Getting smarter with energy: European cities show the world the way

energy cityAs more and more people around the world live in cities, the way that cities use energy, and where they get their power, becomes more and more important. Those who manage and run cities recognise this too, and also that it’s no good waiting for anyone else to do it for them. Just as it’s up to cities themselves whether they develop Smart initiatives, they’re also going to have to help themselves, if they want to move to more sustainable energy sources and lower carbon footprints.

Energy Cities

In 1990, a group of local authorities from across Europe got together to form an association that they called Energy Cities. This now represents more than 1000 towns and local authorities in 30 countries. Its aims are:

  • To strengthen the role and skills of cities and towns in the field of sustainable energy;
  • To represent the interests of its members and influence EU policies on energy, environmental protection and urban policy; and
  • To support transfer of knowledge and exchange of experience, and through these, together with joint projects, to develop and promote city initiatives.

Today, Energy Cities’ main focus is on the transition of towns and cities to sustainable energy. By spreading innovative ideas, debating policy, and focusing on practical ideas for change, the cities involved hope to move towards their vision of a low energy city that provides a high quality of life for all those who live in it.

Energy Cities is unusual, because it is a great example of the power of local action coming together to address regional and pan-European requirements, and make an impact on a European Commission action. The European Commission is not known for reaching out to local levels; it’s much more prone to issue Directives and wait for member states to implement them. But a recently-published European Commission paper on Energy Security recognised the importance of the Covenant of Mayors in achieving energy transition. The Covenant of Mayors, which commentators have suggested would not have been possible without the networks of cities across Europe, including Energy Cities, brought together the mayors from 350 cities to sign up to the European Energy and Climate Package. They committed to meeting targets for sustainable energy use in their territories, preparing Sustainable Energy Action Plans and reporting on them on a regular basis.

In energy use, local action and commitment is vital, because what will make the most difference to whether nations can meet emissions targets? Local action at city level to move to sustainable practices.

Some city initiatives

Grand action and signing covenants is great news, but what’s actually happening at local level to deliver on the EU emissions targets? The answer is: plenty.

In Malmö, Sweden, for example, a run-down docklands area has been transformed into a thriving eco-friendly and sustainable community. The drive was towards redevelopment of the run-down industrial area, but all those involved, from community through trade unions to government, supported the environmentally-friendly approach from the beginning. As a result, the creation of ‘green’ jobs in science, technology and construction has gone hand-in-hand with the changes in the area, supporting redevelopment by ensuring growth, but also creating a more sustainable way of living within the city.

Riga, in Latvia, has brought together the ideas of energy sustainability with those of Smart Cities. It was one of the first to join the Covenant of Mayors, and has made becoming a Smart City central to its Sustainable Energy Action Plan. Alongside the introduction of improved IT services and ways of engaging with its population, it’s also achieved a decrease of 53% in its CO2 emissions. Over 50% of its electricity comes from renewable sources, and 90% of its heat from efficient co-generation. The mayor, Nils Usakovs, modestly claims that the culture is supportive, and has traditionally focused on efficient use of resources, but these are still very impressive figures.

Benchmarking and learning

The value of the Energy Cities initiative is that other members can see these stories via a blog and get in touch with Riga or Malmö, or indeed any of the other cities already making massive progress on their Sustainable Energy Action Plans. By co-operating and learning from each other through networks such as Energy Cities, successful and sustainable initiatives can spread more quickly. Not only can cities avoid ‘reinventing the wheel’, they can also avoid wasting time on initiatives that haven’t worked elsewhere, or learn from the experience of others to make them more successful.

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