Frankfurt’s energy transition: Passive houses, a CO2 budget, and an app to collect residents’ ideas
By the City of Frankfurt
Frankfurt am Main is one of the more densely built-up cities in Germany, known for its banking sector and home to one of Europe’s largest airports. The city is also the centre of Germany’s digital logistics: 80% of the country’s Internet traffic runs via servers in Frankfurt. With this multi-faceted economy, the city has more than 750,000 inhabitants and is growing rapidly.
It is vital for both citizens and the environment that Frankfurt becomes more climate friendly. The municipality’s goal is a 95% carbon emissions reduction by 2050 compared to 2010 and a halving of energy use in the same time frame. The administration has put multiple plans and processes in place to put the city on the right pathway, including a ‘Masterplan 100% climate protection’. There is a special emphasis on involving residents in the city’s transformation, for example through an app with which they can share their ideas and complaints directly with the municipality.
Clever schemes to reduce energy use in the heating sector
The heating sector accounts for 50% of Frankfurt’s energy use, which is why it is a key target sector of the city’s climate strategy. Currently, Frankfurt is remodelling its heating grid. The city’s energy supplier has invested €65 million to connect three combined heat and power stations with each other through the district heating grid. The feed-in can now be centrally controlled, which means that both heat and power can be distributed better, waste avoided, and emissions lowered.[i]
However, most of the energy still comes from coal and gas. Frankfurt is currently exploring different approaches to reducing demand as well as which heat sources could be exploited. One of the options is to use waste heat from industrial sites, data centres and sewers.
Passive houses and greener construction
In the construction sector, processes have been put in place to ensure that the municipality’s Energy and Climate Protection Agency is consulted before new public construction takes place.[ii]Any building bought or constructed by the municipality should meet the ‘passive house’ standard, a construction standard for ultra-low energy buildings that require little energy for space heating or cooling.
Reducing energy use and switching to renewables
The city is ambitiously planning to switch to 100% renewable energy by 2050.[iii] Currently, 60% of Frankfurt’s electricity is imported, and the city is looking for ways to cover at least some of its energy demand by producing locally. However, since production capacity in the city itself is limited, the municipality is also exploring options of cooperating with the surrounding region. The initiative ‘10,000 roofs for the energy transition’ run by the regional association FrankfurtRheinMain aims at informing residents of Frankfurt and the surrounding region about the advantages of solar panels on private residences.[iv] The association’s website provides step-by-step information about how to equip residents’ homes with solar panels and about available subsidies. According to the initiative, from 2015 to 2018 the number of solar panels in the region increased by 2,500 to a total of 17,700.
Frankfurt has come up with a clever strategy to incentivise residents to reduce their individual energy consumption. The ‘Frankfurt Saves Power’ initiative rewards residents financially if they can show that their electricity consumption has reduced compared to the previous year. Currently, they receive €20 for every 10 per cent reduction and another 10 cents for each additional kWh reduced. Companies and associations are also rewarded if they invest in energy saving measures.[v]
Targeting mobility patterns
The transport sector is responsible for 20% of Frankfurt’s carbon emissions and is another important focus of the city’s climate strategy. Currently 82% of all journeys between the city and the surrounding region are made by car, resulting in commuters contributing 42% to the city’s total transport emissions.[vi] To lower these, the city is planning to build high speed bicycle lanes, for example between the airport, where many residents work, and the city centre. Other measures include the promotion of the public transport system and free trial weeks for residents to use electrical cargo bikes, a project by the Hesse state government.[vii]
Resident participation as a key strategy
Frankfurt puts an emphasis on involving citizens in the climate transformation. In 2014, while developing the Masterplan, the municipality held a citizen forum. During the forum, participants formed groups discussing five topics: energy supply, buildings, climate protection in everyday life, mobility and education. They exchanged opinions and collected ideas, which were voted on and the top ten ideas were selected to be taken up by the municipality.[viii] Examples include the city buying and marketing the energy of small local energy producers, founding a “climate lab” where residents can meet and exchange ideas, as well as enhancing the infrastructure for cyclists and introducing a discounted public transport ticket for Frankfurt’s residents. In the near future, the City Council is planning a wider citizen consultation process called ‘Climate Alliance’.
The city has also opened an energy advice centre to advise residents on how to reduce their energy use, and published an online calendar listing events related to climate protection, addresses of repair cafés, and other useful information.
For ongoing exchange with residents, the city has launched an app called Frankfurt Fragt Mich, (Frankfurt asks me) in which citizens can directly connect to the municipality. Anyone can voice a complaint or an idea on various topics, one of which is climate action. If the idea finds 200 supporters within eight weeks, then the municipality takes up the issue. Another participatory measure is the neighbourhood programme, where residents can apply for grants of up to €2,000 to put their climate protection ideas into practice. Residents can apply for grants to cover material expenses for projects that contribute to the common good and lead to a reduction in CO2 emissions in their neighbourhood.
Finally, Frankfurt supports private home owners, companies and construction companies that want to make the city greener. Greenery can both cut CO2 and cool down buildings and the surrounding areas. Anyone with an idea for a greenery project can contact the municipality, which subsides up to 50% of the cost.[ix]
Looking to the future
The most important step to be taken now is to integrate green thinking into all departments in the city administration and to streamline the work of different departments so they cooperate instead of working against each other. To achieve this, Frankfurt wants to use CO2 budgeting. A CO2 budget allocates specific responsibilities for emissions cuts to the various players in the city. With the continuing support of its residents, the city hopes to achieve its climate targets by 2050.
This blog article was co-created by Josephine Valeske and is part of the mPOWER blog series in which cities and towns share how they are building better energy futures.
Title Image: Igor Flek on Unsplash
- How Greater Manchester plans to reach carbon neutrality by 2038
- Tampere: engaging housing co-ops and residents in the drive towards carbon neutrality
- Municipal actions for building energy democracy and energy sovereignty: Municipalist Manifesto from 2020 onwards
- Market failures and public ownership options in the European municipal energy transition
- How Križevci’s residents created Croatia’s first crowdfunded solar power plant