From the 28 – 29 October 2019, AREA 21 co-chaired a session at the “Strategy Forum” which took place in St. Petersburg, Russia. Since 2002, the conference has been organized annually and has brought together more than 1000 delegates from different countries. At the Forum, stakeholders from a variety of backgrounds convened to discuss current trends and opportunities for regional and urban development. Participants covered political and administrative stakeholders from national, regional and municipal levels, businesses, NGOs and academia.

AREA 21’s session at the 2019 Forum focused on the potentials and barriers for strategic energy planning in urban districts. The event was opened by an engaging keynote speech by Kaisa-Reeta Koskiinen from the City of Helsinki about local approaches to energy transition. She shared the City of Helsinki’s ambitious aim at becoming carbon neutral by 2035, challenged by the city’s emissions from heating which make up more than half of total emissions. To tackle this challenge, Helsinki aspires to reduce heat consumption by 20% (2018-2035) and district heat consumption by 30% (2018-2035) while increasing geothermal power and solar power from 0,5 % to 15% each (2018-2035).

Following the inspiring address, the first block of workshops took place with a focus on learning from international good practices. The workshop explored perspectives and involvement of local governments, building managers and energy end-users in energy planning processes. A series of contributions by the EU-financed projects ActNOW, Effect4Buildings and eTEACHER demonstrated good practice examples and approaches to promote energy efficiency in building stocks.

The project ACTNow was represented by Adam Cenian from the Szewalski Institute, who explained how the project fosters capacity building with municipal employees. The project’s aim is to help municipal staff involved in energy efficiency measures by improving their knowledge about energy losses, competences for preparing investments, and skills to stimulate private investments in energy efficiency.

Effect4Buildings was introduced by Marit Ragnarsson from the County Board of Dalarna. The project aims at developing financial tools to support energy savings, targeting public building managers. While buildings are responsible for a large share of emissions, many of them need retrofitting as currently only three percent of all buildings in the EU fall under energy class “A”. During her presentation, Marit Ragnarsson introduced the financial tools developed by the project and elaborated on approaches such as prosumerism, green leasing contracts or energy performance contracts.

Ashley Morton from De Montfort University Leicester spoke about the potential of ICT tools for awareness-raising and behaviour change among end-users in terms of energy saving, which is at the core of the project eTEACHER. Many of the findings from the project seem relevant for ICT Tools that are being developed in AREA 21, including research on challenges and barriers such as long-term user engagement, as well as the user functionality of tools.

To conclude the first part of the workshop, Jörg Knieling from HafenCity University Hamburg introduced AREA 21 and the Energy Improvement District (EID) concept. He emphasized the added value of the concept, namely its potential to bring different types of stakeholders together and to promote a district level perspective for energy planning processes, sharing experiences from the establishment of cooperation processes in the partner cities so far.

The second workshop block involved a panel discussion with the aforementioned project representatives, additional guests and AREA 21 project partners (Patrik Hermansson, Yury Nurulin) to explore policy challenges and potentials for the energy transition in European cities. The panellists represented different stakeholder groups (such as energy utilities, public administrations or end-users), which allowed learning more about their specific perspectives on the local energy transition and solutions like the EID concept. The discussion revolved around arguments such as the lack of political commitment as a major hurdle for strategic energy planning as well as the need for overarching legal frameworks to support the energy transition, as it requires coordination and contributions from multiple governance levels and energy stakeholders.

We would like to thank all contributors for an inspiring session. The website of the Strategy Forum features pictures of the session (here) as well as all presentations held during the event (here).