Seven cities want to phase out fossil fuels from urban heating & cooling

3 February 2021

Photo credits: Julian Hochgesang

With the help of EU funding and advice by heavyweights from energy policy and industry, they are gearing up to get there early and share with other cities how to do.

Heating and cooling are responsible for roughly half of the EU’s energy consumption, addressing this issue will be critical to bring EU countries in line with their pledged climate targets. Cities have a key role in tackling climate change but often lack the resources and capacity to deliver. Seven cities – Bilbao, Bratislava, Dublin, Munich, Rotterdam, Vienna and Winterthur – want to change this. Within the H2020 project Decarb City Pipes 2050, they will acquire the skills and knowledge to decarbonise heating and cooling in buildings by 2050, with a special focus on phasing out natural gas.

An urgent need to plan the heating and cooling transition

Given the long life-cycles of the grid infrastructures involved, there is an urgency to start the planning of the transition to energy-efficient and renewable heating and cooling today. “That’s easier said than done”, states coordinator of this effort Judith Neyer of Urban Innovation Vienna, the city’s energy agency, at the occasion of the project’s kick-off meeting with the Advisory Board.

The energy system is profoundly complex, notoriously sluggish with substantial technological uncertainties to face. For a city to act wisely, it needs high levels of knowledge and skills as well as a legal mandate to act – all of which is frankly lacking. Our answer to this is teamwork – and to recruit the most competent and distinguished help available!

Judith Neyer

Lisa Fischer, Programme Leader at think tank E3G is convinced,Cities are the linchpin of decarbonisation. It is fantastic that cities are driving the agenda for zero-emissions and fossil-free heating systems. I am looking forward to help think through how national and EU frameworks can catch up with, support and eventually scale this bottom up innovation.”

Collaboration between cities, at the core of the project

The project Decarb City Pipes 2050 brings together a diverse group of European cities, from frontrunners to beginners, who have teamed up to learn from one another, coordinate their work and share solutions. Together, the cities will build up their skills in the use of data, planning tools, governance framework as well as process and transition management.

Andris Piebalgs, former EU Energy Commissioner and Professor at the Florence School of Regulation supports the cities as Advisory Board Member: “I applaud these cities for their determination to get real with the energy transition. My hope is that the project will motivate and enable many more cities across Europe to follow their lead.”

Local energy utilities and distributors: key stakeholders in the transition

The cities make a point of planning this transition with the key players they need to get the job done. This is why the local energy utilities and distributors are on board. Pallas Agterberg, Head of Strategy and Innovation at Dutch energy distributor Alliander is happy to contribute with her advice on the role of the energy distributors in the transition. “We at Alliander have chosen to take the bull by its horns and become a part of the energy transition. I am looking forward to engaging with my colleagues across the EU on how to organise the markets to deliver reliable, sustainable heating for all households”.

Kees van der Leun is convinced, “The solutions for a zero-emission energy system are available”. The Director of Guidehouse thinks “the question is how to speed up implementation and lower costs. I am honoured to help these cities find some good answers.”


Coordinator is Urban Innovation Vienna. The Cities of Bilbao, Bratislava, Munich, Rotterdam, Vienna, Winterthur and Dublin, represented through its local energy agency Codema participate. Scientific partners Halmstad (SE) and Utrecht (NL) University support on techno-economical and transition-management aspects. Energy Cities is responsible for capacity-building and dissemination to spread the word to more European cities.