Urban energy generation and the role of cities

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Although a major part of energy consumption happens in cities, contemporary energy generation is less obviously connected to the urban structure. Energy based on fossil fuels and consumed in transportation is produced at global scale; energy for electricity is usually distributed through a national or continental grid; energy for heating, if related to district heating systems or the use of local/regional resources for its generation (e.g. biomass, waste), has a more local or at least regional character. In the latter case, electricity might be a by-product of combined-heat-power plants, but still feeding into the grid. Furthermore, through the ongoing liberalisation of energy markets and a subsequent change in the organisation structure of energy providers towards larger co-operations as well as the development of new technologies as ‘smart grid’-solutions, local authorities seem to lose further influence on energy generation and distribution. However, contemporary focus on sustainable and efficient use of resources and energy at local level, mainstreaming of renewable energy production and ideas of urban energy harvesting put energy generation again on the local agenda. The role of cities can be twofold: (1) cities as producers and (2) cities as enablers or promoters. Furthermore, energy production (renewable or not) has to happen somewhere, potentially also in the city where consumption takes place, and is related to specific spatial conditions. We review the contemporary options of urban energy generation, building on literature and findings from six European medium-sized cities who participated in the EU-FP7 project PLEEC.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Settlements and Spatial Planning
Issue numberSpecial issue
Pages (from-to)5-17
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2016

    Research areas

  • Urban planning - spatial planning, renewable energy, Energy efficiency

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