Urban energy ‘rethink’ needed to ensure low-carbon transition, says IRENA

Cities have an "unprecedented" opportunity to transform and decarbonise energy systems and transition to greener city infrastructure, according to a new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

Renewable Energy in Cities released today (18 October), analyses the overall energy use in 3,649 cities, including London and Aberdeen, and explores how different cities can scale-up renewable energy and green infrastructure by 2030. The report highlights best practices from different cities from around the world and shows what policies would need to be implemented to accommodate the low-carbon transition.

IRENA’s director-general Adnan Z Amin said: “Cities can play a transformative role in leading the world to a clean and sustainable energy future.

“We have to rethink the entire urban energy landscape, which requires rigorous planning and holistic decision-making. Renewable energy, combined with energy efficiency, will power the future growth of cities. We must ensure this transition happens as soon as possible.”

The report notes that with cities accounting for 65% of global energy use and 70% of man-made carbon emissions, transitioning to a greener city infrastructure will play a key role in accelerating the low-carbon economy worldwide.

Priority areas

The report reveals no “one-size fits all” solution exists, but that different city classes have the potential to expand green infrastructure and improve renewable energy costs effectively.

Cities can accelerate the uptake of renewable energy in three priority areas: renewable energy in buildings (for heating, cooling, cooking, and appliances); sustainable options for transport (electric mobility and biofuels); and creating integrated urban energy systems.

The IRENA report also suggests that city actors can accelerate the renewable energy transition at a local level by implementing city acting planners, regulators, financers and operators of urban infrastructure.

“By 2050, urban populations are expected to double, making urbanisation one of this century’s most transformative trends. Now is the time to grow with renewables, leapfrog dirty technology, and create cities of the future that people are proud to call home,” Amin added.

UK transition

The report echoes calls to overhaul financing mechanisms and policy framework as a necessary stage to develop “smarter, not just stronger” energy markets, originally made by the World Energy Council.

Pressure has been mounting on UK cities specifically to combat rising energy demand by investing in renewable energy sources as part of a transition to smart cities, in order to cope with growing energy demand. Analysis from Smart Energy GB recently highlighted that electricity demand is set to increase by at least 30% in London, Cardiff, Birmingham and Bristol by 2035.

Other groups are calling on substantial policy intervention to promote the low carbon transition in cities across the UK. The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has previously called on the then-unannounced London Mayor to set up a publicly-run energy company for London in order to promote low carbon transition for the capital.

Alex Baldwin

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