Quick Take: If you are based in the United States, you may not have noticed this trend. I spotted it because I serve as the Chairman of the Smart Cities Council. That puts me in touch with urban trends from around the world. Such as the powerful move in Europe to dramatically reduce carbon emissions.

 And how does Europe plan to achieve this? First and foremost, by dramatically reducing how much power they use. Second, by insisting that most (or even all!) of that power come from clean sources. If this trend catches on in the U.S., it will mean a wrenching change for today’s “traditional” utilities. They’ll have to radically increase their use of renewable energy, with all the cost increases that implies. Yet they’ll be selling far less electricity, with all the revenue decreases that implies. Spend more. Make less.

Today, most American cities trail behind their European counterparts in their energy efficiency and renewables ambitions. Tomorrow, they may look and act more like the two European cities described below. Both of them want to get 100% of their energy from renewables (counting hydro). Even if they have to “force” their utilities to make the investment.   – By Jesse Berst

 Malmo — from dirty and decaying to clean and carbon-neutral

Malmo is Sweden’s third largest city with a population north of 300,000. It formerly included decaying industrial areas such as the Vastra Hamnen district. As documented by the Rocky Mountain Institute, it is converting the area to a work/live center powered by 100% renewable energy.

The area features a residential housing project that gets 99% of its electricity from on-site wind and solar. It also has an innovative district heating and cooling system, according to RMI. “In the summer, cold water from the previous winter—stored 90 meters underground in aquifers—is pumped up (by wind-powered electricity) and run through a heat pump for district cooling. Once the water is heated it is pumped back down into the aquifers where it is stored for heating buildings in the winter. Over the course of a year over 5 million kWh of heat and 3 million kWh of cooling is produced.”

Malmo currently gets 30% of its energy from renewable sources, but its goal is 100% by 2030.

 Munich — the first 100% renewable big city?

Munich is aiming to produce enough green electricity at its own plants by 2025 to meet the power requirements of the entire municipality of Munich — at least 7.5 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) per year. This would make Munich the first city in the world with over 1 million inhabitants to achieve this goal.With a population of 1.35 million, Munich is the third largest city in Germany and one of the country’s most important economic hubs. In 2009 the city set the ambitious goal of achieving 100% renewable energy supply by 2025. As a result of those efforts, Munich recently won the Green Energy category at the inaugural C40 & Siemens City Climate Leadership Awards.


E-bike in Munich


 “We forced our utilities company… to invest in renewable energy,” Hep Monatzeder, the former mayor of Munich, told CNBC’s Innovation Cities. “All the other big cities have to go this way, otherwise we will not protect the earth,” Monatzeder added.

The city-owned utility has also recently opened a virtual power plant — a network of several small-scale energy plants which are pooled and operated like a single system.

 Jesse Berst is the founder and Chief Analyst of SGN and Chairman of the Smart Cities Council, an industry coalition.