Cities are both consumers and producers of energy. They account for around 75% of global energy usei and are the leading growth markets for utilities.1 Because cities (including their governments, inhabitants, and commercial and industrial entities) use so much energy, they have the potential to drive large amounts of renewable energy deployment. However, cities worldwide vary greatly in their energy use – depending on factors such as the level of economic development and the presence of industry, among others – and in their overall ability to deploy renewables, which may reflect local resource and other constraints. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic sharply reduced energy use in many cities, particularly in the transport sector ( see Sidebar 1 in Global Overview chapter).2

City governments often are constrained by policies and regulations at higher levels of government, as well as by the availability and condition of energy distribution infrastructure. When provided sufficient autonomy, however, a city can exercise greater flexibility over its energy mix and define, to a large extent, the trajectory of its energy future. Overall, cities have significant opportunity and potential to steer the energy system towards renewable energy – not just locally, but well beyond.

Globally, a relatively small but growing share of the energy consumed in cities comes from modern renewable sourcesii . To some extent, this renewable share is expanding in direct proportion to developments outside of the urban purview, thanks to the greater deployment of renewables elsewhere. For example, state/provincial or national mandates, as well as the changing economics of energy technologies, have led to rising shares of renewable electricity or fuels in regional grids – which has led to higher city shares as well. At the same time, more and more cities worldwide are directly increasing their production and consumption of energy from renewable sources.3

Santiago, Chile

Urban demand for renewables is rising in response to growing recognition of the diverse economic, environmental, social and other benefits associated with renewable energyiii . So far, the greatest focus has been on meeting municipal government demand (via city procurement authority) followed by efforts to reshape the wider urban energy supply and demand structure. Private procurement also plays a growing role, as individuals and businesses determine their own renewable energy needs. Although most of the renewables used in cities are still sourced from outside the urban area (through regional grids, pipelines and other infrastructure), local production of renewable energy – in the forms of electricity, direct thermal energy and transport fuels – is significant and growing.4

Around the world, city governments as well as urban households and commercial and industrial actors are shaping their energy infrastructure and use to better accommodate rising shares of renewables. They are expanding district heating and cooling networks, implementing efficient end-use technologies, increasing electrification of the transport and heating sectors, installing energy storage capacity and facilitating greater flexibility on the demand side – all of which can provide benefits such as greater system efficiency, improved reliability of service and lower overall system costs.5 To address multiple urban challenges in a cost-effective manner, city governments also are linking energy supply with other municipal activities – for example, using rapidly growing urban waste and wastewater streams as feedstocks to produce solid, liquid and gaseous biofuels ( see Sidebar 5).6

The availability and reliability of energy data vary greatly across countries and cities. In general, data on renewable energy capacity and generation are tracked at the national (and often state/provincial) level, but not always at the local level. As a result, comprehensive global statistics on urban renewable markets (for both energy and technologies) and generation are incomplete or lacking.7 Further, although energy consumption is reasonably well documented at the national level, the urban/rural breakdown of this use is generally unavailable.

Within these limitations, this chapter provides an overview of city-level renewable energy market and infrastructure developments during 2019 and 2020. It examines the installation of renewable energy technologies and associated infrastructure in cities, the energy capacity procured for use in cities, as well as relevant consumption trends across the buildings, industry and transport sectors ( see Global Overview chapter).

iNot including energy embedded in imported agricultural, electronic and other products or materials. See endnote 1 for this chapter.i

iiIn many cities (especially in sub-Saharan Africa), the traditional use of biomass for heating and cooking is still widespread. See Glossary for definitions of modern renewable energy and traditional biomass.ii

iiiSee Drivers chapter in REN21, Renewables in Cities 2019 Global Status Report (Paris: 2019),


Production and Procurement of Electricity

On-site Generation

Green Tariffs

Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs)

Overcoming Challenges: Partnering with Stakeholders and Taking Control of Supply

Influencing higher-level policy and regulations
Partnering with utilities
Municipalising local utilities

Consumption of Electricity

Heating and Cooling: Production and Procurement of Thermal Energy


Production and Procurement of Transport Fuels and Electricity

Consumption of Transport Fuels and Electricity

Urban Rail Transport

Urban Road Transport: Passenger vehicles

Passenger cars
Two- and three-wheelers / Micromobility

Urban Road Transport: Freight

Light commercial vehicles
Heavy-duty trucks


Electricity Distribution

Direct Thermal Energy Distribution

EV Charging Networks

Fuel Distribution