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"Renewable energy and persistence alter all things"

After Benjamin Franklin


Integrated development for China's towns - the sustainability and energy imperative:

Proposal for China Integrated Town Infrastructure and Environment Strategy (CITIES)

P. Droege 1999 - 2008

Preface Urban development and renewable energy

Section 1 Insulating town development from fossil fuel dependency

Section 2 A fresh approach to integrated development

Section 3 China Integrated Town Infrastructure and Environment Strategy (CITIES)

Summary Renewable energy prospects for sustainable town development




Urban development and renewable energy

Towns and cities are a growing focus for international energy policy, especially when aimed at emissions reduction through greater efficiency as well as the innovation and promotion of appropriate technologies. The International Solar City Program (‘Solar City’) proposes the China Integrated Town Infrastructure & Environment Strategy (CITIES). Solar City is an international effort that seeks to help achieve national development aims through planned, absolute emissions reductions based on quantified base information. Part of its approach relies on a global model for equity-based emissions control which implies a reduction for industrialized countries, and scope for a growth-supporting increase in many less developed nations, including China (Byrne). The urban focus has several reasons.

Advanced energy policy such as it has been promulgated in China for well over a decade is characterized by a drive towards increasing efficiency, a hallmark of a progressed stage in development and international competitiveness. Inevitably on the rise will also be a increasing move to renewable or sustainable forms of energy, in light of the rising economic and health costs of air pollution and a mounting struggle for an effective climate response. Contemporary energy policy also faces the need to simultaneously address supply and demand, and take top-down as well as bottom-up approaches. It also seeks to seize the positive opportunities stemming from market liberalization, while harnessing those of technological change.

The argument that towns, cities and city regions are likely to be a crucial and fertile ground for effective energy policy, programs and projects is founded on three premises. The first is people. People are powerful drivers of change, and not only by making up the markets for energy services and products. An increasing portion of people lives in cities: we live in a rapidly urbanizing world indeed. The most conservative estimates suggest that in China the portion of permanent and migrant city dwellers will rise from a third to almost half of the country's population in the next ten years.

Second, urban communities are not only powerful markets but also the national and regional seats of political power, and the core settings of cultural discourse and technological innovation. They also construct the administrative frameworks for development: local government, planning structures and the powerful civic organizations that are so important in many cultural contexts, including China.

Finally, the uncontrolled growth of modern city, town and village networks and other regional agglomerations has been driven by an abundant supply of modern fuels, yielding urban structures and patterns that were inconceivable without the resultant transport, construction machinery and industrial manufacturing processes. Intensive and intensely powered economies and labor markets sprung up around the centralized and networked urban regions anchored by heavy investments in infrastructure: power, transport and communications - ever more bolstering their primacy over non-urban hinterlands. The new urban centers of the 19th and 20th centuries - and the very cultures they engendered - were a product of fossil fuels: coal, oil and gas. London exploded with coal-fired power, pre- and post-WW II modern city innovations in the Soviet Union, the United States, Europe and coastal China alike were literally jump-started by the electrifying jolt of the new energy technologies. Los Angeles is known as perhaps the ultimate petroleum city, its sprawl entirely driven by the combustion engine and air conditioning. Because of this central significance of cities and their utter dependence on abundant albeit transitory fuel supplies, the manner in which renewable energy strategies are being played out is of crucial importance for the future of global civilization and local urban settings. World-wide, the very dynamic and nature of urbanization will have to change.

Towns in the 21st century face the evaporation of fossil fuel resources, and, being where many people live and intensely interact socially, politically, economically and culturally, they also face increasingly intense local action, in a search for improvement of the local environment, and to combat global environmental challenges, such as atmospheric destabilization. Business, industry, science, technology and governments are challenged to respond and deliver solutions. It is here where Solar City aims to link local agendas and national frameworks to international challenges and resources.

China’s towns face momentous opportunities in the inexorable change from the risky and costly systems of fossil power reticulation to a world of sustainable, affordable, diverse and ultimately ubiquitous energy management. The aspiration is one of growing choice in scales of operation and levels of technological sophistication. Fundamental changes in urban power regimes that are in keeping with sustainable development practices promise to revitalize regional and rural development, as well as boost urban business and technological innovation. And by pursuing energy reform strategies in keeping with globally sustainable greenhouse gas emission levels, local urban leaders can also act globally by helping achieve greater equity and justice in international development.

Section 1

Insulating town development from fossil fuel dependency

Fresh approaches to town planning are emerging world-wide. These are based on the realization that the days of relatively problem-free power generation methods as a platform for urban development are numbered, eliminating the illusion that past approaches to development paths still will hold true in the future. These fresh approaches challenge national and international institutions to revisit the established local, regional and national patterns of community planning. They also place new demands on multilateral and bilateral aid programs. In China the performance criteria of designing such approaches are clear: it will have to be comprehensive, affordable and replicable. The proposed The China Integrated Town Infrastructure and Environment Strategy (CITIES) program is to help integrate solar and other renewable energy technologies in Chinese towns and cities, along with energy conservation and efficiency measures, with the dual aim of maintaining sustainable emission levels and lower reliance on fossil fuel.

While fossil fuel supplies are a presently essential feature of urban development practice, these are for the purpose of long-term development an at best unreliable and increasingly undesirable basis for growth. Globally, nationally and locally sustainable forms of development must be squarely based on renewable or sustainable forms of energy supply. The realization is growing that energy is not merely just another sectoral concern, but underlies all aspects of economic and physical development.

Most aspects of rural decline, unsustainable land use practices, desertification, reduced bio-diversity, water pollution, deforestation, urban and rural poverty and uncontrolled urbanization are either brought about or significantly contributed to by the conditions engendered by centralized, fossil-fuel or nuclear powered electricity production, its enormous costs and serious limitations. Most towns and cities that are being developed and built today under the fossil-fuel paradigm will be fundamentally outdated and become unmanageable within this generation, threatening a massive crisis in just a few decades from now, when the conditions underlying contemporary urbanization patterns will have dramatically altered.

To face this historical challenge planners in a number of cities, towns and urban regions have begun to link renewable energy objectives to planning and community development aims. As a result, new opportunities in infrastructure, built fabric, land use, urban form and regional development are being discovered while efforts to mitigate greenhouse-gas induced global warming have redoubled the resolve behind these initiatives. In this new world of development, China is well placed to become a global leader in innovative, sustainable forms of urban development, here and throughout the developing world.

China’s smaller town communities can take advantage of the opportunities brought about by this new set of circumstances. These not only spark local business and industrial innovational impulses but also deliver rediscovered value and productivity to the regional rural economies surrounding the settlement centers. In China, this means that an integrated approach to whole-of-town planning can be embraced, one that rallies institutional, land-use, transport, facility and construction planning around the increasingly central issue of renewable energy management.

Section 2

A fresh approach to integrated development

China is among of the world’s top three energy consumers and producers. Its largely coal-fired economy consumes ten percent of the world’s primary energy supply, with an emissions rate to match. The challenge is both national and regional: the great diversity of China’s provincial and regional realities makes it necessary to work towards a nationally integrated energy policy with the help of locally meaningful and fully integrated town and rural development strategies.

Therefore, to focus on China’s town development as integral part of national resource sustainability and self-sufficiency strategies makes good sense, in addition to local and regional environmental benefits. In 1997, close to one-third of China’s population officially lived in urban areas at an urbanization rate of 32%; this figure is to rise to 45% by 2010 (Cyon). Actual urbanization figures become considerably higher when applying criteria that include the de-facto urban but statistically rural component of the population. Energy is significantly consumed in cities and towns, while the very form of energy supply adds a destructive side to growth, rendering it unsustainable both in the short and long term. Traditional electrification schemes based on outdated fossil fuel plants not only wreak damage in air pollution locally, regionally and nationally but also detach rural areas from towns and other forms of urban agglomeration.

This fossil-fuel induced segregation of town and rural context has its mirror in the separation of the sub-disciplines that make up modern town planning. Sewerage, water supply, power, transport, land use planning, building regulations and agricultural planning are managed in isolation from one another. Both are among the root causes of unsustainable development. By contrast, traditional forms of town development often depend on the very linkage between these elements. It is telling that modern sustainable approaches to urban management begin to re-establish these in some way. In this new approach waste disposal through recycling and other regional resource flow dynamics begin to inform and enrich the local economy. Local energy strategies and best-practice general urban management are not merely linked but identical, due to their increasingly central role in the viability of local economies and ecologies alike.

The mandate for development integration.The need to work toward large-scale energy savings and emissions mitigation requires the systematic integration of renewable energy products, systems and processes in towns and their regions. This has to be done by going beyond individual applications, single structures or limited urban areas, and by translating international and national imperatives onto the level of cities and urban communities, in support of environmental sustainability objectives. It is also important to adopt absolute and globally equitable targets and pursue full integration with core urban management systems.

There are several systems and methods available that attempt to deal with the re-integration of energy and town planning. The China Integrated Town Infrastructure and Environment Strategy (CITIES) proposed in this paper is at once the simplest and most advanced of these. It is based on the Solar City program advanced under the auspices of the International Energy Agency, and can be engaged jointly with and separately from this Program.

Solar in this context is used as a code word, encompassing all forms of renewable energy. ‘Solar City’ represents a third generation of International Energy Agency (IEA) research and development work all truly renewable energy technologies (solar, wind power, hydro-power, certain forms of bio-energy, a number of urban efficiency and conservation techniques) and means of emissions reduction and absorption not only in a coherent spatial and social context, but also applied within a finite and community-wide time-line. This program has begun to work with a number of participating cities, supporting local action. It is proposed to apply the IEA Solar City approach developed by the author in association with international contributors to the town planning system of China. The CITIES approach itself is a concept developed by solarcity.org for the benefit of this conference.

By not duplicating but enhancing existing and related national and local urban development programs and networks CITIES promises to build on a growing momentum world-wide, while adding valuable intelligence, focus and an unequivocal implementation mission nationally and locally. It promises to interface extremely well with international development aid and loan programs.

Solar City, CITIES’ umbrella program, is being developed in co-operation with several other Implementing Agreements within the IEA's broadly structured and self-funding Committee for Energy Research and Technology (CERT) agenda, supported through international non-governmental organizations, and acting in support of related existing networks, including the International Council on Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI). It also is be coordinated on the level of several relevant cross-cutting CERT working parties, including Renewable Energy, End-use Technologies and Information Dissemination.

While the mission of this Program is to advance an integrated set of renewable energy technologies in cities, with the aim to help produce absolute emissions reductions of the extent and time frame required for stabilization of the atmosphere at environmentally sustainable concentrations, this objective is to be developed in harmony with other social, economical and environmental sustainability targets such as local air, soil and water quality, improved urban amenities, high rates of employment and international equity.

Co-operative arrangements with cities and networks.
The program is capable of working as a primary partner in multi-lateral settings of development support, but it also lends itself very well to the construction of inter-town and town-regional support networks, with or without affiliation with international NGO or local government initiatives such as the International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives. World-wide, participating cities today are positioning themselves in Korea, Japan, Africa, Australia, North America and throughout Europe, at all levels of development and in different sizes and developmental categories. The participant areas also range from entire city regions to individual neighborhood projects.

Section 3

China Integrated Town Infrastructure and Environment Strategy (CITIES)

CITIES can act by working collaboratively in all locally relevant institutional contexts.

  • It focuses on the energy supply and technology side, but embedded in a total town planning and design strategy that also includes institutional arrangements.
  • It promotes a community-wide, rural and urban energy and emissions accounting system, as well as performance targets that are linked to town development and reform initiatives.
  • It bases land use strategies on approaches that consider the urban-rural link and value land use and transport investment choices according to their potential contribution to long-range energy and resource self-sufficiency.

The CITIES agenda

The CITIES concept is structured into five thematic areas of inquiry and development. These are proposed to be advanced simultaneously in three to five towns, within nationally defined agendas.

CITIES project 1: sustainable energy focused town planning strategies

CITIES project 2: baseline studies and scenario development 

CITIES project 3: energy technology and business assessment, and

CITIES general investigation program 1: best practice

CITIES general investigation program 2: earning in action.

The Program is structured around three project themes and two general investigation programs to operate across these projects.

CITIES project 1: Renewable energy town reform and development strategies

The objective is to help support the broader sustainable town development agenda in terms of strategy, planning tools, organizational reform, legislation and standards, finance, pricing, taxation and incentive structures, land utilization policies, public information and exemplary municipal practice. Not only is renewable energy development key to local environmental sustainability, it is also critical to see local policies play a significant role in the crucial national advancement of renewable energy.

CITIES promises to achieve this objective by closely working with participating towns and relevant agencies, assessing the current seeds of sustainability planning in these towns as a basis for constructing energy-focused planning arrangements.

Among other measures, these arrangements are to help support a deeper understanding of town-wide energy supply and demand approaches that are integral to urban development; pursue climate-stable practice in building design and construction, land-use planning and infrastructure development; advance household, community and business involvement; and describe how related changes in energy systems benefit economic development and employment.

Planning applications of energy and emissions accounting methods


This method suggests to develop town development growth trajectories, maintaining sustainable CO2-eemissions and fossil fuel use rate goals for 2050, then ‘backcast’ growth milestones for emissions in order to determine emissions reduction rate for each milestone period. The emissions reduction rate is important for the determination of alternative sustainable development paths.

Scenario model

This approach proposes to model the local economy using a simple physical model of the regional economy and vary these to agree with milestones.

Cities Project 2: Town targets, energy base studies and development scenarios

The objective of this CITIES project is to understand the fundamental performance of each pilot town involved, in terms of a range of key indicators, such as emissions, renewable and non-renewable energy use, household consumption patterns, transport modes, public facility cooling and heating, and other indicative urban systems information.

To the extent that these are funded in the context of multilateral support mechanisms individual towns receive assistance to perform simple baseline evaluations. The project will then develop useful comparable scenarios for exploring generic and special future behavioral trajectories of the participating towns along key indicators and in a physical planning sense. The project will also develop means of monitoring progress in real time.

As a point of departure a general framework would define town catchment and populations for emissions accounting; evaluate the existing energy and emissions situation; establish basic global indicators (CO2-e); construct town indicators such as annual emissions output per capita, utilizing appropriate nominal resident or working user populations.

It go further by assembling and correlating basic building stock data; the costs of town energy systems (total life cycle); social data on jobs, health, income structure; while utilizing a basic approach to environmental costs and benefits accounting of energy use patterns.

CITIES Project 3: Town energy technology and business assessment

The objective of this CITIES project is to assess current, emerging and potentially competing technologies, in terms of their relative effectiveness in achieving maximum relative, growth-adjusted emissions and fossil fuel use reductions, but also with a view towards their institutionally appropriate settings, prospects for community acceptance, commercialization, employment, social amenity and export development. This information will also help inform financial and policy strategies which are likely to boost the viability of renewable energy businesses.

While each CITIES pilot town pursues its own programs and technologies based on local conditions and institutional arrangements, it will in all instances be important to understand what trade-off applies when embarking on one path over another. For example, it will be critical to know which path constitutes the least-cost approach to the agreed target level of energy self-sufficiency and emissions mitigation, while cost refers to economic as well as non-economic resources.

CITIES general investigation program 1: best practice

The objective of this activity is make accessible and apply useful lessons from current and recent related initiatives in China and in similar conditions world-wide. This objective will be achieved by identifying, documenting, studying, evaluating, describing and communicating current best practices in integrated urban energy planning, management and projects.

The activities include

• identification of scope and criteria for evaluation;

• information gathering and documentation;

• study and evaluation;

• analysis and description (case study development); and

• communication and dissemination.

The scope will encompass technologies, management practices as well as growth strategies. As a point of departure, at least three categories of case studies shall be differentiated: comparable towns, town precincts and settlement projects, and development policies and programs.

CITIES general investigation program 2: learning in action

This objective of this activity is to actively monitor, analyze and feed back program experience derived in the participating pilot towns. National CITIES participants will be assisted in achieving this objective by adopting and adapting appropriate methodologies. This program will be critical in developing a shared understanding of the barriers to, impacts and dynamics of technological, community, institutional and business approaches and opportunities, with a view towards the planned and targeted, GHG-sensitive phasing in of solar and other renewable energy sources on a town and town-regional scale.

This activity will not only be useful to the towns and other projects in execution, but of significant learning value to the application of lessons and developed methods across the entire urban system.

Summary Renewable energy resources for sustainable town development

The International Energy Agency and urban development

CITIES and its umbrella, Solar City, are best understood as operating cooperatively on a program budget basis, essentially franchised under the IEA family of research and development programs. The IEA under its Committee for Energy Research and Technology (CERT) conducts well over 100 research and development projects into a very wide range of relevant energy technologies and management techniques operating under such international 'Implementing Agreements' as Bioenergy, Geothermal, Hydrogen, Hydropower, Photovoltaic Power Supply Systems, Solar Heating and Cooling, Wind Energy, Buildings and Community Systems, Demand Side Management, Energy Technology Systems Analysis, District Heating and Cooling, Energy Storage, Heat Pumping, Heat Transfer and Exchangers, Hybrid and Electric Vehicles as well as a range of other related activities, programs and information centers.

Within this extraordinary portfolio many activities offer rather direct solutions and systems that can be promoted and applied in cities, the rest have more indirect significance. The Solar City Program nurtured within the Solar Heating and Cooling (SHC) Agreement in communication with others is a unique opportunity to relate these to the needs and wants of local communities and their markets.

The benefits of a reformed and integrated local energy planning agenda, yielding benefits in key performance dimensions of good government:

  • applied subsidiarity,
  • scalable responses,
  • market development,
  • fit with local traditions,
  • urban competitiveness,
  • greater accountabilities,
  • technological innovation,
  • distributed responsibilities,
  • quality of life improvements,
  • economic and regional development,
  • enhanced individual choice and empowerment,
  • support of other urban environmental dimensions (water, food, biodiversity, rural anchoring, urban sustainability), and
  • outcome-oriented reform and strengthening of local governance

Energy technological and management innovation can support rapid and sustained levels of growth - overcoming the technological hurdles and environmental dilemmas of 19th and early 20th century technologies. There is the theoretical opportunity of avoiding past errors of modernization. Banking on this prospect, Solar City and CITIES can assist in linking to international sustainability networks via a technology and policy focus.


Climate-stable: for the purposes of this Task the working definition of a city's climate-stable practice is a practical commitment to lower greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050 to an amount that is proportionally in keeping with the globally sustainable level. 

CO2-e: carbon-dioxide-equivalent. Denotes the effective totality of all active greenhouse gases expressed as the equivalent CO2 impact. 

Greenhouse gas (GHG): human activity affected gas emissions suitable to increasing global warming are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), chlorofluorocarbons, especially CFC-11, HCFC-22, and CF4. Their emission levels are in this document expressed as C02e..

Solar (energy): for the purpose of this Task, 'solar' in its wider definition connotes all aspects of energy sources which can be traced to the action of the sun. These include solar thermal, photovoltaic, biomass, bio energy, wind and wave energy (and, strictly speaking, also fossil fuels). In the pure sense, 'solar' describes renewable forms of energy that neither create greenhouse gas emissions nor non-degradable and/or toxic waste..

Solar City: here defined as an urban community which embraces a path of integrating solar energy technologies as well as efficiency measures into a broader, community-wide planning strategy aimed at climate-stable greenhouse-gas emissions levels by 2050..


Byrne J., Y. D. Wang, H. Lee and J. D. Kim. 1998. An equity- and sustainability-based policy response to global climate change. Energy Policy 26 (4), 335-343.

Chen, H. 2000. "China Renewable Energy Policies: Present and Future." WEC/IEA Conference on Renewable Energy Development. (Chen Heping is director of the Division of Basic Industries, SDPC.)

Cyon, S. 1999. "Environmentally Sustainable Urbanization and Transportation in China", in Ambio. Vol.28, No.2, p.198; People's Daily Overseas Edition, front-page 6/Oct/1998. (According to this article the urban population (non-agricultural) was 393 million and the percentage of it was 29.9%.)

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