The dominance of fossil fuels in urban energy supply puts cities on the front lines of climate change. Cities account for around 75% of the world's primary energy consumption and are responsible for 70 percent of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. This makes them important players in national and global efforts towards a transition to a zero future.
Cities can catalyze the transition to a low-carbon future
A new report released today by IRENA highlights ways cities can catalyze the transition to a low-carbon future. This in turn supports regional and national governments in achieving sustainable energy goals and realizing global climate goals. Cities can be goal setters, planners, and regulators. They are often owners and thus operators of municipal infrastructure. Cities are always direct energy consumers and therefore aggregators of demand and can be intermediaries and financiers of renewable energy projects.
The Renewable Energy Policy for Cities also presents case studies of small and medium-sized cities in different regions that show that cities are already taking responsibility. Examples from China, Costa Rica and Uganda show that despite limited access to finance and political support, the clear benefits of sustainable energy in the urban context have stimulated action.
Solar energy in Kasese, Uganda
For example, in Kasese, Uganda, the community saw its significant potential for solar energy, which in turn led to the definition of Kasese's municipal sustainable energy strategy in 2017. With the web-based SolarCityEngine, IRENA contributed to Kasese's way of providing solar energy when applying to support households, companies and municipalities in assessing the prospects for electricity generation with solar photovoltaics on the roof (PV). The online simulator allowed the community to assess the cost of incentives, affordability, and total investment.
A range of policy actions followed, including efforts to attract investment, programs to train households and small businesses to use solar systems in the home, and awareness-raising efforts to ensure acceptance among residents. As a result, Kasese residents endorsed the use of solar PV in their city, including their homes. Switching from polluting kerosene lamps to clean solar energy brought improved health to many people and opened up new economic opportunities as people saved money on electricity.
Electromobility in Cartago, Greece and Guanacaste in Costa Rica
In Cartago, Greece and Guanacaste in Costa Rica, electromobility (electromobility) is the new limit for achieving net zero emissions. Electromobility is presented as a natural choice for the country due to its high share of renewable energies in the power supply, the availability of space for the infrastructure, the short average driving distance and the optimal average temperature for electric vehicles.
The report highlights that, with effective policies, Cartago, Grecia and Guanacaste have seen positive growth in e-mobility infrastructure. The easy access to facilities combined with the cost efficiency of electric vehicles motivates residents to switch from fossil fuel vehicles to electric vehicles and to commute more sustainably. The number of electric buses also increased, not only creating jobs for trainers and drivers, but also reducing the demand for private driving and thus greenhouse gas emissions.
Wind power heating in Zhangjiakou, China
In Zhangjiakou, China, residents confirmed the positive change brought about by a wind-powered heating system. After the residents gave up coal for heating, they found the air cleaner, which motivated people to enjoy nature and socialize more outdoors. Wind power also fueled growth in the city as companies increasingly sought to start operations in Zhangjiakou to take advantage of the low-cost electricity generated by wind power.
Geothermal energy for district heating and cooking in Xiong'an, China
Thanks to the development of geothermal energy, Xiong'an became the first smog-free city in northern China. With its low operating and maintenance costs and resistance to weather conditions, geothermal energy has successfully replaced coal-based district heating in Xiong'an. The residents benefit from reduced heating costs, and the geothermal power plant, together with the district heating grid, creates jobs for the city.
Geothermal energy for district heating in Bogatić, Serbia
In Serbia, the Bogatić municipality's success in using geothermal energy for district heating systems has motivated other municipalities to exploit their geothermal potential. With the discovery of cost-effectiveness and the resulting reduction in pollution, local residents and financial institutions are now the proponents of the technology. See the Guidelines for Policy Makers on Integrating Renewable Energy at Low Temperatures into District Energy Systems.
The global energy transition begins at the local level
The examples presented in the report show good practice for other cities working towards decarbonised energy supply. What they emphasize is the importance of strong coordination between local and national governments and proactive engagement from residents, community groups and businesses. In order for the global race to move faster for zero, the world's urban environment must be enabled to take meaningful action.
Read more in Urban Renewable Energy Guidelines and related case studies, also available in Spanish and Chinese. The reports and case studies were prepared with the support of the International Climate Initiative.