Cities can take the lead in renewable energy and show national governments the way

(Paris) — 8 December 2009

"Leaders of cities and towns around the world who support and promote local renewable energy projects can blaze the trail towards greenhouse gas mitigation, energy security, sustainable development and social benefits for their citizens,“ said Nobuo Tanaka, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA) today in Paris.

Launching the Agency’s new publication Cities, Towns and Renewable Energy: Yes in my front yard, he stressed that the report identifies a range of successful policies already used by leading municipalities to increase renewable energy deployment in cities and towns, usually together with the encouragement of energy efficient measures. “Renewable energy resources know no boundaries,” he added. "Businesses and residents of cities and towns can therefore benefit from increasing the use of renewable energy technologies to help meet their energy demands for heating, cooling, electricity and transport fuels."

Today, already half of the world’s population lives in urban areas, consuming two-thirds of total primary energy and producing over 70% of global energy-related CO2 emissions. The IEA projects that by 2030, as a result of increased urbanisation, cities and towns will be responsible for 76% of global energy-related CO2 emissions. In addition, more than 80% of the projected increase in energy demand above 2006 levels will come from cities in non-OECD countries. Consequently, Mr. Tanaka said, “local authorities have significant potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and encourage the uptake of renewable energy systems. Yet relatively few are taking up the challenge. That is unfortunate, as those cities that have moved aggressively to promote renewable energy, have achieved some exciting results.”

Good examples exist whereby civic leaders, whether of megacities or small towns, poor or wealthy, have successfully encouraged renewable energy project deployment. Communities have attained these results through various policies such as:

  • regulations to install renewable energy technologies on all new buildings
  • financial incentives for home owners to install solar water heaters or ground source heat pumps
  • information dissemination for small and medium enterprises
  • investment in innovative demonstration projects
  • use of municipality-owned land and facilities to build plants to reduce their own operational costs
  • encouragement of project developers to build wind farms, hydro plants, combined heat and power plants, solar installations etc. within the city boundary for local utilisation.

Moreover, given the proximity of local leaders to their citizens, efforts of municipalities have resulted in high social acceptance of renewable energy. Early adoption enhances pride in the community and provides greater energy independence, energy security, employment and social cohesion.

Selected case studies have been used in this report to exemplify what has been achieved by thirteen local governments, ranging from Tokyo (Japan), with a population of more than 12 million, to Greensburg, Kansas (United States), with a population of only 1 500. Indeed, several towns are already close to reaching their targets of using 100% renewable energy, including for transport fuels, as a result of innovative policies. Many others can follow.

Cities and towns can become involved in this energy transition by setting policies and measures to increase renewable energy deployment in an urban environment. Indeed some new communities, such as Masdar City in the United Arab Emirates, are being designed and constructed around renewable energy systems. Older historic towns can also play a part, as exemplified by Freiburg-im-Breisgau (Germany) where solar systems have been carefully installed on the roofs of many buildings, including the historic city hall.

Many municipalities have introduced regulations, incentives and information to enable the community to respond with small-scale investments (known as "distributed energy"). Others have developed their own larger-scale projects (including landfill gas and waste-to-energy projects), or encouraged developers and investors to do so within the city boundary.

Smaller communities usually have the advantage of surrounding rural land available for project development, but all municipalities, large or small, have the potential to exploit the local renewable energy resources available in a cost-effective and reliable manner. The effectiveness of policies can be site-specific, but learning from the experience of others, as described in this report, is always possible.

"This publication shows that local authorities have the ability and power to encourage the greater deployment of local renewable energy in their own front yards. It is up to city-leaders to use these opportunities to gain multi-benefits for their citizens and to show national governments the way forward," said Mr. Tanaka.

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