Best practices for sustainability, climate action and resilience 

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Douglas Kot Douglas Kot
Head of Section, Sustainable Buildings and Communities

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Energy transition framework for cities
Traditional utilities and energy providers explore new opportunities with cities to achieve environmental sustainability, energy security, resilience and economic development.

A recently released analysis from NASA confirmed that 2018 was the fourth hottest year on record. This analysis also demonstrated that climate change isn’t something that would happen in the future—it’s happening now. This becomes more acute when you consider that the global population is expected to grow to 11 billion by 2100. Meanwhile, the world is not on track to achieve the carbon emissions reductions needed to meet the Paris Agreement climate goal of limiting global warming to ‘well below 2°C.’

There are many causes of climate change, but there are two things that contribute the most: transportation and buildings. While some countries are stepping up to meet goals to mitigate the effects of climate change and slow down the planet’s overall warming, not all countries have consistent approaches. In addition, it is often difficult to create plans to decarbonize on a country-wide scale, given the variation in local populations and governance. Many times a solution or measure that is effective in one region simply won’t work in another region, which leads to watered down policies and practices.

However, there are opportunities to address climate change, increase sustainability and resilience, and improve quality of life on a smaller scale. Given the urgency of climate action, cities are not waiting on state and national actors and are forging new paths to address the climate imperative.  In the past, cities have not considered energy delivery or efficient energy use as part of their mandate, but many cities are now beginning to do so, using their established powers to respond to expectations about environmental quality, economic development, and sustainability.

Three trends have led to this development:

Technology: Energy technology—for generation, distribution, and use—is changing quickly and presenting cities with opportunities to affect how it is delivered and consumed. What’s more, citizens are more engaged in sustainability and energy consumption, whether they are concerned about the environment or they are trying to reduce their bills. Distributed energy technologies have integrated solutions such as microgrid applications and energy storage that can contribute to community resiliency, especially in areas that are vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Smart building controls can support the aggregation of multiple sites to change the grid and provide new revenue streams for residents and businesses. Transportation also provides opportunities for cities to transform their energy use and carbon emissions, by switching city fleets, including vehicles like buses used for mass transportation, to electric.

Markets: While some cities and towns have municipal utilities for electricity generation, the emphasis was more on providing reliable and affordable energy, rather than a focus on sustainable generation. However, the falling cost of renewable energy and generation technologies combined with opening of energy markets is now allowing cities to procure or generate renewable energy for their citizens in line with their values. Many cities are developing 100% renewable energy roadmaps to identify how local jurisdictions can take advantage of new technologies and market opportunities, either on their own or working in partnership with local utilities. These roadmaps also include electrification for building heating systems and encouraging the adoption of electric vehicles.

Policy: Cities are using their established powers and partnerships to enact new policies to accelerate the adoption of energy efficiency and incentivize cleaner, more local renewable energy sources. These include energy disclosure, clean electricity procurement practices, land use and zoning, building codes, as well as educational and voluntary programmes to change how energy is used and generated.

Energy infrastructure is the foundation of modern life in cities worldwide. It can also be the foundation upon which to base many of the changes that are needed and desired for cities and their partners, such as utilities, to meet stated climate goals. Utilities and cities share a mutual interest in becoming “smarter”, “greener”, and “safer”, but bring different resources to the table. DNV GL developed the Energy Transition Framework for Cities o provide local governments and their stakeholders a way to identify the key areas that cities should focus on to accelerate the shift to cleaner, more efficient, and decarbonized energy supply and use. Download our recent report to learn more about the seven dimensions of the Framework and best practices from ten case study cities.