Going green and going local

Municipal utilities as a driver for change – Urban Planning

Projects in urban planning can touch on issues regarding the use of land, waste management systems, public transport, water management, energy supply and more. When I hear about most of these topics and compare the conditions in Stuttgart, Germany, with other cities, I realize that we are complaining on a high level. Before I go any further into issues of urban planning in Stuttgart, I will give you some background statistics about the city.

Inhabitants: 600.000

Size: 207km²

PPP: 52.200

CO2 emission per inhabitant: 4,9t

Municipal waste generated (1000t): 317

Cars (2012): 277.606

Environmental protection investments (2011): 133.785.000 EUR

As one can see, the amount of money spend for environmental protection investments is remarkably high. Unlike other cities there are different technical and political approaches made towards sustainable growth.

Energy Performance CertificateJust to give you some examples, I can say that the public transport is reasonable in Stuttgart – as well as in most German cities. Furthermore, buildings are now rated by so called “Energy Performance Certificates” and there are low emissions zones established throughout Germany, in order to lower the high levels of pollution in the air.  Of course one can always make some improvements, but when it comes to many of those issues, the situation in my country is quite satisfying. One of the reasons why we are pioneers in some of these matters is the fact, that many utilities are organized on a local level, in so called municipal utilities (German: “Stadtwerke”). Those municipal utilities can offer a wide range of services such as supply and disposal, e.g. energy supply, water- and waste management, basic infrastructure and services or public transport. In today’s blog I will focus on how the municipal utilities can make a contribution to the energy transition, since this can still be seen as one of the most important concerns everywhere in the world.

Energy Mix Germany 2012Energy Transition in Germany

As related to the European “Energy Roadmap 2050”, and among only few other countries, Germany has formulated long-term programmes in order to perform the shift away from nuclear power and fossil fuels. The Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) 2012 aims to increase the share of renewable energy sources in electricity supply to 35 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. One main reason why the energy transition is on a good path, is the establishment of the municipal utilities which provide and manage the energy market on a local level.

The different municipal utilities vary in their size and the services provided as well as in the form of ownership. However, around 60 percent of them are involved in renewable energy. You may ask yourself what are the key factors of success? Municipal utilities can promote renewable energies as well as energy efficiency, because cities and municipalities are provided with an increased scope for action. Furthermore they generate employment and strengthen the economy, but they also take the opinion of the communities into consideration. Therefore the commitment for innovative change is higher. Due to the higher commitment of the people to their local utilities, services can be provided tailor-made, according to the needs and circumstances. If the CO2 emissions are lowered, not only environmental goals are met, but one can also see the economic success. Since people and small businesses gain trust in the municipal utilities, they are also more willing to invest into renewable energy themselves, as you can see in the following video.

Smart Heating

Municipal utilities can also generate innovative ideas in terms of energy saving, as an example of the employees from the municipal utilities in Stuttgart shows. AlpaEOS, the developer of an intelligent heating control systems, designed a software which allows the employees to adjust a certain room temperature for each day. The software then calculates factors such as solar radiation, humidity or the state of the building and then takes over the control of the radiators. This system is not only comfortable and results in energy efficiency, but one can also achieve heating cost savings up to 40%.

Municipal Utilities as the answer to Urban Planning?

One should consider that municipal utilities can also have some initial difficulties. Since this is what happened in Stuttgart, the City seeks a cooperation with the Monopoly of Baden-Württemberg (ENBW) in order to transfer knowledge and minimize risks.

I think the idea of going local and going green can help in other issues regarding urban planning as well, because it leads to a greater commitment of the community and promotes innovative ideas. However, one needs to take into consideration that the energy transition has been feasible in Germany, because the country has invested into renewable energies for a long time. Furthermore, politicians as well as citizens demand and support the change. So the municipal utilities should not be seen as the only factor of success.

Yet one also needs to take into consideration, that the challenges we face today are not the challenges of a single city or a single country. As the example I have given you shows, going local can help by making changes in a certain area or country. However, at the end we need to share resources and this kind of local knowledge to try and adapt best practices in other cities and countries, in order to support a sustainable urban planning.

Main sources:

German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (2013) “Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) 2012”, http://www.erneuerbare-energien.de/en/topics/acts-and-ordinances/renewable-energy-sources-act/eeg-2012/?cHash=816f8cc23fe06c8f81ed0897140ba585

Stadtwerke Stuttgart (2013), „Mitarbeiter im Stadtwerke-Kundencenter setzen auf intelligente Heizungssteuerung, http://stadtwerke-stuttgart.de/aktuelles/news/2013/nov/26/mitarbeiter-im-kundencenter-setzen-auf-intelligent/

Wuppertal Institut für Klima, Umwelt, Energie GmbH (2013), „Gründung von Stadtwerken als Motor einer Neuausrichtung der Energieversorgung“, http://wupperinst.org/info/details/wi/a/s/ad/2346

Energy Transition, the German Energiewende, http://energytransition.de/

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