Feature Report: Imagining the Cities of the Future

4 items of content in this feature report

Going in depth


A New Way of Managing “Energy Communities”

Urban planners and energy experts worldwide have started testing and implementing new ways of managing energy, which involve organizing both production (solar, wind and biomass) and usage (housing and mobility) at the same level, be it the district, city or region. This is how “local energy communities” have come about.

Photo of a control center used to manage the production and distribution of energy in the suburbs of Tokyo.
Japan is at the forefront of innovation for “smart” districts, where all energy uses are coordinated, such as here in Kashiwanoha in the suburbs of Tokyo. ©YOSHIKAZU TSUNO

In most industrialized countries, the traditional blueprint for urban services is a “silo” organization, with large autonomous electricityForm of energy resulting from the movement of charged particles (electrons) through a conductor... , gas, water, urban heating and public transportation sectors. Energy distribution has been designed from the top down, with concentrated production systems and transmission networks extended by increasingly fine local networks.

However, a local, community-based approach has been developing for some years now1. The concepts of “energy‑positive buildings” and eco-districts came about with the objective of producing and consuming onsite, aiming for a positive balance. These energy concepts are always connected to other components of urban operations, such as mobility and economic, cultural and leisure activities. Cities, followed by regions, have drawn up “climate action plans”. The new French region, Occitanie, (formerly Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées) has expressed its ambition to become Europe’s first energy-positive region2.

In Japan, these new entities are called “smart communities”. The European Commission has proposed the creation of “local energy communities” to foster self-consumption. In the United States, “community choice aggregations” aim to provide local entities with an organizational framework enabling them to enter into contracts with service providers.

In more advanced cases3, this approach is realized at city level through a “control center”, which establishes multiple links:

Some examples from around the world illustrate this approach.

The electricity production of solar panels can be predicted minute by minute by observing cloud movement.

In Japan, the tradition of the State and the large industrial conglomerates forming alliances resulted, in 2010, in the launch of four major projects gradually implemented in different environments: the major conurbation of Yokohama, the heavy industry city of Kitakyushu, the planned community of Toyota City, which is home to the headquarters of the large automotive company, and the university hub of Kansai Science City.

These projects even go beyond energy issues and cover a range of functions including remote surveillance, remote maintenance and assistance for the elderly.

In the Hawaiian Islands, the second-largest island, Maui, has significantly increased the number of electric vehicles, the business model of which benefits greatly from the short distances, the large fleet of rental vehicles for tourists and the high cost of gasoline.4 The number of often wireless charging stations has soared in hotels, golf courses, shopping malls, churches and single-family homes. These are managed to operate during off-peak hours, making use of the substantial local wind power production.

In France, near Paris, the Issygrid project has broken new ground in the management of solar power generation from rooftop photovoltaic panels (see the Op-Ed Article by Valérick Cassagne). Cloud cover is monitored minute by minute by cameras and data are analyzed in real time to predict changes in electricity production. Lyon, meanwhile, has introduced various innovations in its Confluence pilot district (see Close-Up: “Greater Lyon Is Embracing Big Data”).




(1) CRE feature report (in French only) 

(2) Occitanie website (in French only) 

(3) Japan Smart Community Alliance

(4) University of Hawaii study