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Positive Clean Energy Districts


The topic addresses the objectives of the Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities Mission, hereafter referred to as the Cities Mission, to (1) support, promote and showcase 100 climate-neutral and smart European cities by 2030 and (2) make these cities act into experimentation and innovation hubs to put all European cities in a position to become climate-neutral by 2050. The topic will thus contribute to the twin green and digital transitions promoted by the European Green Deal and will lead by example on how to speed up the necessary transformation towards urban climate neutrality, including in a human-centred way.

Cities are natural testbeds for innovative integrated solutions and for showcasing the different possibilities for achieving climate neutrality and zero pollution objectives. Early mover cities towards climate neutrality and zero pollution by 2030 will pave the way for all cities to follow by 2050. They should therefore lead the way towards an overarching strategy aiming at climate neutrality for cities.

The concept of Lighthouse and Fellow cities[[Indicatively 2 (leading) Lighthouse cities and 2-5 fellow cities. However, if deemed more appropriate also other constellations are admissible)]] pioneered under Horizon 2020 yielded good results and a similar project structure is encouraged[[Horizon 2020: LC-SC3-SCC-1-2018-2019-2020: Smart Cities and Communities -]].

Since Positive Clean Energy Districts are a crucial element of the climate-neutral cities of the future, the concept of scale and of representativeness of the various socio-economic contexts/groups of citizens are of highest importance for effective and impactful urban transformation, taking into account cross-sectoral impacts, interdependencies and co-benefits. The expertise acquired at district scale - by facilitating and analysing the intricate interactions between all involved layers and actors - is essential for subsequent scale-up to city scale. This is again paramount if we want to meet the 2050 climate and zero pollution goals where cities play a pivotal role. The scope of the projects will therefore be to:

  • Test large-scale Positive Clean Energy Districts under real life conditions and analyse:
    • The main aspects of successful conception and roll-out of Positive Energy Districts;
    • Combinations of demand measures (e.g. energy efficiency, demand response and user behaviour) and supply measures (e.g. onsite RES and storage, including from EVs, building/district management) at district scale to identify the best cost-effective mix;
    • Synergies between the built environment, energy communities, active and e-mobility (e.g. integration of smart and/or bidirectional EV charging), smart grids (e.g. heating/cooling, electricity) and energy storage. Inclusion of resource efficient smart water and waste management is also an asset;
    • Key elements of replicability for scaling up Positive Clean Energy Districts (in the same city/region and also beyond), for example the use of open standards and technical specifications and open source tools is encouraged.
  • Demonstrate different combinations of technologies to achieve Positive Clean Energy Districts and analyse the most cost-efficient combinations.
  • Develop business models and governance structures that are best suited for Positive Clean Energy Districts (e.g. studying the most effective incentive schemes for behavioural change, development and integration of sustainable energy communities).
  • Test and adapt different management systems/platforms and citizen interaction and related co-creation and communication strategies that facilitate the implementation of Positive Clean Energy Districts.
  • Optimise on-site energy storage systems (e.g. thermal, electrical) linked with local non-combustion RES production (including excess energy from local/ regional industry), use of low carbon materials, and e-mobility (both passenger mobility and freight transport).
  • Integrate low to zero pollution heating and cooling systems (e.g. solar thermal district heating plants) making best use of local assets.
  • Test Positive Clean Energy District grid solutions, demand response and other smart energy management strategies that help to optimise the larger energy system. To address the cybersecurity aspect, the task will be implemented in close collaboration with the projects funded under the Horizon Europe topic C5-D3-ESGS-06-2021 addressing the reliability and resilience of the grid.
  • Establish a project structure that actively involves the local city administrations and mayors of other cities in co-creation, inter-city peer review process and formal collaborations based on officially adopted shared principles.
  • Involve owners/inhabitants but also financial actors as consortium partners already in the development phase, with the perspective to scale up from project to real city transformation.
  • Apart from implementing their own innovative approaches, projects are strongly encouraged to build and capitalise on the wealth of proven solutions of Horizon 2020 Smart Cities and Communities Lighthouse Projects cluster [[]] and advancing the chosen solutions towards the necessary mainstreaming on the mid/long term.

Projects are also expected to collaborate with and contribute to the specific objectives of the SET Plan action 3.2 - Smart cities and communities - focusing on positive-energy blocks and districts (PED).

Proposals are expected to demonstrate very good knowledge of the European Smart Cities and Communities ecosystem and to pay specific attention to synergies with relevant policies such as the Renovation Wave and with other relevant initiatives such as the European Partnership on Driving Urban Transition for a sustainable future (DUT)[[]], the European Partnership for People-centric Sustainable Built Environment (Built4People)[[]], the Covenant of Mayors, the Smart Cities Market Place[[]], Living-in.EU Clean Energy Transition (LIFE), EIT InnoEnergy, the upcoming European Urban Initiative of Cohesion policy, the Urban Agenda for the EU, as well as relevant projects such as the Lighthouse projects of the New European Bauhaus initiative and relevant smart specialisation partnerships.

The projects funded under this topic must establish a collaboration agreement, to identify clear links among themselves and ensure complementarity, coordination and exchange on relevant linked activities. The selected projects should also foresee active collaboration with relevant and related projects funded under this call in order to address synergies and complementarities between the projects of the Cities Mission portfolio. In particular collaboration with the Mission Platform (HORIZON-MISS-2021-CIT-02-03) is essential and projects should ensure that appropriate provisions for activities and resources aimed at enforcing this collaboration are included in the workplan. Detailed description of the specific activities and common actions that will be undertaken is not required at proposal stage and can be further defined at a second stage during the lifetime of the projects. The collaboration with the Mission Platform should be formalised through a Memorandum of Understanding to be concluded as soon as possible after the projects starting date.

To facilitate replication and reuse of the solutions developed as part of these actions, use of open source software, open standards and technical specifications[[For example, the Minimal Interoperability Mechanisms (MIMs Plus) developed by ( and the European Interoperability Framework]], re-use of building blocks and interoperability solutions[[These include the assets and solutions available through CEF Digital Building Blocks and ISA2 and which will be made available on Joinup under the DIGITAL Europe Programme Work Programme 2021-2022]], and sharing of data through EU data spaces are encouraged where appropriate.

To facilitate replication, upscaling and up-taking of the generated outcomes and to foster capacity building/upskilling of public authorities, local actors and communities, the projects should engage in ambitious outreach, communication, dissemination and training activities in coordination and complementarity with the Mission Platform.