The EU-funded URBAN LEARNING project "started from the need for Vienna and other big cities to decarbonise their building stock and heat supply, while facing considerable population growth," says Coordinator Waltraud Schmid. "The second starting point was the observation that energy aspects aren't well integrated in urban planning processes — too little, too late, with suboptimal results." "On the other hand, many more cities have lighthouse projects showcasing a low-carbon or climate-neutral city quarter, though often planned and built with a lot of resources behind them," she adds. The aim was to look at the urban planning processes. Ms Schmid continues: "We identified what is required to achieve a low-carbon city quarter out of standard city planning: who is needed, what is needed and when." Solutions for upgrading integrative urban energy planning URBAN LEARNING set out to mainstream and institutionalise integrative energy planning within the administrations of eight European cities. For nearly 3 years, local working groups within the administrations of Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, Stockholm, Vienna, Warsaw, Zaanstad and Zagreb analysed their planning processes, identified essential framework conditions and key elements of the processes, and developed proposals for upgrading them. Most groups continue to remain active beyond the project's lifetime. "As the topic of integrative energy planning was new to the cities, it's a major achievement to have successfully and substantially increased awareness in all eight," stresses Schmid. This went hand in hand with an increased understanding for the need to better collaborate between departments, particularly those responsible for energy planning and urban planning. Administrations are reaping the benefits According to Schmid, some of the cities began seeing improvements even before the project ended. The Viennese administration established a working group with members from different departments and the grid operator to discuss the future energy supply of large urban development projects at their very early stages. Stockholm started revising its internal management handbook for urban planners to integrate energy planning aspects. As URBAN LEARNING progressed, it became clear that a supportive legal framework was essential, and to some extent, even a prerequisite for enabling and enforcing integrative energy planning. The project therefore drew up proposals to upgrade legal framework conditions. Lastly, the cities developed concrete implementation plans. These plans outline priority actions and the next steps to be taken by each city as it moves towards integrative energy planning. Vienna, for example, is working on introducing legal provisions that firmly establish energy efficiency and climate change as urban planning objectives in its building codes, and offer the possibility of establishing energy zones in the zoning plan. Meanwhile, Berlin recently published its first version of an energy atlas; a heat atlas is in preparation in Paris and Vienna. Finally, Amsterdam is developing approaches to phase out natural gas for heating. Project partners expect the project to have significant energy impacts on over 3 million people, as well as on the homes and workplaces to be built and refurbished over the next 20 years in participating cities. Better governance of integrative urban energy planning could result in energy savings of at least 620 GWh per year and increased renewable energy production exceeding 1 500 GWh per year. "URBAN LEARNING highlighted that energy planning is a public responsibility, not only the task of energy grid operators, and that cities need clear competences, instruments and tools to effectively deal with this responsibility," concludes Schmid.
URBAN LEARNING, integrative energy planning, urban planning, cities, governance, lighthouse