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100% Renewable Energy For Cities – Is It Possible? Our Webinar Report

On 24 June SCC hosted a webinar on Can cities go 100% renewable energy?

The answer is not only 'yes' but 'many already are'. Below is my report of the webinar, but first is a podcast. The Twitter Storify account of the highlights is here (with graphics).

Listen to the audio: (length 00:60:00)


Arthouros Zervos, chair of REN21 launching the new Renewables 2015 Global Status Report said "Renewable energy and improved energy efficiency are key to limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius and avoiding dangerous climate change,"

The report says that at least 145 countries have supportive policies in place for renewable energy and as of the end of last year renewables comprised around 28% of the world's total power generating capacity and new investment in the sector around the world was over twice that of investment in net fossil fuel capacity.

Amidst this is a growing numbers of cities, communities and regions are proving that meeting all of our energy demand with renewable energy is viable. As urban areas are responsible for 70-75% of energy related CO2 emissions and 40-50% of global GHG emissions, this is an encouraging trend.

Here to discuss this were:

  • Anna Leidreiter, of the World Future Council,
  • Manuel Valdes Lopez, Deputy Manager of Infrastructures and Urban Coordination, City of Barcelona,
  • Asoka Abeygunawardana, the CEO of Strategic Enterprise Management Agency (SEMA) - Sri Lanka and Executive Director of Energy Forum

However unfortunately Asoka did not make the webinar due to a technical hitch.

Anna's presentation

Renewable energy broke a record last year - account >60% net addition to world power capacity, >19% of final consumption.

IRENA (International Renewable Energy Agency) said since 2000 renewable energy capacity has grown 120%, and countries with policies increase every year.

map 100s of cities have 100% renewable energy or electricity targets

Renewable energy is taking over, local governments and regions around the world are leading this movement, 100s of them have 100% renewable energy or electricity targets and many have already achieved this.

The map shows which local governments have this policy in place. If yours is not on this map yet, get in touch.

In Germany, a pioneering country, 100% renewable energy has been a movement for a few years and the national framework empowered cities to transform their energy systems. In this map is the cities which have set targets. 140 regions - 1/4 of pop, have set one type of target or another.

Across these regions, the network facilitating the dialogue have sought the drivers for this move, and the main one is value creation. I.e., even though climate protection is important, they see the advantage in increasing local value.

Frankfurt is leading this and their strategy was to set a target for the city to be achieved from generation in the region. Munich's strategy was to achieve it from trading electricity and by investing abroad, for example in Scottish offshore wind. Frankfurt, however, is looking within its hinterlands for the source of its energy.

The Fraunhofer Institute has modelled that it is feasible for Frankfurt to achieve 95% RE in power heating, cooling, local mobility from its hinterland, with the rest coming from outside the region.

So it is feasible, using local resources. But this approach needs to have a local perspective. A regional approach is needed. The policy of moving from Petropolis to Ecopolis, from importing resources to making use of local resources is where the added value comes in.

What enables this to happen is the target setting itself. Doing so demonstrates political will and commitment to stakeholders. It catalyzes change for investors and helps to ensure efficient utilization of resources of all sorts, financial and technical too, creating investor security.

Once the target is set a roadmap is needed. It contains five policy principles.

RE policy advice

These are derived from actual successful actions around the world.

Energy efficiency must be prioritized first. Consumption must be minimized. Heating and cooling and transport be electrified makes it easier. Local policy makers must help local citizens develop new business models. And educating stakeholders is vital. We should adopt an integrated approach into all policies.

One of our projects is the development of a global 100% RE label, and we need your help to decide how it is defined and measured and verified. The label could enhance the policy dialogue and highlight best practice.

Burlington in Vermont set a 100% target that it has already achieved, but only for the energy the administration purchases. This is different from Germany and Barcelona which want the target to cover everything. This exemplifies the purpose of the label – to say what it means and give guidance to local governments willing to go down this path but struggling. We are envisaging a global network of these cities and regions for those with such targets.

How is the planning developed? With participation from utilities, public, investors. We are trying to develop indicators, evaluation and operationalization. We have 12 indicators already under revision.

The tool should motivate municipalities to be part of the movement to compare their progress with other cities. Cities can gain visibility on the global stage by adopting the target. For example Vancouver, San Francisco, Barcelona, Frankfurt and Sydney are known but others not and they can gain visibility by doing so.

Manuel's presentation

Barcelona is trying to produce all its energy in the municipality. Our idea is to move from 2%, the current level, and reduce total consumption. 3.

It is important therefore to take into account two points: reducing the impact in the city and changing the models of consumption. The people need to be convinced of this

5. Energy generation is increased by implementing renewable energy, mainly solar, also micro-wind, covering different places with a transformation project in the public space. City lighting (10%) has LED technology and there are 250 street lamps that produce their own energy.

We are transforming step by step all municipal buildings: a new public library is producing 80% of the energy it consumes.

A market with underground parking, will be finished next year and be a symbolic example. Walls can be transformed by covering them with solar panels.

One of the biggest efficiency projects is a new contract with suppliers to promote savings, in 122 buildings owned by the municipality. The contract with suppliers will guarantee the saving of energy by saying that we will not pay over a certain amount per year. We can influence them because the municipality is a big bill payer.

The lighting plan implementation shows the investment in public space in the last 5 years. LEDs are being rolled out.

Electric fleets of moto-sharing and car-sharing is being rolled out. It will be implemented over the year by private enterprise, 250 electric motorcycles for sharing first. then car sharing next year.

The police will have electric motorcycles, and there will be more electric buses. We have three now and more are on the way – 80 metre buses with the batteries inside. Chargepoints are being installed in public spaces and terminals,. We are electrifying taxi fleets – 20 now with electric cars and a rapid charge network with 12 units – the will be 30 within a year. 300 altogether in public spaces.

The system also needs transforming. There are technical, economic and legal challenges. The graph show how the price changes if you don't produce. A big challenge is that the national government taxes the generation of energy by households, penalising them for installing renewable energy instead of using the existing, dirty, grid. Our promise is to pay for half of the cost of installing renewable energy like solar panels, to counter this disincentive.

City Hall has created a new system for managing energy in the city. Terfa is an organization which is turning garbage into electricity via incineration. There is a district heating network in the first stage and being developed. Distribution is private and so we must implement new ways to distribute.

An app or tool helps people understand the production and consumption of energy, so that people can help the project. Using it, people can see the quality of their power and produce their own, e.g. in some houses 50% of generation paid for if people initiate.


Can developed nations help developing countries like India in terms of technology transfer to grow cities 100 % RE?

There are different realities in developing countries. The advice from Anna was to link the 100% RE strategy to the development strategy, i.e. making it a tool for development is key to accessing international funding sources. It's not necessarily only a technology transfer issue but a means for new income sources to come in. There is the additional advantage of securing energy security and developing new business models for local jobs.

Furthermore the value of the energy stays in the city area. With the traditional model, this capital leaves the city to flow to the utilities, to pay for fossil fuels, having contaminated the city and contributed to climate change. Instead, distributed production can be implemented and citizens rewarded with a competitive structure. It's an important way of reducing energy poverty too, by implementing a plan for offering RE to families affected by this issue.

New York is in the leading edge here.

Are the skills there in the workforce?

World Future Council is working in Morocco and elsewhere, taking an integrated approach across policy areas, to help with upskilling. A holistic approach helps the education system and a national economic development plan for a country or region can create jobs and train young people in learning the skills required.

Bringing people to existing places of excellence, perhaps as interns or trainees, will help them learn how this works.

Developing countries

Question from Simge Ayd?n: These are wonderful progress indicators in the Renewable Energy area around the world/Europe, congrats. Since I am participating to this webinar from Turkey, from a problematic/chaotic city Istanbul, I am wondering whether the ongoing urbanization process here could create or not an opportunity for increasing the use of renewable energy, especially in the new buildings. What would you suggest to the local authorities on how they can incentivize the investments on RE and create public-private partnerships?

Manuel - using network participation, to find out how do they consume? To offer the chance to energy consumers to compare their consumption patterns so they can see they can save money. If we can explain and offer not just economic or technical help but understanding.

What is the usual job title of the officer in a municipal administration responsible for the §100% RE strategy?

Anna: There is no common job title. Even an energy manager hardly exists in most of them. So Manuel also works on infrastructure. Others work on climate or environment.

David Thorpe is the author of 

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