new ways to manage and organise our living and working spaces and to deliver the necessary services. In essence, we need to discover and apply new technologies and approaches to guide societies towards sustainable pathways to reduce consumption, dependency on finite resources, and environmental pollution.

These challenges will require new policies and approaches to urban planning, and building designs driven by appropriately derived guidelines to achieve the required sustainable pathway trajectory. As these schools mainly target energy, it is important that this sector is optimised to deliver services which are just for all. These should include city-specific power and heat supply systems that are reliant on natural resources and address both building service and mobility. These systems should be coupled with energy efficiency approaches that minimise our impact on the environment. Evidence also indicates that application of these approaches can result in new jobs and economic growth that will enhance social cohesion and prosperity.


As one of the RENKEI working groups, Tohoku University (Japan) and the University of Southampton (UK) collaborated jointly on the development of dual programmes for two schools for ‘young scholars’. These programmes provided a platform for engagement and knowledge exchange aiming to Address Global Challenges in cities, with the main focus being Energy Supply within Cities.

A successful Summer School was held at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan, on 8 - 12 September 2014, focusing on the theme of Energy Supply within Traditional and Environmentally Conscious Growth Models. The linked Spring School event was held at the University of Southampton, Southampton, UK, during the period of 22 - 29 March 2015, on the theme of District Energy Supply within Cities, with special emphasis on low carbon options for 21st century cities. Both events had contributions from different academic disciplines, industries, and municipalities / local authorities.

The programme of each school was designed to get young scholars to interact with each other and address the themes under consideration. The scholars were organised into groups working on tasks devised to examine specific research angles and explore differences between the current, traditional and the environmentally conscious (low carbon) energy supply systems. The schools’ programmes culminated in group presentations of appropriately identified solutions to support our cities’ energy needs in the 21st century and beyond. The presentations were assessed by specially formulated panels and the winners were announced at the school’s banquet dinner.


Each school’s programme consisted of lectures relevant to the theme, technical site visits to pertinent projects giving practical knowledge and understanding, and group work. Each programme was designed to span a period of one week and to be informative and flexible, allowing groups to interact with lecturers and the hosts at visit sites, as well as to communicate between themselves. The schedule was a mix of the above components, structured to allow lectures, site visits, and group work to happen within pre-defined daily activities.

Influential guest speakers were selected to present thought provoking, relevant, and appropriate information on specific areas related to the theme of the schools. These presentations provided background information and state-of-the-art subject knowledge, as well as the opportunity for participants to ask questions and network with the presenters. Some presentations were interactive and aimed at provoking debate within the schools’ workshops.

The participating RENKEI scholars were divided into groups which included participants from a variety of backgrounds, so as to maximise knowledge exchange and allow them to address the given tasks within their specific project and its topics.

Within the programme, ample time was allocated to the groups to allow them to research, debate, and integrate their findings, to be presented jointly at the final event of the school. Group members collaborated with great success to solve conceptual tasks involving technological and social challenges, developing solutions and strategies as well as ways to engage the public with the research projects’ outcomes.

On the last afternoon of each school, the groups presented their work to the other participants as well as special guests from local authorities, industry, and the RENKEI universities. A special expert panel was constituted to query project presentations and outcomes, assess the overall group team performances, and rank the projects. The winners were presented with a special prize and award. All scholars were given attendance certificates.


Summer School at Tohoku University

The RENKEI Summer School was successfully held at Tohoku University on 8 - 12 September 2014. 17 participants from RENKEI universities learned about, experienced, and discussed the topic of sustainable city design. The group projects helped students to recognize the systematic differences in energy supply infrastructures. The nine lectures covered exciting topics spanning technological, agricultural, economic, and social viewpoints on sustainability. All participants, students and faculty members, enjoyed interacting with each other. On the fourth day of the school, groups presented their work and the top three groups were given an award. The projects were as follows:

Group A: Pathways towards a community-inspired city for the future.
Group B: Energy demand and capacity in economies: a case study of Cancun, Mexico
Group C: Future city design under extreme weather conditions
Group D: Byproduct utilization for transportation systems in Valencia, Spain

The school also gave rise to new ideas and opportunities to start active research collaborations between the University of Southampton and Tohoku University. One prospective project aims to promote low carbon cities through the use of a variety of sustainable energy systems.

Spring School at the University of Southampton

The RENKEI Spring School, held at the University of Southampton on 22 - 29 March 2015, hosted 20 scholars, covering almost all the universities that support the RENKEI programme.

A series of 11 lectures were given by influential speakers with relevant experience in the topic of the school, District Energy Supply within Cities. The lectures addressed a well-designed mix of highly technical issues for sustainable and conventional energy supply systems, financial/cost analysis, and the relevant social implications. Some of these presentations heavily influenced the group work of the scholars, and in most cases they resulted in a vivid debate of the issues presented and their impact on society.

The groups were given a chance to network prior to starting work on their project. Group work started on day one of the school and was undertaken separately by each team. The assessment panel was in unanimous agreement that the final presentations were of exceptional quality and constituted remarkable results, especially in view of the fact that the work was done over five days, on topics which were mostly not familiar to the scholars.

Below are the topics of the group projects presented at the Spring School:

Group 1: Towards a low cost and low carbon district energy supply through  hydrogen-NG-fuelled CHP in Plymouth
Group 2: District energy supply for a newly developed area in Southampton
Group 3: Design and optimisation of district heating supply for the city of Southampton
Group 4: Renewable district energy system with tri-generation:  a case study of a small island in Taiwan
Group 5: Design of a district energy system for a city in a developing country:  a case study for La Paz/El Alto, Bolivia

Following the success of the Spring School, Professor Bahaj from the University of Southampton proposed that the British Council in Japan, Tohoku University, and the University of Southampton should perhaps consider expanding the RENKEI programme with the involvement of the local authorities / city councils from major cities in Japan and the UK.

With the completion of the two RENKEI schools in Sendai, Japan and Southampton, UK, this collaboration has greatly succeeded in fulfilling the presented schools’ objectives, namely:

  1. Enabling collaborative research at PhD and researcher levels in areas addressing the fundamental understanding related to regional renewable energy market penetration, regional energy generation, and distribution; exploring the elements of water, energy, and food systems; and the relationship of these to conflict and security.
  2. The establishment of two summer schools, one in Japan (September 2014) and the other in Southampton (March 2015), on the above theme but with a specific focus on the following:
     • Understanding energy pathways after the Fukushima incident and how community-based energy systems can be established and developed in Japan (September 2014)
     • City-focused research addressing locally generated energy supply and demand (March 2015)
  3. Enhancing the platform geared to enable other postgraduate students studying at RENKEI institutions to engage in discussions on future research themes.


  • Tohoku University
  • University of Southampton


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