The German city of Munich powers its metro, trams and all its households with renewables. The key starting point, says deputy-mayor and Green Party member Hep Monatzeder, is that Munich’s energy provider Stadtwerke München (SWM) is owned by the city.

You say that for a city to be green you need a municipal society. What does that mean?
In 2007 we created the Munich Alliance for Climate Protection and invited politicians, economists, owners of small and large companies, NGOs and citizens to volunteer initiatives for 30 climate protection projects. One third of those projects are working now, another third are in the planning stages.

Can you give some examples?
One is solar panels over parking spaces, with the possibility for e-mobility points to chargeelectric cars. Then we have a project to privilege electric transport bikes for deliveries into the city so companies don’t use trucks.

A very ambitious project is to transform the heat generated by big companies, in their IT server centers for example, into air conditioning via heat exchangers. We have the biggest district heating system in Europe covering about 80 percent of Munich. We want to try and have a district cooling system too.

What are your ultimate goals for a sustainable Munich?
Our ambition is to reduce CO2 emissions by 50 percent by 2030. Our biggest problem is the traffic: 30-35 percent of CO2 emissions come from private cars. Our goal is to bring up the bicycle traffic to at least 15-20 percent of daily journeys. It was just six percent when I started as deputy mayor in 1996.

In the 1990s, we got 3.6 percent of energy from renewables. Now it is about 33 percent, enough to supply all of our 800,000 private households. So I am optimistic that we will reach our goal that by 2025 all customers in the city will be supplied by 100 percent renewable energy.

What is the mix of renewables in Munich now?
Besides wind power, the main renewable energy is hydropower. We have for example a very modern system and you can’t see it, which is very important for the look of the city. We have put it under the surface in the Isar River and other rivers in the city.

Also very important is geothermal energy; we want to build a new quarter for 20,000 inhabitants and this will be managed by geothermal power, solar power and a district heating system.

How much are you spending on renewables?
We want to spend nine billion euros between 2008 and 2025, 500 million euros per year.

Hep Monatzeder, Deputy-Mayor of Munich: “I am optimistic that we will reach our goal that by 2025 all customers in the city will be supplied by 100 percent renewable energy.” (Source: James Tulloch)

How important is city ownership of the energy company Stadtwerke München (SWM)?
That is a very important precondition. During the 1990s we stood firm against the wave of liberalisation. Other municipalities sold their energy companies but we kept it 100 percent owned by the community.

That means we decide how to reduce energy use. When our utility company tried to invest in a coal power plant we said no. So they invested in hydro, wind, solar, biomass and geothermal.

In my experience private energy companies have to look to their shareholders and their shareholders want to see money and therefore they will not try to get experience with new systems. But now they are forced to invest in renewable energy because the framework changed in Germany. The energy suppliers have to quit nuclear power. 

Can Germany phase out nuclear power by 2018 and decarbonize at the same time?
I think we can do it, although if we had started with all of Germany using the Munich system we would be in a much better position. But I think we are good enough at technological innovation.

What energy efficiency measures have you introduced?
We have a law that if you build a new house you can only use certain kinds of energy. And we really force companies to accept our ecological criteria; we give them an offer and if they don’t accept they will not get a building site.

And if we renovate old municipal buildings we are committed to doing so to an energy-efficiency standard 30 percent stricter than the German federal standard.

For example, I am living in a building constructed in 1901. We renovated the house and the cost for our energy came down 28 percent. You always have to promote these examples; people have to feel it in their pocket.

What have you done to tackle the traffic?
We offer park and ride services and we have created parking management and blue zone schemes.

Parking management means you have to pay more per hour for parking the further you travel into the city. The blue zone concept means you can keep a car in the city center for only one or two hours. The effect is that traffic necessary for the economy, such as deliveries, works but commuter traffic is discouraged.

We built a lot of cycling infrastructure and we did a big public relations campaign—that was very important. We put young people on bikes and said biking is fun, good for your health, and good for your pocket.

What have been the results?
In the middle of town traffic has come down in the last 10 years and the bike traffic has risen. Nowadays 68 percent of daily journeys are by bike, by foot, or by public transport.

Now we are having a big discussion about whether to reserve lanes on the road for cyclists. We have started some pilot projects counting cars and found that it is possible in some places to close one lane to cars and reserve it for cyclists. We would like to do more of that in the future.

What advice would you give to any other city government?

Show your people that they can have a good life when we bring CO2 emissions down, and create common green areas like parks for that good life. The social aspect of a green city is very important.