Energy and cities
Cities can be seen as energy sinks. All the activities that take place in them require an increasing flow of energy — currently mostly fossil fuels— that the city itself cannot produce. Today, a European city can consume oil from Kuwait, coal from China and gas from Algeria. As a result, cities outsource most of their energy production and import large amounts of non-renewable resources from other territories.
However, the current context marked by climate change, scarcity of fossil fuels and increasing energy bill prices requires urban spaces to reconfigure their mode of energy production and consumption. The promotion of Citizen Energy Communities in urban areas can facilitate the transition from a fossil energy matrix with passive consumers to one based on renewable energies managed by empowered and informed end-users. This could lead to significant reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, which would have a positive impact for the environment, and a greater degree of democratization of energy.
The formation of Energy Communities implies a decentralization of the energy model that is reflected in the territory. This translates into a reconfiguration of certain strategic energy spaces and the adaptation to previous uses.
The infrastructure of an Energy Community has a great capacity to be integrated in cities and villages, insofar the area occupied by the infrastructure is not exclusive to it, as it is in a centralized energy system where large areas need to be dedicated to renewable energy production (solar or wind farms). Since renewable energy has recently entered the urban environment, the infrastructure required by the Energy Community tends to occupy disused spaces in the city with high energy potential. This is the case for rooftops where there is generally no regular and defined use of the space. In addition, the increasing efficiency levels of renewable technologies are gradually reducing the area required for energy production.
This implies also a lower visual and landscape impact and can even improve the quality of the urban landscape, which is the hallmark of zero-kilometer energy. On the other hand, it does not condition those spaces outside the city that would be necessary for a centralized system, losing their ecological or agricultural functions with irreversible installations. For this reason, Energy Communities represent a further step in the sustainable integration of renewable energies in the territory, opening up the possibility of greater diversity and compatibility of uses in both urban and rural areas.
It should be noted, however, that a just energy transition is not simply a matter of replacing fossil fuels with renewables. Resource scarcity implies not only the reduction of fossil fuels but also of the raw materials which are used to build the renewable technologies. In this sense, the transition in cities, as major energy consumers, must be followed by informed, accessible and responsible production and consumption. In this way we will be able to achieve a sustainable, renewable, and socially just energy system.