How to transform urban energy systems

Sustainable Urban Energy Systems Conference 2018Sustainable Urban Energy Systems Conference 2018

How to transform urban energy systems

TU Delft hosted the Sustainable Urban Energy Systems Conference on the 8th and 9th of November 2018. An international event that focussed on the technological prospects, citizen involvement and governance arrangements in the field of urban energy systems. Because: ambitious climate change targets can only be realized by transforming urban energy systems into smart low carbon energy systems.

According to Christine Milchram, one of the fifteen organizers in the committee, the congress was a success. ‘Participants said it had been helpful for their research and for building their network.’ She adds: ‘There were lively discussions of high quality in small groups. And it appeared to be possible to work together with people from multiple disciplines and speak a common language. Challenging, but enriching and necessary.’

Multi-disciplinary approach

The conference had a multi-disciplinary approach and explored the technological, economical, ethical, behavioural, governmental and public policy aspects of analysing and designing urban energy systems. It aimed at highlighting current trends and issues affecting urban energy systems.

The organizing committee brought together more than 150 researchers, entrepreneurs and policy makers from more than 90 organizations and 16 countries: Europe, but also the Emirates and Canada. They were in Delft to share and showcase projects on this important topic.

Keynote speakers

Leading academics and practitioners in the field of urban energy systems shared their knowledge.

  • Prof. Benjamin Sovacool (University of Sussex) – Conceptual Frameworks and New Frontiers in Energy Justice
  • Prof. Peter Palensky (Delft University of Technology) – Modelling Smart Grids
  • Drs. Erik ten Elshof (Ministry of Economic Affairs, Netherlands) – Sustainable Urban Energy Systems in the Perspective of Dutch Regional Energy Strategies
  • Mr. Siward Zomer (Director of ODE decentraal, Chairman De Windvogel and – The Role of Community Energy in Cities

Some key insights from the conference’s wrap-up, according to Christine Milchram

> System integration, and the social embracement of it, is key for the energy transition
The integration of electricity, heat, and transport systems is essential. At the same time it is challenging from multiple perspectives: first of all technically, and also in terms of social embracement. It is a task of scientists to make this integration process comprehensible and accessible for the broader public.

> More prosumers – and inclusion
Prosumerism needs to be mainstream. This is still a long way to go – challenges are behavioural, institutional, and technical. One way to address them is to create a strong position for renewable energy cooperatives in the transition. However, the growing role of these energy cooperatives causes tension with the established players in the energy system.

The solutions lies in looking for an integration of the cooperatives in the current energy relations. Note: energy cooperatives themselves should also become more inclusive than they are now.

> Citizen involvement is necessary, but open questions remain
Prosumerism and energy cooperatives are ways in which citizens get involved in the energy transition. This is necessary, but also raises further questions like: What is energy democracy and to what extent is it possible and do we want to have energy democracy in future urban energy systems? How does it relate to stability on the grid? How does it impact the technical operation of the infrastructures?

Why are urban energy systems important when we address sustainability in the energy system as a whole?

– Cities are major energy users
Increasing urbanization and growing population density makes them even more relevant.

– Urban energy use does not stand alone from the rural environment
Growing urban energy demand has impact on rural areas if the energy is produced there; they are interlinked.

– Cities form alliances to combat climate change

– Cities can be change agents
Cities are gaining more administrative and political power. Because as their wealth increases, they become more powerful.

In thinking about how to change urban energy systems, we should take into account that…

Sustainability for cities is also about reimagining living in future urban spaces. Whether it is about how we move, work, produce our food or enjoy our precious free time, it is all closely connected. The energy we use is only one part of that. This reimagination needs to happen in a way that is communal, bottom-up, democratic and inclusive.

Also: no greenwashing. So don’t use ‘sustainability’, ‘smart’, or ‘green’ as just an – empty – marketing label for a city. 

Last but not least: focus needs to be put on action instead of words.

Read more details about the conference.

Questions? Contact the conference organizers at