Re-imagining the Energy Transition from an Urban Planning Perspective. The case of Denmark


  • Lasse Schytt Nørgaard Aalborg University


Positive Energy Districts, transdisciplinary, sustainable planning, governance, stakeholder involvement




As urban areas are increasingly pressed to engage with the sustainable transition, the concept of Positive Energy Districts (PEDs) is gaining momentum as a potential game changing force. The complexity of PEDs is at the forefront of planning efforts as renewable energy production, energy balancing, and energy communities is becoming key within the urban context (Koutra et al. 2023, Matsson et al. 2023, Van Wees et al. 2022). This conference paper explores the transformative potential of PEDs as a planning approach beyond a matter of only an energy balance. By exploring a transdisciplinary perspective and emphasizing stakeholder engagement and co-creation processes, Positive Energy Districts can help shed lights on the complex dynamics at play in urban planning and the technical limitations that a sustainable transition is facing.

According to Koutra et al. (2023) current PED research is too limited focus on technological solutions, downplaying the importance of governance and socio-technical perspectives in planning. Additionally, Matsson et al. (2023) maintain that current definitions are ambiguous and that the district scale provides unique opportunities for planning and engaging local actors and communities of citizens. Lastly, emphasizing the complexity Van Wees et al. (2022), establish that the collaboration of citizens and stakeholders is an integral part of PEDs. This paper engages with a critical review of key texts about Positive Energy District research with the intent of investigating the meta-theoretical question “What is the purpose of working with PEDs, and what meaning does the concept potentially have for planning?”

By deconstructing the concept and reframing it as a vessel for the sustainable transition, this working paper explores possibilities to further develop collaborative planning and transition management perspectives and the limits and possibility of establishing a common ontology. The paper explores the PEDs in a situational case in Denmark by uncovering planning and governance frameworks and conditions to situate PED at the crossroad of divergent positions and interests – and open questions on who is responsible for advancing the sustainability of cities, while emphasizing new patterns of interaction in urban planning. The discussion extends to the role of conflicts and stakeholder input in expert-led technical analyses and how the co-production of strategies can become a tool of self-perpetuation in planning.

In conclusion, this paper positions PEDs as more than just an energy-efficient tool instrumental to the energy transition; but as a meeting point of energy and urban planning in the governance of the sustainable urban transition. By refocusing the PED concept on the overall goal of furthering the sustainable urban planning, we can uncover a massive potential in the diverse interests at play, which can become an intrinsic part of future planning practices. Despite the immanent challenges and overwhelming complexity, a collaborative planning approach to PED shows a potential to engage with progressive urban policies and encourage institutional innovation.


Koutra, S., Terés-Zubiaga, J., Bouillard, P., Becue, V., 2023. ‘Decarbonizing Europe’ A critical review on positive energy districts approaches. Sustainable Cities and Society 89, 104356.

Mattsson, M., Olofsson, T., Lundberg, L., Korda, O., Nair, G., 2023. An Exploratory Study on Swedish Stakeholders’ Experiences with Positive Energy Districts. Energies 16, 4790.

Van Wees, M., Revilla, B.P., Fitzgerald, H., Ahlers, D., Romero, N., Alpagut, B., Kort, J., Tjahja, C., Kaiser, G., Blessing, V., Patricio, L., Smit, S., 2022. Energy Citizenship in Positive Energy Districts—Towards a Transdisciplinary Approach to Impact Assessment. Buildings 12, 186.