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Skip to 0 minutes and 13 seconds Any process, product or service can be produced and delivered through a combination of materials and energy. Depending on availability and cost, we can define different models of production and, eventually, different socioeconomic models. In a scenario of cheap and abundant energy, as it has been for a decades, there is no limit to produce whatever and transport the goods for thousands of miles. Indeed, if efficiency is not part of the equation, we do not care about the amount of waste generated and the total power consumed. However, when limits came up due to the economic crisis and Climate Change, society started to think about efficiency.

Skip to 0 minutes and 56 seconds To do so, “information” is the new magnitude to make possible to, simultaneously, fulfil the socioeconomic commitment (whichever it is) using less materials and energy. Information saves resources. And this is one of the fundamentals of a Smart System.

Skip to 1 minute and 23 seconds Any social and economical system has to reach a certain level of stability over time to be viable. It can be applied worldwide, but also for any country or region. It is important to understand the evolution of complex systems in order to figure out what the energy transition should look like. From a thermodynamic point of view, any system has to be analysed according to the matter and energy transferred from the boundaries to the surroundings.

Skip to 1 minute and 52 seconds We can classify three different types of systems:

Skip to 1 minute and 55 seconds Open Systems: those transferring energy and matter to their surroundings. Their evolution draws an exponential curve.

Skip to 2 minutes and 5 seconds Closed Systems: there is transfer of energy, but not of matter. Their evolution will reach a stationary level out of thermic equilibrium (this means being dead).

Skip to 2 minutes and 18 seconds Isolated systems: there’s no transfer of matter nor of energy. They evolve to collapse.

Skip to 2 minutes and 27 seconds Nature behaves as a Closed System. Solar energy reaches the surface of the earth. It’s combined with bio-elements to create complex ecosystems until a certain equilibrium is reached, providing viability over time. There is a certain level of energy diffused from the ecosystem to the atmosphere and materials are recycled in cycles. Nature does not know waste, since any rejected material becomes the raw material of a new process. In front of this smart performance, human societies have organised themselves transferring energy and materials from and to their surroundings massively.

Skip to 3 minutes and 6 seconds Cities are a clear example of a system that increases its complexity importing food, energy, water and exporting solid, liquid and gas waste Based on that, one could have the perception that a city is very good tool to organize people. But this is only a temporary effect, because any open system is extremely sensitive to the maintenance of the reservoirs and sink capacity. Once exhausted, the system collapses.

Skip to 3 minutes and 41 seconds A Smart Society needs to understand its thermodynamic performance. The metabolism of an economy should not overlook the correlations between the resources and the capacity of the sinks. Otherwise, its decisions are likely to accelerate collapse. As humans, we have the capacity to understand our environment as well as to take advantage of our organizational model in order to anticipate critical situations. This is the reason why the need of an energy transition to a low carbon economy is not only a technical subject, but also an ethical one. Firstly, this means that, from a practical perspective, we have to adapt our activities to the scarcity of our resources, taking into account both the available energy (resource plus best technology available) and the environment.

Skip to 4 minutes and 30 seconds Secondly, we must make the right decisions to increase the resilience of the system before any internal or external disruptions, in order to ensure its viability by avoiding critical damage. The biomimetic approach shows us how nature performs, so we can take advantage of this lab experiment performed for millions of years to then extract its lessons and find the inspiration we need to define our socioeconomic model.

Materials, Energy and Information

A specific combination of materials and energy can deliver any process, product or service, and this combination might define, at a larger scale, a socioeconomic model. In this video, professor Pep Salas will introduce a third magnitude: information. Information as the key element to build a Smart System.

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Smart Grids for Smart Cities: Towards Zero Emissions

EIT InnoEnergy