Cities are key to a low-carbon future. And pioneers across the world are already demonstrating that the transition is possible.
CDP data reveals 100 cities worldwide are sourcing the majority of their electricity (at least 70%) from renewables, from Auckland to Nairobi to Seattle. In total, some 184 cities now have solar energy in their electricity mix, while 189 report that they source wind energy.
Our global renewable energy map shows clean energy is not restricted to a few corners of the globe. This is a global phenomenon, with potentially profound consequences for our energy future.
What’s driving the shift?
Cities are responsible for over 70% of the world’s energy related carbon emissions. What happens in our cities could make or break our efforts to tackle climate change.
The Paris Agreement specifically highlighting the role of cities, and the upcoming conference of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in Edmonton, Canada, devoted to the role cities can play in the transition to a low-carbon economy.
But the clean-energy revolution is also transforming cities into centres of innovation. They’re demonstrating pioneering solutions to slashing emissions and increasing resilience to the effects of climate change.
Often nimbler than their national counterparts, city governments have been quick to benefit from the dramatic fall in the cost of renewable energy.
In some regions, solar and wind are now competing on price with existing coal power stations. IRENA forecasts that by 2020 they will be the price-competitive everywhere.
Take for example, Burlington, Vermont, in the US. It sources all its electricity from renewables. And it’s done so without increasing household energy bills.
By using a diversified renewable energy mix – including wind, solar, hydro and biomass – the city has also been able to support local industries, such as solar installation, and helped Burlington residents to generate their own power too.
As costs for renewables continue to plummet, we can expect to see more cities seize the economic opportunities of ditching fossil fuels.
How are cities operating on renewables?
Our data shows cities are making use of their specific geographies to harness the power of renewables.
Reykjavik, for instance, has taken full advantage of its abundant sources of geothermal energy to supply its electrical grid and heat network. It’s now working towards decarbonising the rest of its energy system – with an aim to make all cars and public transit fossil-free by 2040.
The city of Basel, Switzerland, meanwhile, has established a fund to invest in energy efficiency, renewable energy and carbon reduction projects. It’s also using its legislative clout to ensure new buildings and public facilities – like hospitals, swimming pools and schools – produce 50% of their warm water with renewable energy.
“All you need is a clear goal and a strong political leadership,” says Matthias Nabholz, Basel-Stadt’s head of environment and energy, “the population will support this decision”.
For many cities in the developing world, renewable energy offers a chance to improve the overall reliability of their electricity supply. Like Reykjavik, Nairobi is tapping into its geothermal resources to feed its energy needs. It’s also introduced new regulation that requires large buildings to harness the city’s abundant solar potential – thus reducing pressure on the grid.
Renewables are increasingly viable wherever a city is located. We at CDP call on more cities to develop ambitious strategies to procure renewable electricity directly from suppliers.
Investing in the low-carbon future
In the transition to a sustainable energy supply, information is key. By reporting their environmental risk and performance, city governments can identify opportunities to reduce their carbon footprint – and encourage green development.
Cities are home to 50% of the world’s population, and expanding rapidly. They need to make sure the new infrastructure they are creating is fit for the low-carbon economy. Our data shows cities are engaged in 1,000 clean infrastructure projects, such as electric transport and energy efficiency, worth over US$52 billion.
Europe is leading the way, reporting US$1.7 billion in new projects.
But cities in the developing world are also recognizing the opportunities of low-carbon infrastructure. African cities reported US$236 million in renewable energy projects, at various stages of development, to CDP.
They’re working fast to incorporate electricity from solar into their grids: in Harare, Dar Es Salaam and Mazabuka, solar already provides 5% of the total electricity supply. Kananga, in the DRC, says it sources 30% of its electricity from solar.
By reporting on their renewable energy projects, cities are able to attract private sector investment through programs like CDP’s Matchmaker.
Political ambition is building
Where these pioneering cities lead, others are following. Just this week, over 80 towns and cities in the UK pledged to shift to 100% clean energy by 2050. In June last year, the US Conference of Mayors, representing 58 cities, resolved to support the procurement of 100% renewable power for cities by 2035.
And of the cities disclosing to CDP, 23 have set targets to reach 100% renewable power.
In total, nearly 400 cities worldwide are now aiming to shift out of fossil fuel power by 2050. They’ve made a bold statement of intent, signaling they are committed to a clean-energy future.
The 100 plus cities sourcing most of their power from renewables demonstrate that it’s already possible – regardless of geography.
Here at CDP, we urge all cities to share their knowledge, tell us about their environmental plans and make ambitious targets to procure renewable energy. The time to act is now.