Modernizing district energy systems could reduce heating and cooling primary energy consumption by up to 50%

A transition to modern district energy systems could contribute to 60 per cent of required energy sector emissions reductions by 2050, and reduce primary energy consumption by up to 50 per cent, according to a new report launched by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in collaboration with the Copenhagen Centre on Energy Efficiency (C2E2), ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, and UN-Habitat.

With cities accounting for 70 per cent of global energy use and for 40-50 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, District Energy in Cities: Unlocking the Potential of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, reveals how local authorities and national governments can develop energy-efficient, climate-resilient and affordable district energy systems as one of the most cost-effective and efficient solutions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and primary energy demand, and for helping to keep global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

FuturENERGY
District energy systems can also contribute to the green economy transition through cost savings from avoided or deferred investment in power-generation infrastructure and peak capacity; wealth creation through reduced fossil fuel expenditure, local tax revenue; and employment.

Currently, heating and cooling, of space and water, account for half of the energy consumption in some cities, with systemic inefficiencies incurring massive economic and social costs, and acting as a major barrier to universal access to modern energy.

Local governments are uniquely positioned to advance district energy systems in their various capacities as planners and regulators, as facilitators of finance, as role models and advocates, and as large consumers of energy and providers of infrastructure and services (e.g., energy, transport, housing, waste collection, and wastewater treatment).

The policy options available to cities often are influenced by national frameworks and the extent of devolved authority. This publication outlines the policy best practices that local governments can use within these four broad capacities, accounting for diverse national frameworks.

To facilitate the transition to modern district energy systems, UNEP has launched a new initiative on District Energy in Cities, as the implementing mechanism for the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) District Energy accelerator. As part of this initiative UNEP has developed a policy and investment road map comprising 10 key steps to accelerate the development, modernization and scale-up of district energy in cities.

A decision tree, developed as an outcome of this publication and of the exchanges with the 45 champion cities, will guide cities through these various stages and highlight tools and best practices that could be available to local governments in their roles as planner and regulator, facilitator, provider and consumer, coordinator and advocate. Twinning between cities – matching champion ones with learning ones – will be a key component of the new district energy initiative led by UNEP.