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EU-US cooperation: Unconventional energy stories from four “allied cities”

By Alix Bolle on 7 May 2019

Energy Allies” is the name of a two-year EU-funded project that supports transatlantic experience sharing between EU and US cities. In Europe, the French city of Nantes, former European Green Capital, and the German town of Heidelberg, presiding Energy Cities, exchanged ideas, challenges and expertise with the American cities of Cambridge in Massachusetts and Charlotte in North Carolina. The first three days of “learning labs” and workshop activities took place in Cambridge in October 2018 while the other three were just completed last April in Nantes. Read below to get a glimpse of some of the unusual, thought-provoking stories shared by the four cities.

Record high temperatures make bananas grow in Nantes

In the famous “Jardin des Plantes” park in Nantes, visitors were invited last April 1st to come and collect some 100kg of the new “banana harvest”. “After two months of record high temperatures, bananas have grown in the Jardin des Plantes”, said the Facebook account of the city, encouraging citizens to come and collect them freely between 12:00 and 14:00. Orchestrated on April’s Fool day, this joke was meant to raise the residents’ awareness of the impacts of climate change and provide them and the media with the opportunity to discuss the issue with experts on site.

Green or solar? A tough choice for Heidelberg’s roofs!

In Germany, there is a federal law imposing that any new building should include some form of green component. In most cases, this usually translates into green roofs. The problem however, as reported by the city and the local renewable energy cooperative, is that green roofs often exclude photovoltaic options, making the technology too costly to implement because of a lack of space. This difficulty clashes with the city’s commitment to increase the share of locally produced renewable energy, which in an urban context often requires rooftop solar. Discussions are thus now being held between nature conservation organisations, utilities, other civil society representatives and local officials to tackle this conflict. One solution put forward would be to compensate the increase in the cost of PV installations through a municipal fund which would help implementing both options. An another answer to the problem would be to integrate the green element mandated by the law on the façade rather than the roof of buildings. Whatever the approach chosen, an adaptation of the building regulation will be necessary and the city’s various municipal departments will have to continue to improve their cooperation efforts, as the energy transition often requires a transversal approach, tackling various sectors at the same time.

Charlotte City invites non-usual suspects to co-design its 2040 plan

The city of Charlotte in North Carolina is seeking to develop a shared vision of its 2040 future, putting the notion of “equity” at the centre of all its activities. To reach out to minorities and residents from underprivileged areas, the local government enrolled a series of community leaders who themselves were tasked with defining “personas”, i.e. specific profiles of people to target. A total of 250 people were selected, and incentives like free public transportation passes were given to take part in the meetings. The final aim of the city is to reach 1% of the population in a two-year process through face-to-face meetings that will allow direct contributions on the plan and a shared vision for the future of Charlotte.

Residents contribute to new solar capacity in the city of Cambridge, just by switching suppliers!

In the United States, a very interesting scheme called “Community Choice Aggregation” has been implemented in several state jurisdictions, with some 1 300 participating municipalities. Through this model, a locally-based, non-profit public entity is set up and tasked with aggregating the demand of the participating residents to source supply from alternative generation suppliers rather than from competing retail suppliers. As part of such a programme, Cambridge has signed a one-year contract with an electricity producer to supply green energy to its residents while contributing to the development of new solar energy projects in the city. The new local capacity is funded through a small additional charge of 0.2 ¢/kWh on the bills of residents that have opted for the scheme. One more brick on the road to implementing the city’s ambitious net zero action plan!

©photos: German Marshall Fund

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