Smart Cities: Energy Efficiency And More

By Dominique Ristori, Director-General for Energy, European Commission
Winter 2015

Today, 360 million of us live in European cities – that is more than 72% of EU population. The shift from rural to urban areas takes place at global level. That urbanisation brings with it as many opportunities as it brings challenges. And nowhere is that truer than for energy. Cities currently account for 70% of our energy consumption while around 50% of our energy bill comes from the heating and cooling of buildings alone. That makes cities and urban areas the perfect laboratory for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, increase the use of renewable energy and improve energy efficiency. That work has already started.

Building on the existing objective of 20% energy savings by 2020, last autumn European leaders agreed to a collective energy efficiency target by 2030 of at least 27%, to be reviewed by 2020 having in mind an EU level of 30%. The Framework Strategy for Energy Union1, presented by the Commission in February this year, has confirmed the principle of "energy efficiency first" and has put in place tools and instruments treating energy efficiency as a source in its own right. The regulatory framework accompanying energy efficiency is being strengthened through the revision of products related legislation, followed by the review of Energy Efficiency Directive and Energy Performance of Buildings Directive next year. Energy efficiency projects are among top priorities for the recently launched European Fund for Strategic Investments as well as under the European Structural & Investment Funds (ESIF). Furthermore, significant funding for research projects related to energy efficiency is made available.

The CONCERTO initiative, for example, invested €175 million of EU funding in 58 innovative projects focusing on integrated energy production in Europe – from using more renewable energy sources, to moderating energy demand in new or renovated buildings. The results from these projects fed into the 2010 Energy Performance of Buildings Directive and the 2012 Energy Efficiency Directive; and between 2010 and 2013, a number of measures were implemented under the Energy Efficiency in Buildings public private partnership.

Moreover, since 2014 the Horizon 2020 programme (2014-2020) has been taking EU efforts on urban areas one step further with the so-called Smart Cities and Communities Lighthouse projects. The idea that inspires them is to bring together a number of flagship cities using innovative solutions to inspire others. Reinforcing synergies between the energy, transport and telecommunications is key in our transition to a low carbon economy.

Smart cities and Communities Lighthouse projects successfully combine energy efficiency measures for buildings with the use of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, as well as computer-enabled energy management systems. They are an example of how waste and biomass can be useful in district heating systems, or how heating and cooling can be provided by water sourced heat pumps. And they go beyond energy by integrating the transport network: a sector with a strong potential to decarbonise cities.

In a nutshell, these projects are a powerful tool to improve urban quality of life. Ensuring comfortable housing with a moderate energy bill, allowing inhabitants to use clean transport and enjoy streets lit with energy efficient lighting are only a couple of examples. These projects often join forces with other projects that enhance quality of life in the suburbs, for example, by transforming former industrial zones or adding shops to residential areas.

That is why we are convinced that these initiatives will make a strong impact in many cities and communities in the next five years. That is in large part thanks to the Horizon 2020 program, which has earmarked close to €6 billion for energy research, as well as ESIF which can support such projects.

Such a sizeable commitment is however not enough. EU-funding can support the development of power sources and assist in resolving any initial stage problems, but this, by itself, will not be enough to demonstrate the effectiveness of the projects. The key to a large-scale market success is the wide replication of solutions across the European Union.

Therefore, we are also pursuing policy initiatives to promote these measures, as well as exchanging best practices and experience among cities in Europe, for example with the Covenant of Mayors: a powerful forum that has gathered signatures from more than 6,600 cities worldwide and represents 211 million inhabitants -- a real pathway to promote Smart Cities and Communities solutions, and to help cities to achieve their ambition of decarbonisation. Building on that success, a new Integrated Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy for 2030 was launched on 15 October.

The European Commission is fully committed to improve the well-being of inhabitants and the capacity of the cities to boost local economies and create jobs, and keeps on developing policies in this direction. Let's now all bring our efforts together in the transition towards a low carbon, energy efficient city.

1. COM(2015) 80 final