Cities making money by going 100% Renewables

Anna Leidreiter

By Anna Leidreiter, on November 28th, 2016

> Read Anna Leidreiter's articles

Frankfurt is known as one of the global financial centers with a big airport. But there is more to know about this German city: In fact, the City of Frankfurt is one example that shows how local economies can be strengthened by transitioning to 100% Renewables. By 2050, the City will produce 100% of its energy consumption with local and regional renewable sources. Hereby, the City brings down its current energy import costs of €2 billion a year to zero. Thanks to its public local utility which drives this transition, the city of Frankfurt not only benefits from these savings but also generates additional income in the form of revenues and tax incomes. By prioritizing energy production from within the city and from the surrounding region – while still being connected to the larger national grid – the money will stay in the region. Energy efficiency measures have saved Frankfurt €100 million in energy costs, a number that is projected to rise. Finally, the city has reduced emissions by 15% since 1990, while its economy grew by 50% for its approximately 715.000 inhabitants.


More than 1.000km east of Frankfurt in the North of Poland is Kisielice: A small town with an ambitious Mayor in a coal-addicted country. Mayor Tomasz Koprowiak had the vision to do things differently to benefit his people: Inspired by Western European cities, the small Polish town is now 100% powered by locally-produced renewable energy. Part of the town electricity is delivered by two wind farms which together consist of 50 wind turbines with a total capacity of 94.5MW. A third 24MW wind farm is under construction and already partly operating. Local farmers get an extra income of about 5,000 € per year for the lease of each wind turbine within their land.  A major 6MW biomass CHP plant generates electricity by burning cereal straws which are purchased from local farmers. The plant is connected to a district heating system which provides heating to 250 buildings, i.e. serving more than 90% of the local population. As air pollution is a big challenge in Poland due to the high share of coal in the energy mix, Kisielice is an important glimmer of hope to change this.


Moving towards the South of Europe, Perpignan Méditerranée in France is another example on how municipalities counter national energy policies and hereby strengthen its local economy. The region in the nuclear dominated country is intending to become a true role model in the energy transition, aiming to be the first urban territory in Europe to meet all its electricity needs by means of local projects. 75% of the region’s electricity needs are already met by renewable energy. The approach is to reinvigorate the local economy, agriculture and tourism in a certain inland part of the region called Catalonian Ecopark: a space where new synergies are created between the region’s economic and agricultural activities, its respect for the environment and landscape and its position as a tourist destination and quality of life.

Mayors are inAll of these pioneering cities show that transitioning to 100% Renewable Energy can boost socio-economic development across Europe. While national governments are still exploring measures to implement the Paris Agreement and the European Union are falling behind the US, China and other emerging economies in installing renewables, European cities are leading the way. They prove that is it technically feasible, economically viable and socially beneficial to phase out fossil fuel and transition to 100% Renewable Energy.

At the same time, these cities suggest that engaging a large number of stakeholders and empowering new actors to enter the energy market, can help achieving this vision at the necessary speed and scale. Because converting our energy system is about more than replacing fossil resources with sun and wind as new sources. In fact, it would be an illusion to believe that simply fueling the same system with different resources will lead us to more equal wealth distribution, social well-being, or keep the planet habitable for future generations.

Given the nature of renewable technologies, the business model for harvesting these sources to produce energy is completely different. It starts in the fundamental way our energy system is structured. The current fossil fuel based energy system is characterized by complex centralized infrastructures where a) the fuel is transported to the power plant, and b) energy production and distribution is controlled by some entities. The supply chain is vertical, and the benefits are shared only among a few stakeholders. In the necessary transformation towards 100% renewable energy, this is changing.

Most renewable energies offer opportunities for a more decentralized way of energy production and consumption, embody a horizontal supply chain, and require innovation in infrastructure and energy markets. New stakeholders, including citizens, farmers and small businesses, are entering the system, claim ownership rights, and have direct impacts on the implementation. Therefore, new ownership models are required and are being developed as different stakeholders become directly involved in the transformation. While many energy experts and governments see citizen participation and the involvement of communities as a necessity to ensure acceptance and avoid nimbyism, the benefits go much beyond this. In fact, adopting a people-centered approach and empowering citizens, farmers and small businesses to invest in renewable energy projects, is a tool for socio-economic development and wealth distribution.


renewable energy the only future we have

With the international community starting to implement the Paris Agreement and the new Post-2015 Development Agenda with the Sustainable Development Goals, national governments need to build on the vast expertise and knowledge that cities and municipalities have already gathered for years. The World Future Council and its partners in the Global 100% RE campaign are here to support and guide policy makers in this process. By online and personal policy dialogue, experts from different sectors and disciplines offer tools for achieving 100% renewables by implementing a just and sustainable transition for all. A global 100% RE Cities and Regions network has been established that brings those local governments together who commit to this vision and want to inspire by example.

Leave a Reply