Key findings

Leaders and officials of local governments have started to become more involved in climate change policy-making by undertaking strategic planning; formulating, approving and implementing appropriate policies; evaluating their effectiveness; and disseminating successful actions that might be replicated elsewhere. National governments in some countries have encouraged this trend, for example by returning the revenue from the sale of carbon credits to the local municipality that invested in an accredited renewable energy project.

Many cities already utilise their local renewable energy resources cost-effectively. Some smaller towns have even become fossil fuel free; although it is usually easier for a small community, located in rural surroundings, to achieve a high renewable energy contribution than it is for a mega-city trying to meet a similar objective. Cities located near the coast, or on islands, may be able to benefit from off-shore wind and also, in future, from ocean energy technologies currently under development.

Cities tend to target a specific renewable energy resource that best suits their conditions. For example, solar PV systems suit cities in lower-latitude, high sunshine regions; geothermal power suits cities located near the tectonic plates; and bioenergy is most common in areas with a forest industry nearby. Cities with such a prime resource often try and develop, or attract, business ventures and investments relating directly to it.

District heating schemes based on geothermal or bioenergy sources, have proven to be efficient and cost-effective in many cities. District cooling schemes are also maturing and good practical examples exist in several locations, including those using new solar sorption technologies.

In larger cities, only a portion of the total energy demand is likely to be met by renewable energy projects located within the city boundary. These commonly include waste-to-energy combined heat and power (CHP) plants, geothermal heat systems, solar thermal collectors on roofs and building-integrated solar PV systems. Other forms of renewable energy carriers such as wind power, hydro power, concentrating solar power, solid biomass and liquid biofuels, usually need to be purchased from outside of the city and brought in by transmission lines, pipelines, road, rail or boats.

Renewable energy could become a significant component of the total energy mix of a distributed energy system by employing new and improved small-scale technologies together with smart meters and intelligent grids. Such systems can be very complex but are developing rapidly. A sustainable energy future for many communities could depend on a wise combination of both centralised and distributed energy systems that utilise technological advances throughout the supply chain.

Many local governments tend to follow early innovators rather than lead. The advantages for cities that lead in the design, investment and monitoring of renewable energy demonstration projects that can be easily replicated, include pride and the creation of a strong national and international interest. Training centres and industrial parks based around a demonstration project can help to educate citizens, attract outside interest, and provide a critical mass of skilled personnel.

Local authorities can serve as a vehicle to implement top-down policies from national governments, deliver meaningful results, and ensure national mandates are carried out. They can design solutions to climate change that are adapted to the needs of local constituents and are consistent with local policy priorities. This process can help build resilience to climate change in the urban infrastructure. Experimentation on new forms of policy at the local level can provide learning and experience and, when successful and where appropriate, can lead to bottom-up diffusion of approaches between cities, as well as at the national and international levels.

The local approach to renewable energy project deployment can help to demonstrate what is possible, at what costs and who the winners and losers might be. Social experimentation relating to

renewable energy deployment and climate change mitigation and adaptation can also be undertaken at the local level and, where successful, adopted nationally. National governments therefore need to stimulate action at the local government level in order to fully integrate renewable energy and climate considerations into urban development strategies.

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