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Watch These 4 Clean Energy Trends in U.S. Cities in 2020

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Lacey Shaver's picture
City Renewable Energy Manager World Resources Institute

Lacey Shaver is the City Renewable Energy Manager within World Resources Institute’s Global Energy Program. In this role, she is expanding WRI's work with corporate buyers and utilities on...

  • Member since 2020
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  • Jan 30, 2020

This item is part of the Special Issue - 2020-01 - Predictions & Trends, click here for more

At the start of this new decade, American cities, states and businesses have already come a long way on the road to cutting greenhouse gas emissions to help tackle the climate crisis:

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This puts these subnational U.S. actors on pace to reduce emissions 25% below 2005 levels by 2030. To make the transition to more sustainable energy, city governments must work simultaneously to meet municipal energy demand with renewables, partner with residents and the business community to increase community-wide access to clean energy and break down system-level barriers, such as regulatory or market hurdles.

In 2020, cities will be a major driver of power sector transformation toward renewables. Here are a few energy trends in U.S. cities to watch:

     1.  Cities will sign unprecedented utility-scale clean energy deals.

In the last few years, cities have signed increasingly large power purchase agreements (PPAs) to source electricity from renewable energy developers for municipal and community use. In 2018, Philadelphia signed a 70 megawatt PPA representing 22% of the city government’s load. Taking it a step further, last year, Cincinnati signed a 100 megawatt deal for the nation’s largest municipal solar farm, with the first 35 megawatts meeting about 30% of the city’s municipal needs and the remaining 65 megawatts benefitting community residents who get their electricity from the city’s community choice aggregation program. The 20-year contract will provide a stable source of clean energy and will save the city an estimated $1.7 millionWe should expect cities to get ever more creative with PPAs, signing large deals to meet municipal needs and expanding to community members and residents. We may also see joint deals with other jurisdictions or community partners such as businesses and universities, to access economies of scale.

     2.  Cities will work with businesses to cut carbon emissions.

Many cities choose to begin their clean energy transition by tackling municipal energy usage, which is within the local government’s control. In contrast, making progress toward community goals requires the support of and partnership with many community stakeholders, including local businesses. This is already happening in Philadelphia, where Mayor Jim Kenney launched the Climate Collaborative of Greater Philadelphia to provide training and technical assistance to city leaders to implement their own climate-related goals. Over 40 partners have signed up, including universities, small businesses, NGOs, clinics and hospitals and transit authorities. Drawing on the city’s recent experience, the Collaborative’s first workshop covered how to procure renewable electricity through off-site solar agreements. In 2020, expect to see more collaboration across sectors to move more efficiently toward community-wide energy goals.

     3.  Cities will band together to overcome barriers to clean energy.

After cities sign clean energy commitments and begin to identify options to increase renewable energy use, they often encounter barriers in the form of laws or regulations that come from outside the city limits, such as the state government. To address these hurdles, cities have started banding together to create coalitions for change. In Virginia, sustainability staff from cities and counties organized trainings to better understand how to increase access to renewable energy within the state. The Colorado Cities for Climate Action coalition worked to expand state climate policy by providing testimony from local officials, supporting climate-friendly bills and building relationships between state- and locally-elected officials. In 2020, expect to see more cities collaborating to engage with state, regulatory and wholesale market actors.

     4.  Cities will explore new channels to influence their energy future.

Cities are increasingly aware of the influence that utilities and state regulatory commissions have over the renewable energy options available to local governments, so some are working together for regulatory change. Cities in states such as Colorado, Florida, North Carolina and Wisconsin have formally partnered with their investor-owned utilities, creating new avenues to collaborate toward their shared climate and energy goals. This kind of engagement can result in large-scale change: in Utah, city-utility engagement led to the passing of landmark legislation that will enable the next steps toward a new 100% community-wide renewable electricity utility solution that can serve cities across the state. Cities are also starting to participate in regulatory proceedings at state public utility commissions. In 2019, Minneapolis joined forces with state agencies, businesses and consumer advocates to oppose Xcel Energy’s acquisition of a new gas plant. As cities become more aware of how their energy mix and options for purchasing renewables are set at the regulatory level, we may see more cities participating in regulatory proceedings

Key Words for 2020: Collaboration and Creativity

This will be a big year for U.S. policy, and the energy space is no exception. Because of a lack of action at the federal level, cities, states and businesses are vital for transitioning the nation to a low-carbon power system – and this year, we will watch many of these actors move from commitment to action together. Just days into 2020, the Virginia state legislature is already introducing new bills that, if passed, would substantially change the future of renewable energy in the state. Many cities, including Minneapolis and Chicago, are researching new solutions that could help them to meet their clean energy targets. To increase access to renewable energy, the next decade will require greater partnership across sectors and more emphasis on system-level change. In many cases, cities will be the ones to help us get there.

Interested in advancing renewables in your community? Visit to access tools and resources for renewable energy procurement. This site is required reading for local governments interested in transitioning to a clean energy future.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 30, 2020

What are the major cities that are holding out on joining the clean energy trends-- and any insights on what would make them change their tune?

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Jan 31, 2020

Add to list - 

All future municipal vehicle purchases should be EVs.

For example - garbage trucks

Los Angeles won’t buy ICE garbage trucks by 2022, full fleet electric by 2035

Los Angeles Board of Sanitation director Enrique Zaldivar made the announcement last week that not only will the city stop buying gas-powered garbage trucks in 2022, but they will have a fully electric fleet by 2035.

The duty cycle of garbage trucks, especially in large cities, is a perfect use case for electric drive.  A Tesla cofounder, Ian Wright, has been advocating this for years.

Garbage trucks are large, so have plenty of space for batteries. They stop and start constantly, which means regenerative braking can help save tremendous amounts of energy. They are heavy, need a lot of torque, and stay at low speeds, where electric motors have a huge torque advantage. They drive consistent, predictable routes and return back to a central facility, making range and charging non-issues.

And they’re noisy and smelly and disgusting, and they bring all of those undesirable characteristics directly into residential areas right in front of people’s homes, so reducing noise and air pollution is crucial.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 31, 2020

For frequent start/stop vehicles like garbage trucks that then spend most of their time charging, seems like a no brainer!

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