Across Europe, town and city councils are becoming increasingly interested in energy decentralization, i.e. in producing power closer to where it is consumed, which could reduce energy costs for citizens who already feel their economic backs being broken by political beliefs about alternative energy that doesn't involve nuclear.

Heidelberg is a city in Germany with a long-running energy company that has managed to keep costs lower than centralized schemes. The city-owned company is responsible for managing gas, heating, and the water and sewage systems. They even have a plan to migrate more to renewables in the future.

The Municipality has developed a new urban area, Bahnstadt, that is 100% CO2 free. “The buildings are very energy efficient and the resources used to serve this area are 100 % renewable. We have noticed that the energy demand of the flats’ owners has fallen dramatically,” adds the mayor of Heidelberg. All the buildings in Bahnstadt are constructed to ‘passive house’ standards. This construction concept allows the inhabitants to cut their energy consumption for heating by 80% compared to normal houses.

Photo credit: Riccardo Annandale

Energy is generally inexpensive in Sweden since there is a long tradition of cities supplying citizens with affordable home-grown power. In addition, prices are kept low by the large choice of energy companies – around 300 – on the market today.

Växjö is no exception and governs its energy policy and resources independently. “We own our biomass plant, where we produce electricity, heating and cooling, and for 20 years we have been using only bio-energy. Actually the entire city is heated with bio-energy,” says mayor Bo Frank. He adds that the city also owns facilities for biogas production. “Each citizen is more or less required to put all organic waste in a separate container. We use that organic waste to produce biogas for all public transport,” explains Frank. The city promotes public transport to limit the number of cars in the city center. “We encourage people and companies to buy electric cars. All cars owned by the Municipality are environmentally-friendly.”

In Grenoble, private businesses sell electricity to under 20% of the population. “Private stakeholders are only interested in the financial aspect, whereas local energy suppliers also take into account the social, environmental and spatial dimensions of cities,” says deputy mayor Vincent Fristot. He adds that the Municipality can offer specific support to people who are unable to pay their electricity bills. It involves allowing citizens to pay in installments or to fit home devices with low-power consumption.

Besides the social benefits granted to citizens, the local energy supplier in Grenoble has invested in renewable facilities, such as wind turbines and photovoltaic panels. “It was very important for us to be able to supply green energy at the best possible price, which can compete with private energy companies,” emphasizes Fristot.