In a briefing published a few days ago by the European Environment Agency (EEA), it was promoted that European cities can assist in Europe’s shift to a low-carbon future by utilizing urban centers to facilitate urban prosumption. This would offer opportunities for citizens to produce renewable energy as prosumers and accelerate the shift to a low-carbon future. The EEA briefing, “” builds on recent EEA work on prosumption by focusing on challenges and opportunities that urban areas present and how local authorities can promote prosumption in their cities.
Cities are responsible for a large proportion of carbon emissions. In part, that’s because a lot of people live there. Three-quarters of the total EU population living in cities and suburban areas, and they are expected to increase in population in the coming years. These cities have the potential to become models for low-carbon lifestyles and allow citizens to become prosumers to help decarbonize their communities.
To help the citizen prosumers, municipalities can offer publicly owned spaces or encourage other private buildings or landowners to offer spaces that can be used. For example, rooftops of schools, hospitals, apartments, or unused lands can be used to install solar panels or other renewable energy technologies.
Local authorities can also contribute by offering financial incentives to companies to assist in promoting citizen participation and encourage public involvement in energy planning. They can also assist in the education and skills needed for citizens who are interested in installing renewables.
Although each city is unique, there are some common attributes that they share that can make prosumption in urban areas a reality and make them more distinct from more rural areas, for example:
- Establishing prosumption in cities is more challenging than in rural areas because of the limited space available for energy generation and the more complex arrangements for the ownership of surfaces (such as rooftops in apartment blocks).
- Cities are more densely populated than rural areas, making rooftop solar technology the renewable technology of choice. High population densities also make heat grids more profitable, offering the potential to develop prosumer initiatives related to heat grids in cities.
- More people live in apartment blocks, which opens opportunities for collective action but makes it harder to coordinate investment.
- Short travel distances make cities ideal for using electric vehicles, both private and public. Urban prosumer concepts are more likely to involve coupling with mobility.
- Cities can offer opportunities for developing integrated energy districts — for example, when areas within a city are redeveloped or new areas are added.
- Generating electricity outside the city (off-site generation) opens up possibilities for prosumers to overcome the lack of space.
Some of the key challenges and hurdles facing prosumers according to Javier Esparrago, an EEA expert on Environment and Energy, is, ” A clear, stable, and well-developed policy framework is key. In some countries, prosumption is not properly incorporated into national laws and regulations, creating uncertainty for prospective prosumers. Access to finance and lack of information is often a hurdle too. National or regional authorities can create one-stop shops where citizens have access to information on technical and regulatory aspects, as well as on the available financial support. Governments should also address the shortage of skills and adapt vocational training to the market needs.”
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