The dominant policy paradigm for global climate change in the last decade has, to a large extent, adopted a top-down approach. State, regional, and local governments (LGs) develop and carry out climate change policies, programmes, and actions developed through dialogues at the international, supra-national, and national policy levels. There is considerable evidence, however, that many LGs are agenda setters, front runners, and pioneering innovators in terms of climate change initiatives [1
]. In the long run, LGs, which can establish and implement climate change mitigation action plans in their own jurisdictions, will play substantial roles to reverse the rise of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions [2
The concentration of GHG emissions in the atmosphere should be limited to 450 ppm to remain within the safe threshold of global average temperature of no more than 2 degrees centigrade [4
]. The global climate change policy architecture, which was built under this assumption, led to binding agreements wherein the main emitters commit to limit their GHG emissions by certain levels according to their historic responsibilities and capacities to mitigate.
The European Union (EU) climate change policy, with its sustainability targets, has been considered as the most ambitious among the main emitters so far. The so called “20-20-20” targets for 2020 aim to reduce GHG emissions, increase renewable energy production, and increase energy efficiency by 20% in 2020. The EU 2030 Strategy aims to achieve even more ambitious climate change mitigation targets, such as 40% GHG emissions reduction compared to 1990 levels [5
]. As outlined in its roadmap to a low-carbon economy, the European Union aims to reduce GHG emissions by 80%–95% by the year 2050 compared with 1990 levels [5
Important policy and investment decisions should be made regarding the current and future energy technologies that will be deployed in the coming years and decades [6
]. At the local level, cities and municipalities have come up with their own energy initiatives and low-carbon strategies [7
]. The Covenant of Mayors (CoM), a network of local and regional authorities committed to the implementation of sustainable energy policies, has been established and more than 4000 signatories have pledged their commitments and outlined their specific actions through their Sustainable Energy Action Plans [8
Centralized power supply is the conventional way of delivering electricity services. Large-scale power plants fueled by coal, natural gas, or nuclear technology are constructed to provide high voltages into the electricity grid [9
]. With the advancement of renewable energy technologies, discussions on whether cities can become more independent from distant energy sources or whether they could produce their own energy have arisen [10
Low-carbon energy technologies, which range from solar photovoltaics to carbon capture and storage, vary in technological maturity, industry status, and market potential. Each one has its corresponding advantages and disadvantages as well as constraining and facilitating factors in development and implementation [11
]. Also, a wide range of technologies are in the process of research, development, and demonstration.
Prior to implementation, there are several techno-economic approaches, which provide quantitative cost results, for assessing low-carbon energy technologies and policies [12
]. A number of studies and projects which investigate the externalities of energy, attempt to quantify emissions of electricity technologies, and monetize their respective external costs have emerged. In these undertakings, several methods were developed and systematic efforts were made to assess the environmental impacts of electricity production expressed in monetary units [16
There is also an emerging load of studies focusing on the assessment of abatement potentials combined with estimated costs of certain electricity technologies [14
]. Although techno-economic studies provide useful information on abatement costs of mitigation technologies, they do not consider other important factors relevant to policy implementation, such as socio-political and public acceptance issues, security of energy supply, stakeholders’ preferences, and local communities’ priorities. Despite the conduct of detailed research towards the evaluation and assessment of climate abatement technologies, there are still major gaps in reconciling and quantifying other local co-benefits or co-impacts [20
An important challenge for climate policy would be the alignment and coordination of climate policies and priorities at the local, national and international levels [21
]. It is important to consider local communities’ preferences and perceptions when designing climate and energy policies. The acceptance or rejection of these policies or actions, to a large extent, will depend on the consideration of local priorities and their contribution to local sustainability and resilience [22
]. It has been found that there is a clear contradiction between the EU and national renewable electricity policies and the responses at the local level due to context-specific conditions and interests that pose barriers to the implementation of climate policies [23
As energy policy and planning aims at achieving different sustainability objectives, it becomes necessary to integrate economic, environmental and social dimensions in the process [24
]. Furthermore, many authors underline the importance of considering energy resilience aspects as a component of a sustainable energy future [26
]. An ideal future energy system should be able to reduce the negative impacts on the environment and natural resources, create opportunities for economic and social development, enhance its capacity to absorb external disruptions [6
], consider a long-term perspective [28
], increase participation [29
], and contribute to greater sustainability.
In the above-mentioned framework, it is considered essential to be able to identify and assess LGs’ priorities within a sustainable energy planning context. Therefore, it is necessary to involve the LGs and other relevant actors and to consider their preferences in the energy planning process [30
]. In this respect, the legitimacy of the process is significantly improved and better chances of actual implementation can be achieved [32
Various studies have demonstrated that the multi-attribute model, one of the main multiple criteria decision analysis practices, provides a normative and practical method in supporting people to understand and construct their preferences among alternatives [32
]. Differences in respondents’ priorities could be explained by the relative importance (weight) they assign on each impact criterion. The current study developed and applied a methodology for eliciting criteria weights that reflect LGs’ sustainability priorities regarding the deployment of future low-carbon energy technologies.
Although different authors have emphasized the importance of considering LGs’ views [30
], no empirical evidence exists in the literature regarding any measurement of European LGs’ priorities and preferences. In this context, the main objective of this article is to assess the European LGs’ priorities that would provide important insights for energy policy with regard to climate change mitigation in the electricity sector. The results of this study would provide insights on LGs’ priorities that should be considered during the development, planning and implementation of climate mitigation and energy policy. The study aims at addressing the following questions:
Which are the main priorities of European LGs regarding low-carbon energy technologies assessment and planning?
Which are the most important sustainability criteria (priorities) of European LGs according to population size and geographical region?
What is the relationship between different LGs priorities but also between LGs priorities and their GDP per capita?
The article is structured as follows: Section 2
discusses the context of assessment that consists of the energy technologies under investigation and the selected evaluation criteria (priorities). Section 3
focuses on the methodological tools that were employed in the study to collect and analyse empirical data. Section 4
presents the results of the study regarding the LGs’ priorities and energy options that meet these priorities. Furthermore, Section 4
presents how the priorities of LGs differ between various evaluation criteria categories. Section 5
discusses the results’ implications for climate and energy policy and future research directions as well.
2. Defining the Assessment Problem
For this study, the ten (10) reference electricity generation technologies (see Appendix A
) under investigation for the year 2030 in Europe are as follows: integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) coal, IGCC coal with carbon capture and storage (CCS), gas turbine combined cycle (GTCC), GTCC with CCS, Nuclear European Pressure Water Reactor (EPR), wind onshore, wind offshore, solar photovoltaics (PVs), hydropower, and biogas combined heat and power (CHP). These energy technologies under investigation were selected from a review of current and future energy technologies that could reduce carbon emissions in Europe [36
The assessment of different reference electricity technologies that would be employed by the year 2030 in Europe requires the consideration of different aspects, impacts, costs and benefits that the implementation of technologies would cause to multiple actors. These impacts could range from global, such as GHG emissions, to local, such as health impacts due to air pollution.
Multiple actors and stakeholders that might be affected by the decision of certain energy technologies should be involved in the decision making process and their preferences and priorities should be considered and incorporated for the evaluation of energy technologies. This type of complex, multi-factor, multi-agent assessment problem is congruous with a multiple criteria decision analysis process.
Multiple Criteria Analysis (MCA), particularly using multi-attribute models, has been widely applied in environmental, energy, and risk decision making. However, even though it is recognized as a valid and sound decision making analysis approach [37
], its application in the field of climate change policy assessment remains relatively limited albeit its increasing use [21
]. Recently, other authors provided a more detailed review of MCA applications in climate change policy [37
Two main features of MCA makes this approach adequate for analyzing LGs’ priorities regarding sustainability objectives of future energy systems. Firstly, MCA allows the simultaneous consideration of multiple criteria (attributes) that are relevant to a set of alternative options—or energy options in our case. The multiple criteria could span from broad sustainability objectives to local and national priorities related to energy planning. Secondly, MCA facilitates the active engagement of relevant stakeholders through the process of criteria selection and weighting. It is particularly the systematic and structured weighting process that allows the elicitation of respondents’ priorities and preferences. Combined use of different methods and provision of technical support during the entire process result into minimization of potential biases, enhance appropriate use of the MCA methods, and facilitate confident expression of respondents’ preferences [38
]. It is this specific process of criteria weights elicitation of LGs that our study focuses on.
The study followed five (5) stages for selecting and validating the evaluation criteria:
Screening of initially selected indicators
Self—validation (desk study and internal peer review)
Scientific validation (survey of external experts’ views)
Stakeholders’ validation (survey of local stakeholders’ views)
2.1. Literature Review of Sustainability Evaluation Criteria and Initial Screening
The selection of evaluation criteria and indicators was based on an extensive literature review of studies in the field of energy planning and integrated sustainability assessment of energy options. During the selection process, the evaluation criteria had to meet certain conditions, such as operationality, value relevance, decomposability, reliability, measurability, non-redundancy, minimum in size, completeness, understandability, preferential independence, comprehensiveness, directness and unambiguousness, geographical coverage, local context and data availability [38
Selection of Evaluation Criteria
One of the main features of MCA assessment process is the selection of evaluation criteria relevant to the problem at hand. In our context of the evaluation of low-carbon energy technologies, we select criteria that have been identified in the literature. The weights of evaluation criteria that are elicited by the LGs reflect their priorities regarding the evaluation of low-carbon energy technologies.
Investment cost is a commonly used economic criterion that has been presented in many studies. Many studies also support the inclusion of job creation in the evaluation of energy projects [42
], particularly in the local context [23
]. The creation of employment opportunities is a key priority in the European context since high unemployment rates have become a concern among many European countries and cities after the financial crisis of 2008. Various studies [44
] have also emphasized the importance of low energy prices as it is important to maintain the standard of living of citizens.
The significance of SOx
emissions reductions, land requirements, waste creation and disposal, including hazardous waste, and landscape impact have been highlighted by different authors [45
] as important environmental aspects to be taken into account. CO2
emissions is an important criterion due to its contribution to global climate change, but also due to the risk component regarding the potential for development of carbon pricing. It is therefore important to be able to account for the vulnerability of energy technologies to increase in energy prices due to the potential for uptake of carbon prices [27
The NEEDS Project aimed to identify relevant social indicators through participative procedures [50
]. Mortality and morbidity, accident fatalities, public opposition risk, and aesthetic/functional impact have been highlighted as prominent social criteria.
Energy System Resilience Category
In several studies, energy criteria focus on resilience aspects of the energy systems [27
], such as energy price stability, security for energy supply, low energy prices, stability of energy generation and peak load response [53
]. Energy price stability should be taken into account as the electricity sector is vulnerable to price fluctuations due to various factors, such as production outputs, policy matters, natural disasters, and unstable geopolitics. Security of energy supply could be increased by taking advantage of local renewable energy sources [12
]. The issue of climate resilience hasn’t been addressed yet by any sustainability framework for the evaluation criteria of energy technologies. However, it has been highlighted as a major issue by recent studies [54
The potential for commercialization has been considered in the assessment. Studies (e.g., [56
]) have underlined the significant role of potential market size in industrial competitiveness. The market size—whether domestic or international—needs to be taken into account. A larger market size would naturally attract investments which would facilitate industrial development. Table 1
shows the selected evaluation criteria and their description.
Final set of selected and validated evaluation criteria and indicators.
Final set of selected and validated evaluation criteria and indicators.
|Economic||ECO1: Levelized costs (including capital, operations and maintenance, fuel costs)||Levelized costs of energy (LCOE): investment costs, operational and maintenance costs, capacity factor, efficiency, material use.|
|ECO2: (Local) employment generation||The extent to which the application of the technology can create jobs at the investment, operation and maintenance stage. Furthermore, the criterion of employment reflects partly the extent of the impact that the technology has to the local economic development by providing jobs and generating income.|
|Environmental||ENV1: CO2eq emissions||The indicator reflects the potential impacts of global climate change caused by emissions of GHGs for the production of 1 kwh.|
|ENV2: Noise pollution||This indicator is case sensitive and could have been measured as a factor of the noise generation by the energy technology estimated in dB multiplied by the number of people affected by the noise. However, since we are investigating different energy technologies and systems at a European scale we cannot measure precisely this indicator and therefore we will use an ordinal relevant scale to measure the perceived noise.|
|ENV3: (Radioactive) waste||Amount of (radioactive) waste generated by the plant divided by energy produced.|
|ENV4: Waste disposal (infrastructure)||Waste generation during the life cycle of the fuel and technology or availability of waste disposal infrastructure.|
|ENV5: Ecosystem damages||This criterion quantifies the impacts of flora and fauna due to acidification and eutrophication caused by pollution from the production of 1 kWh electricity by the energy system and technology.|
|ENV6: Land use requirement||The land required by each power plant and technology to be installed.|
|ENV7: Fuel use||Amount of fuel use per kWh of final electricity consumption.|
|Social||SOC1: Level of public resistance/opposition||Energy system induced conflicts that may endanger the cohesion of society (e.g., nuclear, wind, CCS). Opposition might occur due to the perceptions of people regarding the catastrophic potential or other environmental impacts (aesthetic, odor, noise) of the energy technology/system. This indicator also integrates the aspect of participatory requirement for the application of the technology. The higher the public opposition, the higher the participatory requirement is.|
|SOC2: Aesthetic/functional impact||Part of population that perceives a functional or aesthetic impairment of the landscape area caused by the energy system. The aesthetic impairment is judged subjectively and therefore this criterion fits in the social category rather than the environmental one. In addition this is also a very location specific indicator and therefore an average metric will be determined measured in relative ordinal scale.|
|SOC3: Mortality and morbidity||Mortality and morbidity due to air pollution caused by normal operation of the technology. This indicator is considered as an impact and composite indicator since it integrates all human health impacts caused from air pollution emissions as NOx, SO2, and PM.|
|SOC4: Accidents and fatalities||Loss of lives of workers and public during installation and operation. Surrogate for risk aversion. This criterion partly integrates the catastrophic potential of the energy system/technology.|
|Energy system resilience||ENE1: Energy cost stability/sensitivity to fuel price fluctuation||The sensitivity of technology costs of electricity generation to energy and fuels prices fluctuations. The fraction of fuel cost to the overall electricity generation cost.|
|ENE2: Stability of energy generation||Stability of output of electric power generated depending on the technology used. This reflects whether the energy supply is being interrupted. The presence of these interruptions impacts the electricity network stability. This criterion reflects whether the energy supply faces any interruptions due to the type of energy technology.|
|ENE3: Peak load response||Technology specific ability to respond swiftly to large variation of demand in time/% representing the possibility to satisfy the required load.|
|ENE4: Market concentration on supply ||The market concentration on the supply of primary sources of energy that could lead to disruption due to economic or political reasons.|
|ENE5: Resilience to climate change||The degree of resilience of the energy technology to the future climactic changes and extreme weather events.|
|Technological/market||TEC1: Technological maturity||The extent to which the technology is technically mature. The criterion refers to the level of technology’s technological development and furthermore the spread of the technology at the market.|
|TEC2: Market size (domestic)||Demand for final products (of energy technologies) and potential market size domestically. The potential market size plays an important role to establish industrial competitiveness and stimulate economic growth.|
|TEC3: Market size (potential export)||Demand for final products (of energy technologies) and potential market size internationally.|
|TEC4: Innovative ability||Flexibility and potential of the technology to integrate technological innovations.|
2.2. Three Stages of Validation of Evaluation Criteria
A set of 33 criteria was derived after self-validation (desk study and internal peer review) by the authors. For scientific validation (survey of external experts’ views), ten (10) European experts in energy planning were involved for refinement and feedback of the criteria. These experts have published in scientific journal publications, and were personally invited through e-mail communication to carry out the scientific validation. After the completion of the refinement, the set of criteria was cut down to 23.
For the final stage of validation, which was a stakeholders’ validation (survey of local stakeholders’ views), local governments, energy industry representatives, researchers and academics, staff of energy utility companies, etc., were asked to improve the set of evaluation criteria and indicators under investigation. These local energy stakeholders, which were drawn from online databases, mailing lists, and energy networks, were invited through e-mail communication. In total, thirty (30) local energy stakeholders from different European countries participated.
The results of the stakeholders’ validation established the wide acceptance of the indicator set among the local stakeholders who participated in the process [36
]. The final stage of validation provided a final list of 22 evaluation criteria which is presented in Table 1
. For the criteria that data was available, quantifiable indicators were defined. On the other hand, for criteria that data was not available, a relative ordinal scale was developed [36
According to the LGs’ responses, the most important criterion, based on the average weights, is the criterion of “CO2 emissions” (ENV1), followed by “mortality and morbidity” (SOC3), “ecosystem damages” (ENV5), “resilience to climate change” (ENE5), “employment generation” (EC2), “accident fatalities” (SOC4), “levelised costs” (EC1), and “radioactive waste” (ENV3).
emissions”, as the most important criterion among LG representatives and across different geographical regions, clearly shows that the EU climate change mitigation policy objectives have reached the local level [23
]. Although this is considered more of an international and European-level priority issue, this can be attributed to the growing importance placed on climate change mitigation by European LGs and their conscious attempts to reduce emissions in their own localities as evidenced by their participation in the development and implementation of SEAPs [8
Interestingly, the second (“mortality and morbidity”) and third most important criteria (“ecosystems damages”) are both related to air pollution from burning of fossil fuels. These criteria are also the two most common energy externalities highlighted in the literature [51
]. According to the results of this study, these issues were affirmed as highly important impacts from a European LGs’ perspective. By combining these two highly weighted criteria, the issue of air pollution reduction is becoming the most important co-benefit of low-carbon electricity generation for LGs. This further indicates that climate change mitigation policies should seek how to maximize local air pollution reduction co-benefits as was also underlined by other authors [20
“Resilience to climate change”, the fourth most important criterion, is a relatively new aspect that was not considered until the recent years in energy systems assessments. It is also a relatively new concept and objective for LGs. This could mean that there are well informed LGs on this issue, while others are still relatively ignorant. This situation is also reflected in the large divergence of LGs preferences that we observe in this study.
Different LGs, on the other hand, show a high degree of agreement for “ecosystem services”. This could be explained by the fact that LGs have high familiarity with the concept of ecosystem services and have clear objectives on preserving the urban and peri-urban ecosystem services for improving local communities’ quality of life.
The high convergence between the different LGs on the “employment generation” could be explained by the fact that creation of jobs has a very strong local perspective, which in current times of European economic crisis is becoming more prominent among the European LGs.
For this study, we also ran a correlation analysis of all evaluation criteria. The results showed very strong positive correlation (r higher than 0.7) between “CO2 emissions” and “resilience to climate change” as well as between “mortality and morbidity” and “accident fatalities”. Moreover, the results showed moderate positive correlation (r higher than 0.4) between GDP per capita and criteria related to energy security of supply and innovative ability.
Largely populated cities, in particular, prioritize resilience to climate change which suggests the need to develop strategies to cope with future climatic shocks and stresses. Moreover, large cities place emphasis on (radioactive) waste which implies the need for cleaner electricity generation sources and the importance of reduced environmental impacts. This can also be explained by the fact that the issue of climate resilience has been recognised as an important issue in the last years by many European LGs, and that there is an increasing number of LGs that are conducting local climate change adaptation plans [58
It is also evident that larger cities with accumulated populations and assets are potentially more vulnerable in cases of energy system disturbances or failure due to climate extremes. This can be explained by the fact that both criteria concern the two sides of the issue of climate change, namely mitigation and adaptation. Moreover, reduction of carbon emissions as well as developing climate resilience both address the actual and potential impacts of climate change in the long-run. Evidently, European LGs are aware about this relationship which is reflected on the way they weight these two criteria.
Based on the positive relationship between GDP per capita
and awareness on issues related to energy security of supply and technology innovation, wealthy cities tend to prioritize technological innovation at a high level, which could possibly drive further their competitiveness with regard to low-carbon energy technologies. At the same time wealthy cities give high priority to issues related to energy security supply, enhancing their resilience to any energy supply disturbances while minimizing any negative effects to their economy, as it has been also discussed by other authors [10
]. It needs to be further studied, if there is any causality in these relationships.
This study, to the best of our knowledge, is the first attempt to map and measure priorities of European LGs on the sustainability evaluation of low-carbon energy technologies. It is critical to consider LGs’ priorities as this could further enhance implementability, alignment and coordination of sustainable and low-carbon energy policies at different levels.
This study applied a hybrid weighting methodology which combined two weighting elicitation techniques (pairwise comparisons and swing method) for the elicitation of LGs’ priorities. It was carried out through three different means (survey, face to face workshop, webinar) of exploring the preferences of LG representatives.
Further research on comparing different approaches will provide useful insights on how to best elicit LGs’ priorities. It would also be useful to further explore how this methodology can be applied in different group decision making contexts to map stakeholders’ priorities and further facilitate participation, deliberation, learning and adaptive decision making during low-carbon energy policy and planning processes.
Our study, which targeted LG representatives explored the specific, categorical, and overall priorities as well as analysed preferences based on three variables: population size (large, medium-sized cities), geographical region (northern/western, southern, and eastern European countries) and GDP per capita.
With LGs that have prepared SEAPs and are signatories to transnational European networks as respondents, our study was able to elicit preferences among large and medium sized cities that as it seems highly prioritize European climate change mitigation objectives. In that respect, we could conclude that European climate change policy has succeeded to engage LGs in the broader international discourses on tackling global climate change.
While our study may not provide a definitive representation and generalized results for all LGs, we recommend an extensive application of the methodology to a larger sample of European LGs. Moreover, it is deemed necessary to conduct a similar study for other geographical regions (e.g., Asia, North and South America) and compare the priorities of LGs from different regions. Furthermore, a similar approach could be also applied for eliciting LGs’ preferences regarding the most important criteria and barriers regarding the actual development and planning of local SEAPs.