The importance of integrating energy and urban planning now


By Waltraud Schmid, Energy Center Wien, TINA Vienna

Summer 2017

Many cities grow considerably and face enormous pressure to provide new homes, jobs and infrastructure. Annual population growth rates of 1.5-2.5% mean that in bigger cities areas the size towns of 30.000 inhabitants have to be built or refurbished each year. All these new buildings and infrastructure impact the energy and CO2 performance of 2050 and thus should already contribute to long-term decarbonisation as committed to in the Paris Agreement. But short-term investment decisions widely favour natural gas as heat supply.

Ambitious large-scale urban developments such as Stockholm Royal Seaport, Vienna Aspern Seestadt, Berlin Adlerhorst or Paris Clichy-Batignolles show the direction. Their common lesson: the more ambitious the development projects, the more important is it to plan and develop projects in an integrated manner – infrastructure, energy and mobility – and to include energy supply considerations at an early stage. But public authorities' competences for long-term energy planning got locally often lost with the liberalisation of the energy markets in the EU.

With the URBAN LEARNING project, the cities of Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, Stockholm, Vienna, Warsaw, Zaanstad and Zagreb joined forces to raise the profile for long-term energy planning in their cities and beyond. Furthermore, they work towards integrating energy planning and urban planning and to share their ways forward with other cities. Co-funded by the EU's Horizon 2020 programme, it’s focus is on the governance for planning and development of urban quarters and sites in cities. Why?

Technological, economic and regulatory changes make more low-carbon solutions possible. Also, in a few years from now, nearly zero-energy buildings will become the standard. They will need considerably less energy, might even produce energy. This will offer new possibilities to supply city quarters with decentralised energy options, using on-site renewable energies or low-exergy district heating & cooling grids, etc. Electricity will generally gain importance and - with the expected shift to e-mobility – will bring energy and mobility issues close together. Differences in availability of on-site renewables are also a spatial dimension.

Supplying a single building with energy is not an urban planning issue. But in dense urban areas, grid-connected energy supply options are common and those require public planning for economic reasons and because it concerns public space and infrastructure. Thus possible energy supply alternatives need to be discussed at a very early planning stage to decide if and what kind of grid-connected energy infrastructure should be foreseen. Again there is a spatial dimension to energy planning.

In the participating cities bits and pieces towards integration of energy and urban planning exist already though not yet incorporated into the standard governance processes. URBAN LEARNING offers the external stimulus to dedicate time and resources in each city and across the participating cities to analyse:

  • the planning processes
  • the framework conditions
  • the involved actors as well as
  • the instruments and tools, and
  • planning implications

and to come up with proposals for a better integration of energy and urban planning processes.

All cities initiated a local working group with staff members from various city departments involved in urban and/or energy planning and housing. Some groups also include external stakeholders, e.g. distribution network operators or developers. These groups supported the analyses of the governance processes and contribute to their further development.

Across all cities these working groups underline the value of interdepartmental exchange and cooperation when planning the development of urban areas. They also surfaced a clear need for more knowledge on energy issues in planning departments and overall created a sound work basis through debating and learning together.

The analysis shows that:

  • energy aspects are generally well addressed at the level of a building (energy demand, share of renewables) but largely lacking at the level of housing or business park developments, quarters or districts;
  • qualities requested at early urban planning stages are often lost in subsequent planning and construction phases;
  • a number of good practices in terms of instruments or tools for planning exist in the cities, which inspired each others work when investigating ways forward.

For this analysis the exchanges between the cities – peer to peer – proved to be extremely valuable. They also sharpened the understanding of one's own situation. Across the cities the analysis showed similarities in the principle levels and stages of urban planning – from the strategic planning down to the building regulation plan as well as in the principle elements of the urban planning processes. Equally it surfaced a lot of differences, particularly in the framework for energy and urban planning as well as in the cities' land policy. This underlined the importance of the legal/political context and (planning) cultures and the importance of understanding those aspects well for coming up with suitable proposals for upgrading the relevant planning processes.

Our discussions why something is possible or not possible in a city often ended at the fostering or hindering framework conditions – be it legally, strategically or organisationally.

For considering energy aspects as part of urban planning processes, the legal base for urban planning has to include energy or climate protection objectives as reason for spatial differentiation, as e.g. in Germany. Alternatively, energy transitions laws such as in France now demand energy planning for dense territories and require the integration of energy planning through new legal acts.

Furthermore, it turned out to be important to have clear overarching long-term low carbon strategies in place, which then also guide urban development and planning.

Another factor which was identified as decisive was to have clearly spelled out responsibilities and resources for energy planning in the city.

Based on the own analysis and the inputs from the other cities, in each city priorities for integrating energy and urban planning were identified and put together – from supporting framework conditions, necessary actors to proposals for where and how throughout the urban planning processes energy aspects could become a part, as e.g. when selling or renting land, in urban contracts, when controlling obligations.

Overall URBAN LEARNING succeeds to be the door opener for bringing energy planning (back) on the urban/spatial planning agenda in the involved cities. This is needed in many European cities and legislation, e.g. in France, starts to respond. Already during the project, we have established an "inner circle" of about 15 cities in the involved countries with whom we team up for in-depth mutual learning on the topic.

Our selection of cities, with differences in climatic, economic and social conditions, make the results relevant and replicable for many, also smaller, European cities. Besides many national dissemination activities of the cities, a final event mid-October 2017 in Vienna will offer ample opportunities for "urban learning" from the participating cities and beyond, and to advocate for integrating energy planning as key instrument towards decarbonisation at local level.

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 649883.