Low-carbon energy supply strategy for the City of Cambridge

Cambridge city

Cambridge city


Jens Ole Hansen

Business Development Director
Tel: +45 5161 8591

The City of Cambridge located north of Boston, Massachusetts, USA, shares increasing global concerns about climate change and the many challenges it presents. Cambridge has adopted a Climate Protection Action Plan with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. 

In Cambridge, close to 80% of the greenhouse gas emissions are estimated to result from building operations. So, the City has developed a 25-year framework for setting Cambridge on the trajectory to becoming a net-zero community. A community is considered a net-zero community of buildings when all greenhouse gas emissions resulting from building operations are offset by producing carbon-free energy. 

Achieving the net zero objective will require a significant shift in the supply of energy to Cambridge buildings — away from fossil-fuel-based sources and toward low- or zero-carbon sources. 

In order to better understand the full potential of renewable energy and low-carbon district heating and cooling in Cambridge, the City commissioned Ramboll to develop an energy supply strategy to help the City decarbonize its energy supply. 

Ramboll studied the existing energy use across the city and the sources of supply, looked into the possibilities for the future low-carbon supply, assessed barriers and suggested ways to overcome them to create a road map for the City. 

Ramboll developed several potential scenarios for Cambridge to take towards carbon neutrality. The scenarios covered hundred percent electrification to widespread low-temperature district heating and everything in between. The conclusion for the most cost-effective path to significant decarbonization was: 

  • Address thermal supply as the key priority as it exceeds electrical demand.
  • District heating and cooling is economically viable, increases resilience, increases low carbon supply options and should be pursued in high density areas. 
  • Electrification of low density residential areas should be pursued. 

With this conclusion, Ramboll developed the road map towards decarbonization for the City of Cambridge. 

The City selected Ramboll due to our extensive thermal energy experience from Europe, including district heating and cooling. 

Ramboll provided the following services:

  • City wide energy demand data gathering and analysis.
  • Benchmarking data to complete data gaps as necessary to complete database.
  • Development of 2030, 2040 energy demand forecast.
  • Development of GIS heating, cooling and electrical demand mapping for present and future demand.
  • Assess barriers to low-carbon supply and how to address.
  • Development of 10+ low-carbon energy supply scenarios for consideration.
  • Facilitation of multiple stakeholders workshops including electricity and gas utilities, city planners, Universities of Harvard and MIT, heating supply companies and neighbouring cities to educate on the solutions available and shortlist the scenarios developed.
  • Development of a city wide model to assess the business as usual scenario for the City’s energy supply against three potential scenarios (electrification, electrification with district heating and cooling, district heating and cooling with alternative energy supply sources) from a greenhouse gas emissions and NPV perspective between now and 2040.
  • Development of a feasibility report to outline the overall findings of the project, LCESS Implementation Action Plan, the LCESS Implementation Recommendations (including technical, policy, regulatory, commercial, business models, stakeholder and environmental) and Implementation Risks.


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