15 Cities Aiming for 100% Clean Energy

Wind turbines in Copenhagen, Denmark
Wind turbines in Copenhagen, Denmark. Alexander Spatari / Getty Images

The Paris Climate Change Agreement, signed by 194 states and the European Union, calls for a 70% reduction in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2050, and studies show that clean energy could achieve at least 90% of that goal. In response, cities all around the world are turning to zero-carbon and renewable energy sources, and some are even going above and beyond.

According to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), an international non-profit helping companies and cities disclose their environmental impact, over 100 of the 620 involved in the program get at least 70% of their electricity from renewable sources.

Whether it's through investments in solar, wind, hydropower, and even geothermal or bioenergy, the clean energy industry has the power to generate lucrative economic activity and help the world lighten its carbon footprint. These are just some of the cities aiming for 100% clean energy.

1. Copenhagen, Denmark

Nyhavn Canal in Copenhagen, Denmark
Alongkot Sumritjearapol / Getty Images

Copenhagen has famously pledged to become the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by the year 2025, and the city is already well on its way despite a constantly growing population.

One of the biggest resources in the ambitious goal comes in the form of a smart energy lighthouse and research institution called EnergyLab Nordhavn, concentrated around the city’s emerging Nordhavn district. The lab is focused on demonstrating that energy-efficient energy methods can be integrated into a single intelligently optimized system for the city.

Copenhagen also boasts a seawater-based district heating and cooling system with the potential to keep about 80,000 tons of CO2 out of the city’s direct atmosphere.

2. Munich, Germany

Munich, the capital of Germany, with the alps in the background
bkindler / Getty Images

Back in 2014, the city of Munich promised 100% clean electricity by 2025 and invested at least 9 billion euros in various clean energy projects around the city. At the time, the city of just under 1.5 million residents was already working on its sustainability with unique features like elephant dung to generate electricity at the Munich Zoo.

Newer projects included a hydropower plant on the Isar River with enough yield to power 4,000 homes each year, and local businesses, like the Hofbräuhaus beer hall, switching to green energy. The city’s utility company, Stadtwerke München, is even investing in a solar heating plant in Spain and an offshore wind farm in the North Sea to help supplement its clean energy needs.

3. Barcelona, Spain

Solar Array at Port Forum, Barcelona, Spain.
Glenn Ross Images / Getty Images

Spain’s second-most populated city has its sights set on total energy self-sufficiency by 2050, which may not come easy considering its high concentration of residents in busy urban areas.

Still, Barcelona has a pretty solid plan, concentrating its efforts on solar energy, small-scale wind power, and district heating. Barcelona also had a head start compared to other similarly sized cities, since it first adopted a thermal solar ordinance all the way back in 1999, extending it to PV solar energy later in 2011.

4. Yackandandah, Australia

Quiet park in the town of Yackandandah, Australia
Southern Lightscapes-Australia / Getty Images

Encouraged by larger Australian cities like Sydney, which went 100% renewable in 2020, and Adelaide, whose business operations achieved carbon neutrality the same year, the tiny tourist town of Yackandandah (population: 950) is taking matters into its own hands within the community.

Totally Renewable Yackandandah is a volunteer run community group that formed in 2014 with a common goal of powering their town with 100% renewable energy by 2022. Plans to achieve “energy sovereignty” include solar installments at the residential level and a mini grid to connect the community.

5. Frankfurt, Germany

The city of Frankfurt, Germany at sunrise
Anton Petrus / Getty Images

Frankfurt has been a leader in sustainability for decades—the city created its local energy office in 1983 and adopted a list of 50 measures to fight climate change in 2008.

It was also one of the first cities in Germany to establish a master plan aimed at achieving 100% renewable energy by the year 2050, known as “Masterplan 100% Klimaschutz,” in 2015. Part of the plan requires a 50% reduction in energy use through building retrofitting and the development of a circular economy, while the remaining half will be split between renewable energy projects within the city and the metropolitan area.

6. Honolulu, United States

Waikiki, Honolulu skyline in Hawaii

Jesse Warren / Getty Images

Hawaii’s capital city of Honolulu is using the abundance of unique renewable energy sources provided by the islands, such as hydro and ocean energy, solar energy, and wind energy, to become 100% renewable by 2045.

They also utilize biofuels, biomass, and geothermal technologies to maximize their self-sufficiency.  In 2020, the city had already achieved 34.5% renewable energy thanks to higher solar energy and wind production, as well as lower consumer demand, exceeding the state requirement to reach 30% that same year. Not only that, but Honolulu also tripled its amount of renewable energy over a 10-year period, up from 10% in 2010.

7. Malmö, Sweden

Skyline of Malmo, Sweden with the Turning Torso Building

Allard Schager / Getty Images

Malmö, a historic city on the southern coast of Sweden, is on track to become climate neutral with municipal operations running off 100% renewable energy by 2030.

The city’s Western Harbour District has already been operating at 100% renewable since 2012, while the more industrial region of Augustenborg has a solar thermal panel that connects the area to a centralized heating system. By 2022, the city hopes to complete construction on a geothermal deep-heat plant, and by 2028, they plan to have at least four more in operation.

8. San Francisco, United States

The LEED-certified Academy of Sciences building in San Francisco, California
The LEED-certified Academy of Sciences building in San Francisco, California. Kim Steele / Getty Images

When governor of California Gavin Newsom held the position of San Francisco city mayor, he challenged the city to have 100% of its electricity demand be met with renewable energy sources like solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, biomass, and biofuel.

The city offers residents plenty of projects aimed at reducing non-renewable energy dependency, such as CleanPowerSF on the community level to help residents and businesses lower utility bills, and GreenFinanceSF, which allows commercial property owners opportunities to finance renewable energy projects.

Using a federal grant, San Francisco’s Solar+Storage program is also working to create solar storage installations for times when the electric grid goes down.

9. San Jose, Costa Rica

Aerial view of San Jose, Costa Rica
Gianfranco Vivi / Getty Images

The Costa Rican capital is taking the lead when it comes to the country’s clean energy goals. Already, between 95% and 98% of its electricity comes from renewable sources—and has done so since 2014.

The challenge for San Jose lies in the other types of energy consumption, since 70% of its overall energy for activities like transportation and cooking still comes from oil and gas. Apart from becoming 100% renewable in all of its energy sources, the entire country of Costa Rica is aiming to eliminate its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

10. Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto Station in Kyoto, Japan
Kyoto Station in Kyoto, Japan. Allan Baxter / Getty Images

In 2021, BYD Japan Co., Ltd., Keihan Bus Co., Ltd., and The Kansai Electric Power Co., Inc. announced a partnership deal to help Kyoto achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Also in 2021, the three companies launched four electric buses on one of the city’s most famous sightseeing bus lines from Kyoto Station. The project marked the beginning of a five-year plan to demonstrate the merits of electric public transportation in Japan and will become the first loop line in the country to be operated solely by electric vehicles.

11. Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik, Iceland skyline
Istvan Kadar Photography / Getty Images

Although all of Reykjavik’s electricity is already generated with hydroelectric power, its residential homes are all heated with geothermal energy, and its district heating energy releases no greenhouse gas emissions, the city has no plans to stop there.

By 2030, the goal is to raise the ratio of pedestrians and cyclists to over 30%, and by 2040, the city will aim to be completely carbon neutral. First, the city council plans to implement a number of measures to reduce carbon emissions by nearly 300,000 tons by 2030, including making the city more walkable, promoting green structures, and creating carbon sequestration programs.

12. Oslo, Norway

The Bjorvika district is Oslo, Norway
Westend61 / Getty Images

Oslo was sourcing at least 60% of the energy used in its public transport with hydroelectric power back in 2014, which certainly isn’t surprising considering the Norweigan capital has a bustling waterfront that helps to focus its economy on shipping trades.

The heating system for the large city (it's the most populous in Norway) is currently powered by 80% renewable energy, mainly sourced from residual waste biomass.

In addition, Oslo aims to become 100% carbon neutral by 2050, directing renewable energy initiatives toward increasing the number of fossil-free hydrogen-powered vehicles in the public transportation system and developing infrastructure for biogas, hydrogen, and electric vehicles.

13. Vancouver, Canada

Downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Feng Wei Photography / Getty Images

Vancouver is bringing a range of different sectors, stakeholders, and communities together with the common goal of becoming 100% renewable by 2050. Much of the plan comes down to fossil fuels, from which about 69% of the city’s energy is sourced (half goes to heating buildings).

In addition to retrofitting 20 of the 75 largest GHG emitting municipal buildings to a zero-emissions standard over the next 25 years, the city is phasing out unsustainable building standards over the next 10 years. The time frame is designed to give the construction industries time to adapt, helping to rescue 90% of emissions from new buildings by 2025 and 100% by 2030.

14. Auckland, New Zealand

Downtown Auckland, New Zealand in the early morning
Matteo Colombo / Getty Images

New Zealand is no stranger to being a world leader in sustainability, so it came as little surprise when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pledged to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2030 and net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The government is investing $30 million dollars towards hydro pump storage to supplement its current hydropower system, which already accounts for 60% of its current renewable electricity generation. The storage facility would pump river or lake water into a reservoir to be released when needed, such as during particularly dry years when water bodies used for hydro are low, and generate electricity.

15. Cape Town, South Africa

Aerial view of Cape Town, South Africa
Christopher Loh / Getty Images

When it comes to South Africa as a whole, a good 85% of the country’s electricity is powered by coal. The capital city of Cape Town has developed its own legislation to set an example for the rest of the country, and hopefully help speed up the transition to low carbon.

By implementing a “Small Scale Energy Generation” program, the city is promoting independent local power production; participants can connect their renewable energy system—such as rooftop solar panels and small wind turbines—into the city’s grid and exchange excess energy for credit.

View Article Sources
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