States and Regions share energy transition innovations across borders

Reading time: 6 minutes
7 July 2017

The Climate Group hosted an Energy Transition Platform workshop in Bilbao last week for participants to come together and discuss common challenges and solutions to achieving clean energy transitions. In this blog, Leah Good, States & Regions Manager, The Climate Group explains how highly industrialized, carbon intensive states and regions are learning from each and sharing policy solutions.

Any resident of the Basque city of Bilbao will tell you that the city is evidence that major transitions are possible.

Historically, Bilbao was one of Europe’s major shipping ports and the heart of Spain’s iron and steel industry, but the city went into serious decline from the 1970s following an economic collapse and a major industrial crisis.

In the past two decades, Bilbao has undergone a dramatic resurgence. Major public investments in cultural initiatives (like the impressive Guggenheim Museum) and sustainable transport systems have transformed Bilbao into one of Spain’s most attractive and liveable cities, drawing millions of tourists each year.

There could be no better backdrop for the Energy Transition Platform’s Innovation Lab workshop, hosted in Bilbao last week by the Basque Government Energy Agency.

The Energy Transition Platform brings together 11 highly industrialized, carbon intensive states and regions to learn from each other’s experiences, and, crucially, to share policy solutions to achieving clean energy transitions.

Participants visited the Mutriku Wave Energy project – one of three of its kind in Europe – on the first day of the workshop

By way of example, we heard from our Basque Country hosts on the roll-out of a smart-grid system in the urban areas of Bilbao and Portugalete and the rural district of Lea-Artibai. The modernization of traditional grids is a critical step in the energy transition, as smart grids can integrate higher shares of renewable energy, decentralized and small-sized electricity generation systems, as well as energy storage.

Policy innovations such as these are impressive in and of themselves, but the value of the Energy Transition Platform is the opportunity for learning between sub-national governments on how these initiatives got off the ground – in order to scale-up these successes and translate innovations across borders.

The workshop in Bilbao focused around three areas of policy innovation, identified by the governments as common challenges: Engaging with Industry, Community Renewables, and Energy Efficiency. The key discussion points and learnings from these Innovation Labs are explained below.

Engaging with Industry

The clean energy transition needs to happen fast, but in order to be successful, these governments need to support the energy intensive industries that have contributed so much to their local economies, and upon which so many jobs rely.

In reflecting on the learning in this Lab, government participants from the Basque Country, Minnesota, North Rhine-Westphalia and Wales emphasized the need to acknowledge the progress their local industries had already made, and agreed that there are no short-cuts to a deep and ongoing engagement with industry players, in order to build trust and support just transitions.

Energy Efficiency

Participants of this Lab addressed the common challenge of tackling energy efficiency in the built environment. Governments of the Basque Country, Lombardy, North Rhine Westphalia and Silesia shared ideas and critiqued each other’s strategies to achieve a major scale-up in the retrofitting of public buildings.

Together, they crafted interventions to support better collaboration of distinct levels of government, increase awareness and engagement of tenants and owners, and build capacities at the municipal level so that retrofitting can drive local economic opportunity.

Community Renewables

Participants from Alberta, the Basque Country and Lombardy learnt from the Government of Minnesota’s experience developing community solar gardens, and used a systems mapping approach to understand the barriers and enabling factors to adapting and developing similar models in their own contexts.

Governments discussed the challenge of shifting generalized interest in renewables to commitment to act, and identified the catalyzing role that regional governments can play in piloting effective models for scale-up through partnerships with communities and businesses. Each government committed to a set of follow up actions and a collective review of each other progress in a year’s time.  

Although their contexts are distinct, the challenges these governments are facing to meet the scale and pace of the transition that is needed are commonly held. Sharing, translating and scaling innovation across borders will be a crucial component of the global clean energy revolution.

From the transformed city of Bilbao, it was encouraging to see that the clean energy transformation is already underway.

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