Essai Urbain: software tool to help cities reduce energy use, greenhouse gas emissions

Essai Urbain developed a software tool to help urban planners and administrations reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, take a life cycle approach to development and achieve the resulting benefits. The approach, tested in Spain, allows planners to take account of the full environmental impact of their proposals and activities.

Additional tools

Presentation given during the Essai Urbain project © Maxime Pousse Presentation given during the Essai Urbain project © Maxime Pousse

" Urban population is growing and there is an urgent need to make this growth sustainable. The Essai Urbain project is one step towards this, and it is encouraging to see that cities are willing to go in this direction and that solutions exist to help them. "

Maxime Pousse, Project Manager, Nobatek

The project adapted the Neighbourhood Evaluation for Sustainable Territories (NEST) software tool to the needs of San Sebastian, Spain, integrating elements related to the energy consumption of buildings. The software was used to investigate the current sustainability of the energy use situation and envisaged retrofitting strategies for three districts of the city.

Working with the city council, the partners used NEST to assess greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and energy consumption. The results allowed the council to quantify environmental impacts and assess strategies for attenuating them.

Growing demand for sustainability measures

It is estimated that almost 80 % of EU citizens will live in cities by 2020, while buildings account for 40 % of EU primary energy consumption and 25 % of the EU’s GHG emissions. These factors, allied to growing awareness of environmental issues, have led to increased demand for sustainability measures in urban areas.

In response, Essai Urbain’s technological partners — two sustainable construction centres from either side of the Franco-Spanish border — developed a new section for the NEST software, with support from San Sebastian city council. NEST was initially designed for use on new urban projects in France and the new section allowed adaptations to be made to the software. Creation of an associated database was also needed to make the tool suitable for use in Spain.

The tool was then applied to the three districts using data from the municipal administration and local strategies on energy use in buildings. Simulations showed the potential to cut GHG emissions by 11-16 % (depending on the district) by 2020 and by 18-28 % by 2030, compared with 2007 levels. Although these are lower than the city’s reduction targets of 20.5 % and 30 % for 2020 and 2030 respectively, they are significant and have enabled the council to refine its strategies and identify where more effort is needed to meet its targets.

Sustainable development in urban planning

The project promoted sustainable development in urban planning through a communication and outreach strategy. The strategy included a website (, information leaflets, four training and dissemination sessions for more than 75 participants, including 17 local and regional authority representatives, and participation in seven scientific conferences. This allowed detailed theoretical and practical presentation of the application of the life cycle approach to urban planning, and specifically to energy-related actions at district level.

Innovative features of the project include development of four renewable energy production calculation sheets that are adaptable to different localities and designed for use by non-experts. Other innovative aspects are use of the life-cycle perspective for assessing energy strategies and integration into sustainability assessments of socio-economic aspects such as availability of public transport, green areas and bicycle lanes, as well as levels of social housing.

The partners are now considering deploying the methodology in other districts of San Sebastian and different cities.

Total investment and EU funding

Total investment for the project “Essai Urbain” is EUR 398 780, with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR 259 207 through the “France - Spain - Andorra” Operational Programme for the 2007-2013 programming period.

Draft date