How prepared are Spanish cities to lead the green energy revolution?
By 2050, more than 65 per cent of the world population will live in cities. While today the focus of carbon reduction and energy-efficiency policies remains at national and international levels, local authorities have substantial influence on some of the key levers to achieve significant and concrete results. Indeed, Arthur D. Little’s study of Spain’s 15 largest cities found that, with the right local policy levers in place and without any major refurbishing of citizens’ homes, Spanish cities could achieve a c.40 percent reduction in consumption by 2027. This represents annual savings of €3.3 billion, an 18.8-million-ton reduction in CO2 emissions, and a 25 percent drop in particulate matter. So, which Spanish cities are set up for success, and which risk falling behind in the race to provide sustainable-energy solutions?
Spanish cities leading in energy efficiency
To understand which Spanish cities are poised to make the most significant energy savings, we looked at current energy usage in the residential sector, the services sector, and transportation. In Spain today, urban dwellers make up 43 percent of overall energy usage, mostly in heating and cooling their homes, and keeping the lights on. Businesses, or the services sector, consume 31 percent of energy to power everything from the retail sector to commercial real estate and the hospitality industry. Finally, transportation makes up the remaining 26 percent of cities’ total energy needs – largely in private transportation.
Considering overall energy consumption, current efficiency practices, and the city’s commitment to sustainability, Bilbao is Spain’s most energy-efficient city, with Zaragoza a close second. Large cities such as Madrid and Barcelona perform in the middle of the pack, underscoring that a city’s size has little to do with its energy efficiency. Gijón and Valencia are Spain’s least energy-efficient cities, largely due to high home-heating costs and limited public transportation options.
Like in so many cities around the world, Spanish city-dwellers have the potential to dramatically improve energy efficiency in their homes and transportation choices. In old homes and apartments, modest upgrades of energy-consuming equipment can lead to around 40 percent of residential energy savings – for example, by replacing inefficient heating systems with more advanced systems such as low-temperature boilers, or by improving household insulation. Households can use a mix of actions that make economic sense and do not require major refurbishing. In the transport sector, as more cities incentivize public transportation, we expect to see 27 percent energy savings, mainly driven by the shift away from private-vehicle use and the rise of electric vehicles.
For businesses, energy efficiency makes economic sense, so we expect consumption to drop as prices rise. Specifically, the services sector could achieve 41 percent energy savings by improving the efficiency of heating and air-conditioning systems and installing better building insulation. The remaining savings will come from lighting improvements in offices and commercial centers, as well as efficiency gains in the hot-water systems of hotels and hospitals.
Smart cities in Spain
As the younger generation flocks to Spain’s urban centers, local and regional authorities must align their priorities to reduce overall energy consumption through comprehensive policies that incentivize residents and businesses to invest in energy-efficient homes, operations, and modes of transportation. Working with technology experts, energy companies, and the automotive industry, urban policy makers can develop smart-city initiatives that guarantee Spain becomes a leader in low-energy urban living.
By David Borràs, Partner at Arthur D. Little
UK must stop blundering into high carbon choices warns CCC
The UK Government must end a year of climate contradictions and stop blundering on high carbon choices, according to the Climate Change Committee as it released 200 policy recommendations in a progress to Parliament update.
While the rigour of the Climate Change Act helped bring COP26 to the UK, it is not enough for Ministers to point to the Glasgow summit and hope that this will carry the day with the public, the Committee warns. Leadership is required, detail on the steps the UK will take in the coming years, clarity on tax changes and public spending commitments, as well as active engagement with people and businesses across the country.
"It it is hard to discern any comprehensive strategy in the climate plans we have seen in the last 12 months. There are gaps and ambiguities. Climate resilience remains a second-order issue, if it is considered at all. We continue to blunder into high-carbon choices. Our Planning system and other fundamental structures have not been recast to meet our legal and international climate commitments," the update states. "Our message to Government is simple: act quickly – be bold and decisive."
The UK’s record to date is strong in parts, but it has fallen behind on adapting to the changing climate and not yet provided a coherent plan to reduce emissions in the critical decade ahead, according to the Committee.
- Statutory framework for climate The UK has a strong climate framework under the Climate Change Act (2008), with legally-binding emissions targets, a process to integrate climate risks into policy, and a central role for independent evidence-based advice and monitoring. This model has inspired similarclimate legislation across the world.
- Emissions targets The UK has adopted ambitious territorial emissions targets aligned to the Paris Agreement: the Sixth Carbon Budget requires an emissions reduction of 63% from 2019 to 2035, on the way to Net Zero by 2050. These are comprehensive targets covering all greenhouse gases and all sectors, including international aviation and shipping.
- Emissions reduction The UK has a leading record in reducing its own emissions: down by 40% from 1990 to 2019, the largest reduction in the G20, while growing the economy (GDP increased by 78% from 1990 to 2019). The rate of reductions since 2012 (of around 20 MtCO2e annually) is comparable to that needed in the future.
- Climate Risk and Adaptation The UK has undertaken three comprehensive assessments of the climate risks it faces, and the Government has published plans for adapting to those risks. There have been some actions in response, notably in tackling flooding and water scarcity, but overall progress in planning and delivering adaptation is not keeping up with increasing risk. The UK is less prepared for the changing climate now than it was when the previous risk assessment was published five years ago.
- Climate finance The UK has been a strong contributor to international climate finance, having recently doubled its commitment to £11.6 billion in aggregate over 2021/22 to 2025/26. This spend is split between support for cutting emissions and support for adaptation, which is important given significant underfunding of adaptation globally. However, recent cuts to the UK’s overseas aid are undermining these commitments.
In a separate comment, it said the Prime Minister’s Ten-Point Plan was an important statement of ambition, but it has yet to be backed with firm policies.
Baroness Brown, Chair of the Adaptation Committee said: “The UK is leading in diagnosis but lagging in policy and action. This cannot be put off further. We cannot deliver Net Zero without serious action on adaptation. We need action now, followed by a National Adaptation Programme that must be more ambitious; more comprehensive; and better focussed on implementation than its predecessors, to improve national resilience to climate change.”
Priority recommendations for 2021 include setting out capacity and usage requirements for Energy from Waste consistent with plans to improve recycling and waste prevention, and issue guidance to align local authority waste contracts and planning policy to these targets; develop (with DIT) the option of applying either border carbon tariffs or minimum standards to imports of selected embedded-emission-intense industrial and agricultural products and fuels; and implement a public engagement programme about national adaptation objectives, acceptable levels of risk, desired resilience standards, how to address inequalities, and responsibilities across society.
Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner said the report is another reminder that if the UK is to meet its ambitious climate targets there is an urgent need to scale up bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).
"As the world’s leading generator and supplier of sustainable bioenergy there is no better place to deliver BECCS at scale than at Drax in the UK. We are ready to invest in and deliver this world-leading green technology, which would support clean growth in the north of England, create tens of thousands of jobs and put the UK at the forefront of combatting climate change."
Drax Group is kickstarting the planning process to build a new underground pumped hydro storage power station – more than doubling the electricity generating capacity at its iconic Cruachan facility in Scotland. The 600MW power station will be located inside Ben Cruachan – Argyll’s highest mountain – and increase the site’s total capacity to 1.04GW (click here).
Lockdown measures led to a record decrease in UK emissions in 2020 of 13% from the previous year. The largest falls were in aviation (-60%), shipping (-24%) and surface transport (-18%). While some of this change could persist (e.g. business travellers accounted for 15-25% of UK air passengers before the pandemic), much is already rebounding with HGV and van travel back to pre-pandemic levels, while car use, which at one point was down by two-thirds, only 20% below pre-pandemic levels.