DISTRICT ENERGY IN CITIES Unlocking the Potential of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Cities have a central role to play in the transition to sustainable energy: as managers of interdependent services and utilities, they are uniquely placed to enable the integrated solutions necessary to rapidly advance both energy efficiency and renewable energy. One such integrated solution is the development of modern district energy systems. Moving to sustainable energy is critical if the world is to achieve its sustainable development goals: from eradicating poverty and social inequality, to combating climate change and ensuring a healthy environment. The United Nations Secretary-General’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative provides a framework for this transition through three complementary objectives: universal access to modern energy services, doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency and doubling the share of renewables in the global energy mix. As cities represent more than 70 per cent of global energy demand, their energy policy responses are crucial to meeting these objectives. Sustainable energy for cities could mean that socio-economic and environmental burdens such as blackouts, resource price shocks, energy poverty and air pollution are confined to the past. Huge opportunities to lift these burdens exist in cities’ heating and cooling sectors, which can account for up to half of cities’ energy consumption.
The UNEP report District Energy in Cities: Unlocking the Potential of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy identifies modern district energy as the most effective approach for many cities to transition to sustainable heating and cooling, by improving energy efficiency and enabling higher shares of renewables. Countries such as Denmark have made modern district energy the cornerstone of their energy policy to reach their goal of 100 per cent renewable energy, and, similarly, other countries, such as China, are exploring synergies between high levels of wind production and district heating. Locally appropriate policies are required to harness the multiple benefits of district energy systems, lower upfront costs and reduce financial risk for investors. This publication is one of the first reports to provide concrete policy, finance and technology best practice recommendations on addressing the heating and cooling sectors in cities through energy efficiency improvements and the integration of renewables, both of which are central to the energy transition. These recommendations have been developed in collaboration with 45 champion cities, all of which use district energy, with 11 of them using it to achieve 100 per cent renewables or carbon-neutral targets.

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