The STEP UP project: replicable solutions for urban sustainable energy planning


STEP UP (Strategies Towards Energy Performance and Urban Planning) is a European FP7 project focused on sustainable energy planning in urban areas.

Through the project, which ran from November 2012 to July 2015, four European cities – Ghent, Glasgow, Gothenburg and Riga – worked together with research and commercial partners to develop enhanced Sustainable Energy Action Plans (SEAPs) and new innovative projects which address three key themes: energy and technology; organisation and stakeholders; and finance and economics. By developing and testing a range of tools and approaches to support this, the project is not only helping the partner cities to meet their CO2 emissions reductions targets, but is also providing a model for other cities across Europe to adapt and follow in their own sustainable energy planning. 


Over the course of the project the partners have made a number of significant achievements, building on their existing expertise and learning from each other in the process; many of these are featured in an eye-catching infographic on the STEP UP website. This includes the development and approval of the cities’ enhanced SEAPs, meaning that all four cities are now implementing more integrated, comprehensive and ambitious frameworks of energy actions, which are supported at the highest political level in the cities. The partners have also built an understanding of their existing energy actions’ key success factors and used this to develop new actions, identifying a number of ‘lighthouse initiatives’ which not only have significant climate and energy impacts but also have great potential for replication in cities across Europe.

Beyond this, the partners have established a wider network of European cities which expressed an interest in learning about the project’s findings; a core group of these, so-called companion cities, committed to test STEP UP tools and approaches, receiving coaching from project partners and offering feedback on the applicability of these tools in their own cities.

Building on this work, STEP UP partners have shared their experiences with a wide and varied audience at a number of events, including sessions at the 2014 Energy Cities rendezvous, 2015 All-Energy conference and EU Sustainable Energy Week 2015. The work has also fed into the development of two new Masters courses, one at the University of Strathclyde and the other at Riga Technical University, both of which aim to grow knowledge, skills and capabilities in sustainable city planning.  


Using the learnings from this work a number of resources for cities have been developed, all of which are available on the STEP UP website. This includes two STEP UP guides for cities: one focused on developing enhanced SEAPs and the other on developing sustainable energy projects. Recognising that both tasks can be challenging for cities, especially those that are setting out on this journey for the first time, these guides offer advice and recommendations, sharing the experiences of the STEP UP cities and offering practical tools and solutions which could be replicated elsewhere.

Complementary resources on the STEP UP website, including videos and webinars, support these guides, offering advice from STEP UP partners, city politicians and other experts on some of the key challenges cities face in their sustainable energy planning, such as measuring and monitoring CO2 emissions, developing and financing energy actions, securing political support and engaging stakeholders.

Nine steps

The approach to developing enhanced SEAPs followed by the STEP UP cities consisted of 9 key steps. These steps broadly followed the Covenant of Mayors’ recommended SEAP process, building on this with additional steps which support the development of ambitious, robust and integrated SEAPs that will deliver environmental, social and economic benefits for the cities and their citizens. This included: reviewing existing energy plans and actions in the cities, in order to identify strengths, weaknesses and opportunities which could be taken on board in the enhanced SEAPs; and conducting an analysis of potential future socio-economic scenarios that the cities might face in order to ensure that the enhanced SEAPs were designed to be able to withstand such changes.

By sharing these steps, and the tools and approaches used for each, with cities across Europe, STEP UP seeks to enable other cities to test the same approaches, transferring and adapting them to their own local contexts as appropriate, and therefore ensuring that STEP UP continues to have an impact on urban sustainable energy planning going forward.

With the project now at an end, the four cities are working with local stakeholders to implement their enhanced SEAPs, and are continuing to engage with the Covenant of Mayors and other initiatives such as the European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities and Communities, in order to share the project’s findings and continue to build valuable relationships with other cities across Europe.   

To find out more about the STEP UP project, visit: