Cities Powered by Renewables

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Cities play a key role in advancing the energy transition

As centres of modern economic activities, cities will need to accommodate two-thirds of the world's population in a liveable, low-carbon environment by 2050.

Accounting for about 75% of global primary energy use, cities have a major role to play in advancing and shaping the global energy transition.

Municipal governments shape the policy framework required

Declining renewables costs offer municipal governments an opportunity to increase cities’ renewables share in electricity generation.

Cities can be target setters, planners and regulators. They are often owners and thus operators of municipal infrastructure.

Cities are always direct consumers of energy and therefore aggregators of demand, and can be facilitators and financiers of renewable energy projects.

Policy formulation starts with renewable energy targets

Growing numbers of cities are attempting to source more of their energy supply from renewables and to increase the role of local generation.

Large and megacities, with their larger revenue base, tend to have the regulatory frameworks and infrastructure necessary to scale up renewables and meet emission reduction targets.

Small and medium-sized cities (holding fewer than 1 million inhabitants) have far less visibility than megacities, even though they are home to some 2.4 billion people, or 59% of the world’s urban population.

Urban policies drive renewable-based power generation

Policy and regulatory frameworks and market design should be geared towards facilitating the shift to low-carbon and climate-resilient cities.

For example, a growing number of cities around the world are formulating ambitious goals for solar PV and introducing supportive policies such as feed-in tariffs (FITs) and net metering.

Some municipalities also support the uptake of PV panels by households or commercial enterprises by empowering local communities.

Cities increasingly recognise the benefits of sourcing power from renewables

Most directly, renewable power generation in the urban context can be done at utility scale, such as through solar PV, wind or geothermal facilities.

For example, street lights can account for as much as 40% of a city’s energy budget. Solar lights with LED bulbs offer energy and cost savings of 50% or more in comparison to conventional lighting and have greater life span and durability.

However, of the approximately 300 million streetlights globally, only about 10% are LEDs.

Empowering communities amplifies the benefits of renewables

Utility-scale renewable energy could be operated either by municipally-owned companies or by private sector firms.

Public ownership is an effective lever for driving local energy transitions and for channelling funding to renewables.

In Japan, the UK, Spain and Germany among others, municipalities are setting up new city-run companies to generate renewable power, helping their cities in its transition to greater energy sovereignty.

Decentralised energy is now a cost competitive option

Among policy measures to promote rooftop solar PV, net metering allows homeowners to manage their own energy supply, and even to generate additional income.

Local authorities can encourage households or businesses that generate their own electricity to feed any surplus back to the grid, thus turning them from consumers into prosumers.

Community energy is an increasingly popular solution to local energy supply challenges

Community energy is an increasingly popular solution to local energy supply challenges

  • local stakeholders own the majority or all of a renewable energy project;
  • voting control rests with a community-based organisation;
  • the majority of social and economic benefits are distributed locally.

Cities powered by renewables are the future

Accounting for the bulk of global energy and power use, cities are critical actors in the global energy transition.

See how municipality of Kasese in Uganda brought solar power to the community, improving energy access and making sure power is affordable for all.

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