Urban-LEDS II City in Focus Series

The Urban-LEDS II project has set out to define different low emission, resilient, green, and inclusive urban development pathways with and for cities. But what does transitioning into a low emission future mean for daily life and operational planning in our cities? In our City in Focus series, we will take a closer look at some of those actions that are translating sustainability goals into experience-able practices. In our series we will follow a different city each month, bringing those sustainable solutions and initiatives to the forefront that are already reshaping our cities today.

Living the affordable energy transition dream

How Aalborg is advancing to become fossil fuel free by 2050

As modern societies we need energy for almost all aspects of our daily lives. Be it for transportation, manufacturing, charging our phones or illuminating and heating our homes, our demand for energy is ever growing. And so is the challenge to cut emissions from energy consumption. Thus, a successful energy transition not only has the potential to reshape geopolitical coordinate systems and the global economy, but is a priority area for Urban-LEDS cities to accelerate their low emission development.

When looking for ambitious examples of redesigning local energy supply systems, city planners need to look no further than the Danish municipality of Aalborg. Aiming to become 100% fossil fuel free by 2050, Aalborg’s ~220,000 citizens are no strangers to a set of ambitious initiatives. Below, we will explore some of the key aspects that are enabling Denmark’s third largest municipality to transition towards a carbon free future!

The Danish Example – (District) energy efficiency first

In a policy area as closely interlinked as energy, the national regulations and policies in place are no small fee for what ambition, scope and resources are needed to decarbonise local energy supply. As internationally recognised frontrunner of a green energy transition, known in Denmark as “grønne omstilling”, Denmark has demonstrated high continuity of national energy objectives and consent across governments in recent years. With a national objective to become fossil free by 2050, national ambitions have also been setting the scene for Aalborg’s local energy transition.

Reflecting national energy policy trends, Aalborg has been moving its strategic energy and heat planning forward already since the late 1980s, with a focus on district thermal network solutions. As a result, the extensive district network is now covering around 80 % of the municipalities’ heat demand. By 2050, networks are even set to cover up to 85-90% of net heat demand. Providing for flexibility in integrating volatile renewable sources, the thermal networks are an important backbone of the city’s energy action plan (2011-2030) and its ‘Energi Vision 2050’. As such, a mix of renewable heat and cold sources, including local biomass, wind, solar, heat pumps, waste and geothermal heat, as well as an envisaged total of 40-50% in energy savings is foreseen to bring down emissions from the network in the future. Aalborg network companies are thus required to increase energy savings by approximately 2% in supply annually. While the costs of the conversion are expected to stay in line with those of the current system, additional investments are foreseen to go into energy conservation and increasing efficiency in coming years.

All on board for the green transition

For a fossil free Aalborg 2050, the municipality approaches and promotes its energy transition as an integral part of a wider Sustainability Strategy. Already back in 1994 the city approved the Aalborg Charter during the first Sustainable Cities and Towns conference, as its political framework for sustainable development. By that Aalborg not only prepared the ground for a variety of European movements, such as the Aalborg Commitments and the Sustainable Cities Platform, but also set a trend for its local transition. The current strategy was formulated in close consultation with citizens, civil society, educational institutions, business and industry, with the aim to make sustainability an accepted principle in private, professional and public life of Aalborg’s citizens.

The central point for Aalborg’s cooperation with business and citizens is the Centre for Green Transition created in 2013. The center is an umbrella organisation for sustainability projects and partnerships, supporting initiatives such as a Green Agents program and a Green Shops scheme to embed sustainability in daily life. For sustaining competitiveness in the transition, the city and its university are identifying and supporting green innovation projects amongst a growing network of local companies. Complementary, Aalborg’s citizens are encouraged to take an active part in the transition through regular household energy saving support campaigns, competitions for neighbourhood energy saving rates and the highly popular annual sustainability festival.

Its motivational and encompassing concept to support climate friendly behaviour in the public and private sector, and the longstanding, forward looking approach to energy planning, put the municipality on track for a fossil free energy system. The example of Aalborg shows that even though change does not happen overnight, ambitious agenda setting, and sustainability as a principle approach in city planning, have the ability to transform the operation of an entire city and to turn the carbon free vision into a feasible reality. 


For further details and reading consult our sources:

More on Aalborg and its energy transition, energy strategy and sustainability initiatives

State of Green, City of Aalborg: https://stateofgreen.com/en/partners/city-of-aalborg-helps-develop-concepts-of-sustainable-cities/

State of Green, Center for Energy Transition: https://stateofgreen.com/en/partners/city-of-aalborg-helps-develop-concepts-of-sustainable-cities/solutions/center-for-green-transition/

State of Green, District Heating and Cooling in Aalborg: https://stateofgreen.com/en/partners/city-of-aalborg-helps-develop-concepts-of-sustainable-cities/solutions/energy-efficient-heating-and-cooling/

Invest in Aalborg, Denmark’s most energetic city: http://investinaalborg.dk/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Energy-white-paper.pdf

Aalborg Kommune, Energistrategi for Aalborg Kommune frem til 2030: https://www.aalborg.dk/media/4021849/energistrategi_for_aalborg_kommune_frem_til_2030_-_endelig_udgave__skrivebeskyttet_-1.pdf

Aalborg Kommune, Climate strategy 2012-2015 Mitigation: https://mycovenant.eumayors.eu/docs/seap/20581_1412589503.pdf

HotMaps project, Aalborg profile: https://www.hotmaps-project.eu/aalborg/Energy Cities

More on Danish and international to local energy policy

Agora Energiewende, Snapshot of the Danish Energy Transition (2015): https://www.agora-energiewende.de/fileadmin2/Projekte/2015/integration-variabler-erneuerbarer-energien-daenemark/Agora_Snapshot_of_the_Danish_Energy_Transition_WEB.pdf

Energy Cities, Cities heading towards 100% renewable energy (2016): https://energy-cities.eu/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/publi_100pourcent_final-web_en.pdf

Energy Cities, The Energy Transition Chronicles (2016): https://energy-cities.eu/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/chroniqueste_complet_en.pdf

Foresight. Climate & Energy, The path to emissions-free district heating in Denmark: https://foresightdk.com/the-path-to-emissions-free-district-heating-in-denmark/