This round table was held on Wednesday 10 April 2013. The participants were Emmanuel Acchiardi, Deputy Director Towns and Territories at the Agence de l’Environnement et de la maîtrise de l’énergie (Ademe, Environment and Energy Management Agency); Dominique Gros, Mayor of Metz; Florent Hébert, Head of the ÉcoCité project at the Ministry of Territorial Equality and Housing; Roger Léron, President of the Rhône Alpes Energie Environnement Association; Laurent Lougerstay, Development Director, Buildings Division, Schneider Electric France; Jean-Philippe Richard, Director of the Urban Policy and Development Department at the Caisse des Dépôts. The meeting was prepared by Sylvie Groueff and moderated by Antoine Loubière, chief editor of Urbanisme.
Gérard Magnin, Delegate General of the Energy Cities association, opened the discussions with a short introduction: “We have reached the end of a cycle as far as the concept of a centralised energy system, introduced after the war and developed in the 1970s, is concerned. In the current economic climate in which people are measuring the limits of globalisation and expressing collective concern and a loss of confidence in politics, local authorities seem to provide a solution, even in international climate negotiations like Rio +20. One example of this is the voluntary commitment made by the Covenant of Mayors in Europe. (…) Energy transition requires us to structure smart use of energy, create local governance and join forces with private stakeholders and associations. These are the ideas being put forward by and circulated by Energy Cities, a European network that came into being 25 years ago.”
Participants then described their view of the current involvement of the various stakeholders in the territorial management of energy.
Dominique Gros, Mayor of Metz, stated that his town has a relatively “virtuous” system, a circular economy under which the power plant in Metz (UEM) employs 500 people and generates 200 million euros in turnover. Various renewable energies are already being used. For example, 12 megawatts of hydroelectric power are being produced on the Moselle, and there is a 45-megawatt biomass plant (opened in January 2013) and a heating network (almost 45,000 housing equivalents) that is increasing steadily.
Together, they correspond to massive long-term investment. However, the money stays in the area, with orders for local companies and profits for the town, which can then fund schemes to transform and insulate swimming pools, schools and sports halls. The Town Council decided on a general strategy that was formalised by the commitments made in signing the Covenant of Mayors. By 2020, 43% of the energy used will be renewable. The town will have decreased its greenhouse gas and C02 emissions by 50% and its net energy consumption by 23%. The mayor considers that all these factors are contributing to an overall energy policy which the general public can be encouraged to support, on condition that it is the subject of political debate.
Laurent Lougerstay explained that his company, Schneider Electric, designs solutions that lie between the production and the destruction of energy. It is clear, he said, that the future of energy depends on the town, in various ways. Through the Homes programme implemented with universities, research laboratories and other industrial partners, Schneider Electric has worked on devices that combine housing improvements and energy-digitising equipment. The aim is to make the consumers, citizens or users responsible for how they use energy supplies.
With other partners and the town of Issy-les-Moulineaux, Schneider Electric is currently implementing the Issy Grid experiment, a means of managing buildings, homes, electric vehicles, a lighting network and energy storage systems within a communicating ecosystem. It draws on dynamic, computer and digital technologies and will undoubtedly bring about changes in the approach to energy governance.
Roger Léron reminded the meeting that his association, Rhône Alpes Énergie, was set up in 1978, after the first oil crisis. In the early 1990s, it changed its name to Rhône Alpes Énergie Environnement. The main aim was to encourage all local and regional authorities to think about the waste of energy and not just its cost. The association is now encouraging local and regional authorities to estimate greenhouse gas emissions. Its current role is to increase the knowledge of politicians with a view to setting up a territorial decision-making body. Roger Léron emphasised that a number of political bodies already agree on the need to strengthen and better coordinate territorial energy planning through Regional Councils, in particular by means of regional energy schemes.
Emmanuel Acchiardi underlined the fact that Ademe’s role is to assist local and regional authorities and companies while undertaking a certain number of actions aimed at the general public, to change behaviour and encourage people to embrace virtuous action and energy transition. He noted two aspects of the current situation – the multiplicity of local initiatives, some of which are supported by Ademe, and factors that are of greater concern, notably the importance of cars, which are continuing to increase in number on the outskirts of towns and cities. Generally speaking, urban sprawl is continuing yet one question is seldom asked – the link between urban planning and transport. To decrease the use of transport and the number of commuters on a sustainable basis, we have to introduce changes of scale in our public urban policies.
Jean-Philippe Richard highlighted the involvement of the Caisse des Dépôts in renewable energies over the past decade or more, based on the idea of producing locally through local wealth creation. Historically, the Caisse des Dépôts has played a major role in the building sector. It is now turning its attention to management tools for the town of the future e.g. smart meters and, in the long term, smart grids. For Jean-Philippe Richard, there is a need to adapt the centralised distribution networks, which are specific to France, to the new concept of partly decentralised energy production.
Florent Hébert described the ÉcoCité scheme, based on the Sustainable City plan launched at the end of 2008 by the Ministry of Ecology following the Grenelle de l’environnement sustainability discussions. At the present time, 19 ÉcoCités are involved. Although the projects are ambitious, the State is providing guidance to enable areas to make comparisons with each other, improve their practices and, where appropriate, transpose them to other scales, other types of territory and other climates.
After these initial discussions, Gérard Magnin noted the common view of the trends in society at the present time, for example the importance given to questions of governance, even in the sector supplying the corresponding technology. People have taken on board the fact that technology can only operate efficiently if it is integrated into a system of governance.
Participants then gave their ideas for successful energy transition. For Dominique Gros, towns and territories should be permitted to draw up energy plans on a local level. They should then be allowed to set up a body to organise energy transition. The third aspect relates to the funding allocated to the development of local energy policies, in particular tax measures. For Laurent Lougerstay, population involvement and/or feedback is a fundamental aspect, requiring the circulation of information about very simple things. The second factor is the notion of an ecosystem, for energy is a fluid and, as such, is totally inseparable from the management of other fluids. For Roger Léron, there is a very real obligation to implement a certain number of actions on a regional level, especially to determine objectives with precision through a regional climate/ energy scheme, but also to obtain full understanding of the situation. This could be done through a regional greenhouse gas emission monitoring unit like the one in Rhône-Alpes. For his part, Emmanuel Acchiardi insisted on the need to share and exchange information in order to pass on best practices. He also referred to the need for evaluation, with quantified objectives and attainable results. Finally he drew the meeting’s attention to the role of citizens. The structure of towns will remain stable for many years to come; it is habits and behaviour patterns that will change.
Jean-Philippe Richard specified that, in its role as a long-term investor, the Caisse des Dépôts was demanding as regards results and the responsibility given to protagonists. He underlined the need to take great care when introducing systems of the third party investor type. With regard to governance, the Caisse des Dépôts will adapt to any form of decentralisation and to the preferences of local and regional authorities.
However, for Roger Léron, it would be wrong to concentrate solely on the financial aspect. Instead, there should be consideration of both the financial aspect and the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. We have to work on an ecological tax system designed to take account of energy efficiency.
In response, Jean-Philippe Richard insisted on the need for investors with the capacity for long-term investment. They are therefore demanding, especially with respect to the third party investor arrangements in which the Caisse des Dépôts is involved.
For Florent Hébert, this is undoubtedly a complicated matter because there will be investments that are difficult to maintain in the long term. Doubt may even be cast on their appropriateness. However, if they produce an environmental benefit, they remain worthwhile. The question is how to evaluate such a benefit and integrate it into a more global economic equation.
In conclusion, Gérard Magnin emphasised that we are really at a crossroads and that it would be a pity to find ourselves two decades from now, saying “We’re twenty years behind the times”.