Smog, mountains of waste, and contaminated tap water – China urgently needs to make its cities greener and produce fewer emissions. In order to test the energy transition, the German Energy Agency (DENA) is helping with work on selected eco-cities in selected Chinese model city districts. German know-how and high tech encounter fast-growing mega-cities and innovative urbanites in China.
Tianjin is one of the eco-cities in northeastern China. Guifeng Lian, District Mayor of Tianjin, talks about increasing environmental awareness in China: “The population has a strong desire for sustainability, good quality food, a blue, smog-free sky, and clean water. Administrations at the local level are also responsible for that.”
In order to be named a “Sino-German Eco-City“, however, the developed energy policy must reduce CO2 emissions by at least 30 percent by 2030 – a rather ambitious value for fast-growing cities. The German Energy Agency (DENA) has been supporting various pilot cities in China since 2014 to reduce their CO2 emissions. There are 14 of these “model city areas”, and they are supposed to be showcases for other Chinese communities on their way to an urban energy management.
But where does one start to reduce the energy consumption of a city and make it sustainable? With traffic or with building insulation? With wastewater or with waste disposal? How can a coherent energy policy be developed from this? How can digitalization help? It is on exactly such questions that smaller urban planning and environmental policies fail.
Many individual projects are often too timid and unsystematic: Traffic is controlled with intelligent traffic lights at a few intersections, or you build smart street lighting and electric car charging stations on a few streets. One or two public buildings will be showcased as plus energy buildings. But an eco-city is far from coming into existence this way; they do not include the city as an entire energy system.
Energy policies for megacities
DENA has developed an energy and climate protection management system (EKM) that is already being used in some German municipalities, for example in Mannheim. This management system is now also being transferred to selected Chinese municipalities. There it shows the administration how and where energy can be saved systematically. Because this knowledge is usually not present at the level of local government, neither in China nor in Germany.
If individual savings potentials are uncovered, a district-comprehensive energy concept can be worked out – where one district of a Chinese metropolis often has more inhabitants than the whole of Berlin. For DENA and its policies, the Sino-German Eco-Cities are therefore a completely different practical test than a German municipality can be.
The Chinese can-do mentality and the technology friendliness of the population creates eco-cities that would not be conceivable in Germany at this size and implementation speed, but whose experiences DENA and German companies can share through joint German-Chinese coordination.
German companies are world leaders in many of the necessary technologies. In the Chinese eco-cities, they have the opportunity to position companies and products, for example in the areas of environmental technology, building technology, as well as in the area of electromobility or information technology infrastructure – such as for smart buildings and road management systems. A win-win situation for both countries.
Mannheim’s Mayor of the Environment Felicitas Kubala, however, also addresses a fundamental problem in the municipal development into an eco-city: “The most important thing for me is reliable framework conditions. The ever-changing framework conditions for renewable energies are causing uncertainty.”