One of the least-cost and most efficient solutions in reducing emissions and primary energy demand is the development of modern (climate-resilient and low-carbon) district energy in cities. So says UNEP, the United Nations Energy Programme, in what it calls the advanced summary of a forthcoming new publication: District Energy in Cities: Unlocking the Full Potential of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

This much we know, but the District Energy in Cities initiative is an interesting new public-private sector organisation coordinated jointly by UNEP and the Denmark-based district energy company Danfoss with the aim of supporting national and municipal governments in their efforts to develop or scale-up district energy systems around the world. The partnership will, says Danfoss, build the necessary capacity of technological education and transfer of know-how while engaging all stakeholders.

The truly international initiative was announced at the UN Climate Change Summit in New York City in September. So far, 19 cities have indicated interest in joining the initiative including St Paul (US), Vancouver (Canada), London (UK), Paris (France), Anshan and Jinan (China), Seoul (South Korea), and Nairobi (Kenya).

In addition to Danfoss and UNEP, 11 other private sector partners and industry associations say they are willing to join the initiative, along with government organizations and networks including the US Department of Energy (DOE), ICLEI (Global Cities Network), UN-Habitat and the International Energy Agency (IEA). The IEA has operated its own the CHP/District Heating and Cooling ‘Collaborative’ since 2007, under which it has published 15 ‘scorecards’ summarizing the CHP and district energy sector in countries around the world.

There seems to be no shortage of recognition by international agencies of the enormous role that district energy could play in meeting global energy and environmental objectives.

Two members of the International District Energy Association (IDEA) were at the launch: District Energy St Paul, which operates the largest district heating system in the US; and Empower, which has built one of the world’s largest district cooling systems in Dubai, UAE. Meanwhile, Danfoss stressed its recent work in China: for example in the ‘steel capital’ city of Anshan, where the company will repurpose surplus heat from a local steel plant to be used as a heating source.

With this kind of global support and activity, it’s no surprise that the international district energy sector is an exciting place to be at the moment.