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RENEWABLE ENERGY OPPORTUNITIES FOR A CITY: CLOSER TO A NET-ZERO CARBON CITY

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Niyireth Torres's picture
urban Planner Renewable energy enthusiast

I help cities, towns, and communities achieve sustainable practices by providing strategic planning using my knowledge of green building practices, renewable energy, architecture, and the retail...

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  • Aug 12, 2021
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The purpose of diving into innovations in biogas, kinetic energy, wind power, and solar is that cities account for most of the world’s carbon emissions and energy use. Cities only cover 3% of the earth’s surface but produce more than 70% of carbon emissions (from buildings, energy, and transport), and it consumes 78% of the world’s primary energy. Currently, 54% of the world’s population lives in cities, and by the year 2050, the projection is 68%. So, it is safe to say that advancements in implementing renewable energy in cities and finding solutions for climate change will affect the world.

Applying an Integrated Approach

Urbanization, growing population, and climate change are the three significant challenges that cities must address. The traditional top-down approach to city planning has demonstrated that it is inefficient and has multiple blind spots. Cities are systems and need to be treated as such. They have numerous interacting or interrelated elements that comprise urban life.

 For cities to take on climate change, they must take a new approach, an integrated approach. A holistic course of action is necessary for the city’s resilience in impending climate and health-related crises. An integrated approach encompasses clean electrification, smart digital technology, and efficient buildings and infrastructure, along with a circular economy approach to water waste and materials. This delivery of mechanisms is called “systematic efficiency.”

 

Getting to Net-Zero Cities

This integrated approach has the goal of accomplishing net-zero carbon cities. Net-zero refers to the balance between greenhouse gas produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. Net-zero is reached when the amount we add is no more than the amount taken away. It is an ambitious task, but cities must achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 to keep the global temperature from increasing to 1.5 degrees.

The necessary actions have to be done on three fronts:

 

  • Increasing renewable energy production: Conventional energy production produces waste heat requiring additional energy consumption with extraction and transportation of fossil fuels. Renewable energy as the primary energy, on the other hand, has is far less waste.
  • Electrification of cars, public transport, and heating: Electrifying vehicles, public transportation, and heating would save more than one-half the energy cities think they need. In Rewiring America, it breakdowns the energy savings in that 25% is from the heat waste from converting fossil fuels to energy; 15% with electric energy transport; 11% finding, mining, and refining fossil fuels; 6-9% with efficient heat pumps to electrify buildings; and 4-5% in for unburned fossil fuels.
  • Increase energy efficiency: The main focus is on reducing the wasteful energy consumption of buildings through high-performance and low-carbon building materials, electric systems, distributed energy, and intelligent management systems. The built environment is at the center of the decarbonization process, being the source of approximately 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Where 30% come from building operations and 10% from construction and materials.

Policies and standards are needed to increase these actions to ensure a greener, more innovative, resilient, more equitable, and efficient urban infrastructure. It would allow public-private cooperation in infrastructure, real estate development, mobility, equipment and technology providers, and utilities.

Some policies and regulations that can help the goal to get to a net-zero city include:

 

  • Clean Air Zones
  • Nacional ICE Vehicle Sales Phaseouts
  • Enhanced Vehicle Emissions Standards
  • Monitored Lifetime Performance
  • Building codes with detailed requirements for the building to be fully electric, highly efficient, have on and/or off-site renewable energy systems and smart e-mobility infrastructure.
  • Building codes that require lifecycle assessments with carbon reduction targets.
  • City ban on new fossil fuel connections and related infrastructure.

How would a Net-Zero City look like?

Imagine walking down a city street where every step you take creates energy powering the light posts on the road and also used as charging stations for your cellphone or your electric car. You go to a park to walk your dog and see moving works of art that create wind energy. You can pick up your dog’s waste and properly disposed of it in a public methane digester. As you enter your building, you see the design elements that happen to harvest wind and solar.

When you are at home and dispose of your waste, you go to your floor’s waste room. There you see an area for biodegradable waste that goes to the building’s anaerobic digester, where it is either converted into energy or gas. Additional sections include one for recycling, hazardous, and e-waste for proper management of waste. 

In an era, post-pandemic congestion and crowding are avoided with remote working and rescheduling. Work and school are scheduled in different time slots, resulting in no more rush hour traffic or congestion during school pickup. So, when you go to work, you can walk, take electric public transportation, bike, or your electric vehicle on less congested roads. If you take your electric car, you can plug it up to the building's grid to charge or use any light post that doubles as a charging station. 

Heritage buildings or existing buildings are retrofitted for efficiency, and their performance monitored, with emission limits and grid-interactive controls and renewables. New buildings are entirely or primarily electric, have a zero waste or circular approach to their waste, and serve as a backup battery for the city’s electric grid in emergencies.

This vision of a net-zero city is to create a nearly self-reliant and resilient city for any crisis ahead. Cities must prepare for being cut off the national grid through natural disasters or any isolation caused by the next health crisis.

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