Systemic efficiency and decarbonisation of global cities

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The transition to net-zero cities starts with collaboration. This is the key message highlighted by energy companies the Enel Group and Schneider Electric, and the World Economic Forum, in a new whitepaper and the first deliverable of the Net-Zero Carbon Cities – Systemic Efficiency Initiative. By Nicholas Nhede.

Through the initiative, Schneider Electric and the Enel Group are working with the community to accelerate the transition to net-zero carbon emissions in 100 cities by 2030.

The whitepaper Net-Zero Carbon Cities: An integrated approach explains the benefits of decarbonising cities and provides and recommends the adoption of a global framework or an integrated energy approach, defined as “systemic efficiency”, as a solution to the current environmental, economic, health and social crises.


Systemic efficiency encompasses clean electrification, smart digital technology, and efficient buildings and infrastructure, along with a circular economy approach to water, waste and materials.

While cities cover 3% of the earth’s land surface, they create more than 70% of all carbon emissions, mainly from buildings, energy and transport. Cities also consume 78% of the world’s primary energy and account for 54% of the world’s population – a percentage that is projected to rise to 68% by 2050. As the population grows, so does new construction, resulting in even higher energy consumption and carbon emissions – hence the need to address climate change now, according to the report.

To meet our climate goals of keeping the global temperature increases to 1.5°C or below, cities have to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

Electrifying energy, buildings and transport systems would save more than one-half of the energy cities think they need – 25% in the heat wasted converting fossil fuels to energy; 15% with efficient electric transport; 11% used in finding, mining and refining fossil fuels; 6-9% with efficient heat pumps to electrify buildings; and 4-5% for unburned fossil fuels (such as asphalt), according to the whitepaper.

In regard to boosting economies, the paper states that with proper financing and regulatory reforms, transitioning to a net-zero economy would create 25 million new jobs in the US over the next 15 years, with five million sustained jobs by mid-century, which is roughly double the number of jobs supported directly and indirectly, by the current energy industry.
Electrifying transport, decarbonising heating and cooling systems and optimising energy demand would help Europe to avoid the emissions of 263 million tonnes of carbon, create 680,000 extra one-year jobs in the electric vehicles (EVs) infrastructure sector and record $36 billion cumulative human health benefits by 2030.

The report recommends collaboration between policymakers, business infrastructure and real estate developers, city administrators, civil society, consumers and the financial sector in ensuring that existing technologies and business cases are taken advantage of and new and innovative solutions are developed.

“No one sector alone can address the issue of climate change,” say the authors of the report which pinpoints measures that need to be looked into to accelerate green projects and the role each and every stakeholder can play. For instance, mayors and city administrators and policymakers are recommended to play an active/leading role in setting up a baseline and carbon emissions reductions target whilst other stakeholders collaborate to ensure the targets are achieved.

Image: malp © 123RF.com

To accelerate the move towards net zero carbon cities through the decade ahead, the report identifies some opportunities that need to be prioritised to enable systemic efficiency and they include:

Improving energy productivity and energy efficiency in buildings

The paper calls for increased support of smart efficiency retrofi ts and renewable energy projects for low-income households, neighbourhoods and commercial properties.

The deployment of smart, efficient appliances such as air conditioners and hybrid solar+energy storage projects would also help to ensure grid reliability and reductions in energy transmission and distribution system losses.

Electrification of personal vehicles, fleets and public transit

The adoption of policies supporting clean air zones, phasing out of fossil fuelled vehicles and the development of enhanced vehicle emissions standards is vital to the development of net zero cities. Collaboration between the utility and the e-mobility sectors will play a huge role in the expansion of EV infrastructure as it will promote innovation and the development of new technologies
and business cases.

Key topics within the e-mobility segment in need of discussion to make e-mobility ‘a reality’ in the decade ahead include building regulation to support EV charge point installations, the development of efficient price signals complementing supply curve, technology development enabling dynamic pricing, the rollout of V2G, V2H, and V2B enabled EV chargers in addition to sponsorship and co-financing of projects.

Limiting the role of fossil fuels in district heating and cooling

The report has called for the installation industrial hot water and electricity.

The electrification of heating and the introduction of Time of Use (ToU) tariffs for heat customers is also an important topic for discussion or implementation over the next decade.

Optimising demand to meet supply curve

To achieve this, the report recommends the adoption of initiatives such as dynamic ensuring the reliability of grid networks and to reduce wind and solar curtailment.

Climate financing

Despite multiple reports highlighting the inadequacy of climate fi nancing and lack of commitments by countries and corporates to meet climate change targets, the past two years stakeholders adopting ambitious climate
change policies to speed up decarbonisation.

A new study – State Aid Guidelines for Review process, possible changes and opportunities – released by Catherine Banet for think tank CERRE found that Europe’s energy State aid guidelines no longer reflect to be carefully revised to accelerate the decarbonisation of Europe’s economy.

Since the approval of the latest Guidelines Protection (EEAG) in 2014, the EU institutions have agreed to accelerate the decarbonisation process to reach a climate-neutral economy by 2050.

However, the results of a survey conducted by consulting firm Deloitte shows that consumer and business concerns about climate change are rising, despite COVID-19. Of the 1,531 decision-makers surveyed, 53% of residential consumers feel it’s extremely or very important that part of their electricity supply More than half (51%) of businesses said pricing, ToU rates and demand response as means to increase customer participation in have seen a flock of governments and energy Environmental Protection and Energy (EEAG): market reality and that the guidelines need for State Aid for Energy and Environmental climate-residential consumers and 602 business comes from renewable energy and 63% of businesses say they have increased emission reduction goals – whilst 75% said customers are asking them to procure renewable energy. they’re working to procure more electricity from renewables.

Funding by governments and corporates in decarbonisation initiatives has also increased with the world committing a record $501.3 billion to decarbonisation in 2020, beating the previous year by 9%, according to a new study released by BloombergNEF (BNEF). Up to $303.5 billion was invested in new renewable energy capacity in 2020, up 2% on the year, helped by the biggest-ever build-out of solar projects and a $50 billion surge for offshore wind.

Albert Cheung, head of analysis at BNEF, said: “Clean power generation and electric transport are seeing heavy inflows, but need to see further increases in spending as costs fall. Technologies such as electric heat, CCS and hydrogen are only attracting a fraction of the investment they will need in the 2020s to help bring emissions under control. We need to be talking about trillions per year if we are to meet climate goals.”

However, PwC’s Global Economic Outlook 2021 states that significant investment and policy shifts related to the Paris Climate Agreement will be made in 2021 in the major trading blocs including the US, China and the EU.

Globally, the call for countries to expand their renewables portfolio will gather momentum. Solar PV capacity is expected to surpass natural gas in 2023 and coal in 2024 in the global electricity sector.

Green bonds, which are used to directly finance environmental projects, are expected to increase by over 40% to top half a trillion US dollars for the first time in 2021.

To conclude, although many cities, governments and energy stakeholders are increasing their commitments on and progress towards becoming net zero carbon emitters, they still have a long way to go and there is a need to scale up commitments and financing towards climate action projects.
Digitisation and decentralisation will also play a huge role in ensuring decarbonisation targets are achieved.