In a briefing published a few days ago by the European Environment Agency (EEA), it was promoted that European cities can help Europe’s transition to a low-carbon future by using city centers to facilitate urban development. This would offer opportunities for citizens to produce renewable energy as consumers and accelerate the transition to a low-carbon future. The EEA briefing, “Energy users and cities,” builds on the EEA’s recent work on the issue of desire, focusing on the challenges and opportunities that urban areas present and how local authorities can foster desire to foster in their cities.

Cities are responsible for a large proportion of carbon emissions. In part, this is because many people live there. Three quarters of the total EU population live in cities and suburban areas, and their population is expected to increase in the coming years. These cities have the potential to become models for low-carbon lifestyles and allow citizens to become consumers to help decarbonize their communities.

To help citizen users, municipalities can offer public spaces or encourage other private buildings or land owners to offer spaces that can be used. For example, roofs of schools, hospitals, apartments or unused land can be used to install solar panels or other renewable energy technologies.

Local authorities can also contribute by offering financial incentives to companies to help promote citizen participation and encourage public participation in energy planning. They can also help with the education and skills needed by citizens interested in installing renewable energy sources.

Although each city is unique, there are some common attributes they share that can make the provocation in urban areas a reality and make them different from more rural areas, for example:

  • Generating provision in cities is more challenging than in rural areas due to limited space available for energy production and more complex surface ownership arrangements (such as rooftops in apartment blocks).
  • Cities are more densely populated than rural areas, making rooftop solar the renewable technology of choice. High population density also makes heat networks more profitable, offering the potential for the development of consumer initiatives related to heat networks in cities.
  • More people live in blocks of flats, which opens up opportunities for collective action but makes coordinating investment more difficult.
  • Short travel distances make cities ideal for the use of electric vehicles, both private and public. Concepts of urban users are more likely to include a link to mobility.
  • Cities can offer opportunities for the development of integrated energy districts – for example, when areas within a city are redeveloped or new areas are added.
  • The production of electricity outside the city (extra-urban generation) opens up opportunities for consumers to overcome the lack of space.

Some of the main challenges and obstacles faced by users according to Javier Esparago, EEA expert on environment and energy, is, “A clear, stable and well-developed policy framework is key. In some countries, the supply is not properly incorporated into national laws and regulations, creating uncertainty for prospective consumers. Access to finance and lack of information are also often a barrier. National or regional authorities can create a one-stop shop where citizens can access information on technical and regulatory aspects as well as available financial support. Governments also need to address skills shortages and adapt vocational training to market needs.


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