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Till Berger

Sustainserv is a global CSR and sustainability consultancy. This blog will serve to communicate some of our ongoing thoughts and perspectives on the work that we do.

Regional Energy Independence

Posted by on in Program Management
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In our 10-year history, Sustainserv has played a critical role in fostering public-private partnerships, which are collaborations between the academic, corporate, and public sector to facilitate knowledge exchange and technology transfer for the greater good of society. One area particularly well-suited to this approach is regional energy management. 

Energy management has increasingly become a challenging task due to concerns over climate change, cost containment, and an over-reliance on politically unstable regions that produce fossil fuels. Renewable energy production can serve to address many of these issues.  Locally-generated renewable energy adds value to a region by stabilizing the electricity grid and reducing negative impacts on the local and global environments.  However, making such a leap requires a fundamental shift in how energy supply is planned and implemented.  As illustrated by the rapid rise in the number of wind turbines in Denmark, the deployment of renewable energy moves us away from the model of relying on a few large power plants to developing a network of many small and decentralized facilities.

Contrary to common belief, renewable resources are available where most of the energy is needed: in urban areas. Even densely populated cities have a lot of space available to produce renewable energy. These untapped resources include the following(1):

  • Building roofs and facades can host PV or solar hot water.

  • Local waterways can be tapped for hydropower. 

  • Ground source heat pumps and air exchange technology can be used to supplement building heating systems.

  • Wastewater systems generate usable thermal energy.

  • Biomass can be converted into power and heat, and efficiency can be gained from co-generation of heat and power.

To capitalize on these resources, a well-coordinated energy plan is required. In general, decentralized heat generation should be prioritized over electricity production (heat cannot be efficiently transported over long distances, therefore the demand has to be met locally). But this doesn’t mean that all roofs should be covered with solar collectors for hot water. If, for example, a certain type of building is suitable for capturing heat from wastewater, the available space on roofs and facades can be used for photovoltaic panels (which also produce the electricity for the heat pumps). This example illustrates that successful energy planning is holistic in its approach, and one way to support this process is by conducting an analysis at the city or regional level.


Biomass lotPV facade

Examples of renewables deployed in urban areas.Top: Urban terrain temporarily used for biomass production. Bottom: South-facing building facades can be used for photovoltaics. (2)

To optimize energy performance, one must clarify which combination of technologies will provide the right energy at the right place.  Only with a well-coordinated mix of technologies can the true energetic potential of an area be maximized. 

An energy balance, which summarizes the potential for biomass, solar, and/or geothermal heat, is helpful but it still does not provide a holistic view. A spatial analysis is needed to integrate and map the energy production potential and compare it with local energy demand.  One simple approach is to divide the area into Urban Spatial Types (such as “historic center,” “business districts,” “residential spaces,” etc.), which are defined by a set of common characteristics including energy production potential and similar energy use profiles such as energy demand per square meter (see the reference at the end of the text for more details). Below is an example of a map showing the Urban Spatial Types (USTs) of the canton of Basel-Stadt, Switzerland:

 UST Map

Energy profile mapping of the canton of Basel-Stadt (Switzerland). Each color shows a different Urban Spatial Type with typical renewable energy production potentials and a typical energy demand per square meter.(2)

For these USTs, the long-term energy demand is assessed over a timeframe of 20-40 years. Thereafter, the corresponding potential to produce renewable energy is determined. Based on this, a ratio of renewable energy production to energy demand is calculated for both thermal and electric energy sources. The outcome is visualized using a  geographical information system (GIS). The resulting map can then be used to inform energy plans and policies to optimize the renewable energy supply of the city by including existing energy infrastructure and planning additional supply options as needed.

Energy mapping has been carried out in cities and regions in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Liechtenstein. If the deployment of renewable energy is well planned, cities can actually meet most, if not all, of their energy demand with renewable energy generation in their own area:

EP Region

Figure: Maximal energy self-sufficiency of investigated cities/regions in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Liechtenstein. The larger the circle, the higher the population density (2).

Regions with a lower population density have a higher likelihood of meeting energy demand with their own renewable resources. However, even densely populated cities like Hamburg (Germany) can produce more energy than they need (and export it). Thus, the use of renewable energy is not only a means to counteract climate change, but it can also provide a substantial economic benefit for a region.  

Whether you are an international company with facilities spread across the globe, or a member of a municipal planning group, you may find that your stakeholders are seeking ways to prioritize and optimize the energy profile of your built environment.  In this situation, consider adding a simplified energy mapping process to your planning toolkit. 

(1) Cited from: Dieter Genske, Lars Porsche, Ariane Ruff (2009). Urban Energy Potentials: A Step Towards the Use of 100% Renewable Energies, p. 251-262. Peter Droege (Ed.), 100% Renewable – Energy Autonomy in Action, ISBN: 978-1-84407-718-2.

(2) Map and Figures: Sustainserv and Energie-Klima-Plan GmbH, seecon gmbh, University of Applied Sciences Nordhausen, University of Liechtenstein

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