Urban efficiency is the key

Overview of parts of Nordhavn

Cities will shape our future

The UN estimates that by 2050, the world’s population will reach about 9.8 billion – nearly 70% of whom will live in cities.

Cities need ambitious targets for energy efficiency, sector integration and electrification to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement. The technology is already here. 

Icons for Energy efficient buildings, Electrification of transport and Sector integration

Doing the climate math: What a 1.5-degree pathway would take for urban areas

A new report from Navigant (2020) sets the concrete technology pathway for reaching the 1.5°C degree target by 2050, based on the significant potential of:

  • Energy efficient heating and cooling of buildings, including district energy.
  • Electrification of transport
  • Sector integration

Main contributors to urban emission reductions

Graph-Contributors to emission reduction in urban areas
Reaching the 1.5°C target in European, US, and Chinese urban areas. GABC Global Status Report 2018 arrives at similar shares for global emissions. Note it does not include emissions from operating appliances in buildings.

The Navigant study shows that implementation of existing technology solutions for electrification of transport, energy efficient heating and cooling of buildings, including district energy, and sector integration can bridge about half of the gap to reach the 1.5°C target in urban areas.

Remaining half of the accumulated urban emission reductions needed for a 1.5°C pathway will come from other sectors, mainly industry, electricity for appliances, and construction.

In other words, the needed technologies to future-proof our cities, meet the Paris Agreement, and safeguard air quality is ready. It is now about rolling it out at a much faster pace, while innovating new solutions in real-life city test zones.

Why cities? 

The world’s cities occupy just 3% of the Earth’s land, but account for two-thirds of the world´s energy demand and 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions. More than 80% of people living in urban areas are exposed to air quality levels that exceed the World Health Organization (WHO) limits, largely caused by heating and cooling of buildings and transport based on fossil fuels. In other words, cities’ impact on climate and health is enormous.

The good news is that cities’ high density of facilities and infrastructure offer a unique opportunity to drive cost-effective technology innovation and exploit synergies between sectors to create a highly efficient energy system.

Cities can act as ambitious, inspirational regional front-runners that showcase new technology and create attractive places to live and work.

  • As planning, infrastructure, funding and delivery is often shared across federal, state and local governments must have a clear engagement strategy with higher levels of governments to help address policy divergences
  • Act now. Lack of leadership, policy commitment, actionable plans, and regulation fails to stimulate the needed investment. Planning the journey toward the 1.5°C objective must happen now.
  • Set ambitious and actionable short-, mid-, and long-term targets and a suitable regulatory framework to incentivize investments.
  • Link energy use and air pollution. A 1.5°C pathway offers an opportunity for urban areas and cities to drastically and cost-effectively mitigate air pollution along with GHG through an integrated clean air strategy.
  • Move early and set examples by investing in own assets e.g., lower the energy use of individual public buildings by at least 60% till 2040 while decarbonizing supply, electrify the full public transport fleet by 2030, and use excess energy through sector coupling and energy storage by 2040.
  • Remove barriers for and implement pilot projects – to innovate, test, and showcase new technology, ensuring your city shines as an ambitious and inspirational regional front-runner, and creating attractive places to live and work while also creating spillover effects in suburban and rural areas.
  • Prioritize 1) energy efficient heating and cooling of buildings (including district energy), 2) electrification of transportation, and 3) sector integration. A strategy in line with 1.5°C can be achieved cost-effectively only with a strong focus on energy efficiency and sector coupling, as this will ensure that expensive overinvestments in energy generation and energy infrastructure can be avoided.

Buildings account for one-third of the global energy-related GHG emissions and final energy demand.
If all urban areas invested in energy efficient heating and cooling of buildings, including district energy, they would bridge 20% of the gap in the urban GHG emissions reductions needed for a 1.5°C pathway.

  • Set up long-term renovation strategies, including suitable regulation and incentives for deep and staged deep renovation, to boost renovation rates of existing buildings from currently often less than 1% to at least 2%-3% per year.
  • Closely monitor implementation of plans and immediately act when needed to keep on track.
  • Start with consequent optimization of technical building systems for heating and cooling of own public building stock now.
  • Design and enforce mandatory building codes for new and existing buildings with a view to nearly zero energy buildings. This means ambitious minimum performance requirements for the whole building, including technical building systems, building envelope and heat generation
  • Ensure that the real-life energy performance of new or upgraded technical building systems is assessed, documented, and passed on to the building owner.
  • Ensure or facilitate access to funding for implementation, e.g., by supporting innovative financial business models, like ESCOs.
  • Expand and decarbonize district heating and cooling, including large-scale heat pumps running on renewable power, and lead the way by connecting public buildings. Read more about district energy here

Transport accounted for 23% of global energy-related GHG emissions in 2015 and 26% of the final energy demand.

If all urban areas invested in electrifying cars, busses, trucks and vessels, they would bridge 28% of the gap in the urban GHG emissions reductions needed for a 1.5°C pathway.

  • Start with electrifying the public fleet now; vehicles, buses, city boats, ferries and including investing in the needed charging stations
  • Map the need for charging infrastructure for public and private transport modes; charging for EVs and buses, and shore supply for boats, ferries, and cruise ships - and regulate and incentivizes accordingly to ensure investments in the needed charging infrastructure. 
  • Mandate the installation of charging stations in new builds and when renovation takes place (office buildings, residential, industry, hotels, supermarkets).
  • Introduce environmental/low emission zones.
  • Introduce parking incentives, tax rebates on charging infrastructure, and other fiscal incentives for moving toward electrification of transport. 
  • Mandate the installation of shore supply in harbors and present a plan for how to address that all vessels use electric shore supply when at berth.

Sector integration is about connecting the electricity, heating, building, transport and industry sectors in order to better use synergies between these sectors, thereby enabling a more cost-efficient decarbonization of the energy system. This includes looking at how integrating sectors can improve the overall efficiency of the energy system through enabling reuse of excess/waste energy, storage of surplus electricity in batteries, thermal networks, buildings and transport as well as to incentivize clean electrification of sectors and interconnectivity.

  • Rethink energy planning to consider and support sector integration. Prepare local plans on how to decarbonize the energy system, based on reliable data on heat demands, the status of the building stock, the availability of heat sources and infrastructure, as well as sound assessments of the potential of utilizing synergies between sectors, to ensure a cost-efficient decarbonization and avoid ineffective investments or lock-in effects.
  • Leverage synergies, such as utilizing the waste heat from a datacenter for heating of buildings instead of investing in additional heat supply. Or reuse excess energy from a wastewater utility to power another sector. Or utilizing a district energy network to absorb energy from wind turbines in times of over-production.
  • Allow urban regulatory free test zones to innovate and develop new energy efficient technology, through removing technical, regulatory and financial barriers for reusing energy between sectors.
  • Ensure that power price signals incentivize/reward energy storage and other flexibility services.

Dear Mayor, here are ready-made solutions for more energy efficiency in your city

Energy Efficient Heating and cooling of building (District Energy)

Electrification of transport

Sector integration

Explore other solutions and technologies

Electric motor systems consume 50% of all electricity worldwide. 80% of electric motors are not equipped with variable speed drives, meaning that they work full speed regardless of need. By deploying variable speed drives and other system-wide efficiency measures, we can reduce motor energy consumption by up to 40%, and global electricity consumption by 8% (Source: IEA WEO 2016). Payback time: 2-4 years.

Empower people to control their energy use: Optimizing control of our heating, cooling and ventilation systems reduces energy use on average by 22% per building, with a payback of 2 years (Source: Ecofys). Two keys are room temperature control and balancing: more than 500 million radiators are still equipped with manual valves and do not allow citizens to control their room temperature and energy consumption. Installing individual room controls (e.g. thermostatic radiator valves) could lead to €10-15 billion in annual savings.

Learn more about we can improve Building Efficiency.

An energy neutral water cycle: Water and wastewater facilities account for 30-50% of municipalities’ total energy bill and 4% of global electricity consumption. But with a combination of energy efficiency measures and energy recovery, the entire water sector can be energy neutral. In Aarhus, Denmark, the city turned a local waste water facility into a producer of renewable energy (biogas) (Source: IEA WEO 2016). Payback time: 5 years.

Learn how Aarhus is generating surplus power from wastewater treatment

Data centers on a global level already consume more electricity than the UK, and emit the same amount of carbon as the entire airline industry. Electricity is usually the largest single element of operating costs for data centers, varying from 25 to 60%. At a Facebook data center in Sweden, we have slashed nearly 50% of energy costs (case story).

We can start implementing right now to crush the snowballing data center challenge.

Recovering heat from refrigeration systems: A small supermarket in Sønderborg, Denmark, achieved annual savings of €30,000 and reduced CO2 emissions by 34% through energy recovery. In Europe, where about 2% of electrical energy consumption is used for refrigeration in supermarkets, similar measures could lead to final energy savings of 2.6 Mtoe per year, and energy cost savings of €1.8 billion. Payback time: 1.5 years.

Learn more about the supermarket solution

District energy with waste heat:
District energy is the only way to utilize low-energy, low-grade waste heat or free cooling sources for end-use in buildings (UNEP). It can use e.g. surplus heat from data centers, industrial processes or even sewage water. Recovering all of Europe’s waste heat could cover the heating demand of our entire building stock.

Flexibility thanks to supermarkets: The non-utilized operating capacity of compressors used in supermarket refrigeration systems can act as a heat pump and produce heat from electricity during wind peak production, when connected to a district energy network. These measures could allow EU supermarkets to provide 150 TWh of heat. Refrigeration systems can also be used for demand side management. 500 supermarkets can add 26.5 MW short term flexibility.

District heating and cooling can balance the volatility of renewable electricity: During periods of oversupply, excess electricity from e.g. wind can be used to generate heat with large scale heat pumps and even be stored in the district energy grid. Heat storage is 100 times cheaper than electricity storage.

Exploit the potential of digital, connected solutions: Smart control of heating, cooling and ventilation can double the performance of these technologies. On average, energy consumption can be reduced by 38% per building. New digital technologies can continuously monitor and adapt consumption, inform consumers of their energy use, optimize renewable energy self-consumption and help integrate buildings into electricity and district heating and cooling systems. Payback time: 3-5 years.

Learn how to rethink efficiency in buildings