Modern district energy systems could contribute up to 60% of required energy sector emissions reductions by 2050 and reduce primary energy consumption by up to 50%, according to a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Developed in collaboration with the Copenhagen Centre on Energy Efficiency (C2E2), ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, and UN-Habitat, the report, District Energy in Cities: Unlocking the Potential of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, reveals how local authorities and national governments can develop energy-efficient, climate-resilient and affordable district energy systems.

Through an analysis of the 45 ‘champion cities’ which have collectively installed more than 36 GW of district heating capacity, 6 GW of district cooling capacity and 12,000 km of district energy networks, the report finds that while contributions of district energy are significant and growing, the full potential of these systems remains largely untapped, with significant opportunities existing for growth, refurbishment and new development.

To facilitate the transition, UNEP has launched a new initiative on District Energy in Cities, as the implementing mechanism for the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) District Energy accelerator. As part of this initiative UNEP has developed a policy and investment roadmap comprising 10 key steps to accelerate the development, modernisation and scale-up of district energy in cities.

‘Our response, and our ability to keep the world within a 2°C scenario, has led us to focus on district energy in cities. These are practical, reliable, bring benefits to consumers and they generate benefits in terms of our response to climate change,’ said Achim Steiner, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNEP.

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