Unlocking the potential of energy efficiency and renewable energy

District Energy Gained Momentum at COP 21

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As part of the first ‘Buildings Day’ at a COP, cities, countries and private sector speakers such as Germany, UAE, Warsaw, and Danfoss spoke of buildings as part of the energy system – as ‘prosumers, consumers and storage systems.’ In this light, the role of district energy was noted as key to linking the heating, cooling and electricity needs of the larger collection of buildings together in an integrated system to enable significant savings in the use of primary energy and new opportunities for the use of renewable and recovered energy.

Buildings day also saw the launch of a Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction which seeks to speed up and scale up the potential of the building and construction sector to reduce its carbon emissions and to build greater climate resilience. The UNEP-led Global District Energy in Cities Initiative (DES Initiative) is one of its flagship programmes, ensuring cities consider building efficiency measures and district energy options together. In support of the new Building Alliance, the Global Environment Fund (GEF) announced 23USD million in funding (19USD million of which is co-finance) for the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) Buildings Efficiency Accelerator and Global District Energy in Cities Initiative, both of which contribute to doubling the rate of improvement of energy efficiency by 2030.

Also on Buildings Day, ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability hosted a side-event at the Cities and Regions Pavilion dedicated to district energy in collaboration with Empower, Euroheat & Power and the International District Energy Association. The event showcased district energy examples from Malmö, Gothenburg, St Paul and Dubai, UAE and was preceded by IDEA’s promotional video on the link between building efficiency and district energy, inviting cities to develop district energy with support from the DES Initiative.

A meeting of world mayors in Paris at COP21 on 4th December heard many mayors including London, Vancouver, Stockholm, Paris, Boston and Copenhagen speaking on their district energy systems. London Mayor Boris Johnson was inspired at the event by the Paris district cooling system which uses water from the Seine to cool apartments near the Champs Elysees, noting that he wants London to follow suit by cooling buildings using river water.

On Action Day, 5 December, district energy was again highlighted as crucial for cities to consider in combination with measures to decarbonize the building sector. The Global Environment Facility, UNEP, World Resources Institute provided insight on international actions taken provides holistic solutions that address both demand and supply in the buildings. City and national examples from Serbia, Colombia, UAE, India, Denmark, Helsinki, along private sector outlooks from Danfoss, Mahindra Lifespaces and Sustainability Solutions Group reinforced the synergies between low-carbon and efficient buildings and district energy to achieve high shares of renewables. The event also announced the release of the French and Chinese translations of the UNEP District Energy in Cities publication.

On Energy Day, UNEP and SE4All hosted a morning event showcasing the progress of the Energy Efficiency Accelerators, including the DES Initiative, whereby Veolia and ICLEI discussed their organisations’ work on district energy. ICLEI also highlighted 6 district cooling assessments ongoing in India as part of the DES Initiative and Veolia described innovative work on district cooling in Barcelona recovering ‘waste cool’ from L.N.G pipes. At noon, the COP21 TV featured an interview session with Euroheat & Power, Veolia, and UNEP on district energy.

As part of the Energy LPAA afternoon session, the DES Initiative was presented with a video introduction followed by an interview panel, moderated by Achim Steiner (Executive Director, UNEP), with Matthew Pencharz (Deputy Mayor for Environment and Energy ,Greater London Authority) and Niels Christiansen (CEO, Danfoss). The panel discussed the major impact district energy is having in cities worldwide as a key enabler for energy efficiency and integration of renewables locally. Danfoss spoke of their support to the DES Initiative to accelerate market transformation, while London expressed its work with UNEP to transfer best practices as a champion city of the DES Initiative. Achim Steiner highlighted the UNEP District Energy in Cities publication, launched earlier this year, as a well-received technical guide which features 45 city case studies.

On 8th December, COP21 saw 19 different organisations and governments gather to discuss the Business Case for Carbon Neutral Cities with almost all participants describing the importance of district energy in the context of their work with cities. Achim Steiner, in his opening address, highlighted the opportunities presented by district energy and the transition to a green economy in cities. Célia Blauel (Paris Deputy Mayor for Environment, Sustainable Development, Water, Canals and Territorial Energy Climate Plan) spoke of the Paris Climate Action Plan and how integrated energy planning has enabled the city’s district heating system to achieve 50% renewable heat by next year, themes explored in a joint oped by Achim Steiner and Célia Blauel on climate resilient cities released during COP21. The event was concluded by H.E. Kristian Jensen (Minister of Foreign Affairs, Denmark) underlining the importance of cities and district energy in achieving Denmark’s ambitious climate goals: “For Denmark international platforms such as the District Energy in Cities Initiative enable us to extend our support to cities worldwide and to help them learn from what we are achieving in Denmark. That’s why we have supported this Initiative’s foundation.” A video is available of the event.

With COP21 over and an international agreement reached, cities and countries will be looking for both the solutions that can help them decarbonise and the means to overcome the significant barriers which hinder the rapid uptake of such solutions. Quoting Neils Christianson (CEO, Danfoss) at the ‘Business Case of Carbon Neutral Cities event’ “a lot more people have their eyes open to the opportunities (of district energy)…now we need to go into action, it’s very important to now stay focused on those cities that are ready and have the vision to go forward”. The DES Initiative will help deliver this action together with its network of champion and learning cities and countries and global partners to support and accelerate the work undertaken by the global community to scale up district energy in cities.

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