Photo Credit: Glen Canyon Dam and Colorado River - Page, Arizona by Flickr.com user Jim Trodel

The Renewable Energy City

The seven key innovations of resilient cities are set as city models, which will be detailed over the next several weeks here at "Eco-Compass." While no one city has shown innovation in all seven areas, some are quite advanced in one or two. The challenge for urban planners will be to apply all of these city characteristics together, to generate a sense of hope through a combination of new technology, city design and community-based innovation, which together will create the Resilient City. The first is city model is the Renewable Energy City. 1. Renewable Energy City. Urban areas powered by renewable energy techniques and technologies from the region to the building level. Renewable energy enables a city to reduce its dependence on fossil energy and its ecological footprint and if using biological fuels can be part of a city's enhanced ecological functions. Renewable energy production can and should occur within cities, integrated into their land use and built form, and comprising a significant and important element of the urban economy.  Cities are not simply consumers of energy, but catalysts for more sustainable energy paths.  Cities can become more and more a part of the earth's solar cycle. While some solar city projects, such as those in the indented paragraph below, are underway (including Treasure Island in San Francisco) there are presently no major cities in the world that are powered entirely by renewable energy. Vauban is a 100% renewable suburb in Freiburg, Germany. Cairo has a plan for 20% renewable energy by 2020 based on wind and solar. Movement towards a renewable-energy future will require much greater levels of commitment from cities themselves-from the local governments and municipalities, large and small that make up metropolitan areas. Urban planning is necessary to create the infrastructure needed to support solar and wind power at the scale necessary to help power a city. While finding locations for large wind farms  near urban areas has been controversial (such as the wind farm proposal that was defeated off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts), there are significant opportunities to harness solar and wind power. Studies are also now showing that wind, like PV solar can be integrated into cities and their buildings. A study from Stanford University examined the potential for wind power in regions and in cities. Researcher Cristina Archer said "The main implication of this study is that wind, for low-cost wind energy, is more widely available than was previously recognized." Hydro power has been used in cities such as Vancouver, British Columbia and Christchurch, New Zealand, for decades. Few people see much more potential for hydro power due to the impact of large dams but the role of geothermal power appears to be offering a similar level of base load renewable power.

Dongtan, Masdar and North Port Quay - renewable city models for the future.

Dongtan. . . "It is designed to be a beautiful and truly sustainable city with a minimal ecological footprint. The goal is to use Dongtan as a template for future urban design. As China is planning to build no less than 400 new cities in the next twenty years, Dongtan's success is of crucial importance." — World Business Council of Sustainable Development

Dongtan is a new Chinese city near Shanghai which is designed to use 100% renewable energy in its buildings, it will be self-sufficient in water and food sourced from the surrounding farmland, and it will feature a zero-carbon public transport system powered entirely by renewable-energy. What happens to cars in the city is not yet clear. Energy plant will burn rice husks, normally just waste, near the city center and the energy will be generated on a decentralised model, using combined heat and power.

Masdar City in the United Arab Emirates is an important first example of a city built from scratch with 100% renewable energy and zero car use (in theory anyway). It is being built with a 60MW Solar PV plant to power all construction, and eventually a 130MW Solar PV plant for on-going power as well as a 20MW Wind farm and geothermal heat pumps for cooling buildings. Electric automatic pod cars on an elevated structure will be the basis of the transport.

North Port Quay in Western Australia will be home to 10,000 households and is designed to be 100% renewable through solar PV, small wind turbines called wind pods and a nearby wave power system. The development will be dense and walkable with an all-electric transport system featuring electric public transport and electric private transport all linked to the renewable power through battery storage in the vehicles (see Went, Newman and James, 2008).

New models of how we can make cities 100% renewable are needed but rebuilding our present cities is just as important. Cities like Adelaide have gone from zero to 20 percent renewable energy in ten years by building four large wind farms. The shift in the direction to the renewable city can occur through many actions:  demonstration solar or low energy homes created to show architects, developers, and citizens that green can be appealing, procurement actions that source regionally produced wind and other renewable energy to power municipal lights and buildings and locally and green building standards and requirements for all new public as well as private buildings. Few cities have been as active in seeking and nurturing a reputation as a solar city as Freiburg, Germany.  Known to many as the “ecological capital of Europe” Freiburg has adopted an impressive and wide-ranging set of environmental planning and sustainability initiatives, many focused on renewable energy.  Through its Solar Region Freiburg program, the city has sought to actively support solar energy as an important element of its economic base, and even a form of local tourism.  A series of “solar tours” have been organized, for instance, as a way to visit and learn about their innovative solar energy projects in the city.  And there are many such projects, from dramatic individual residences (e.g. Rolf Disch’s Heliotropic House) to prototype experimental homes (e.g. the Freiburg zero-energy house) to business structures (e.g. the zero-emission Solar Fabrik, the Solar Tower, high-rise office building), and public buildings and installations.  The city has also become home to an impressive number of scientific and educational organizations dedicated to renewable energy to ensure it has an economic edge in the next industrial era. Freiburg has, moreover, incorporated solar energy in all major new development areas including Resielfeld and Vauban, new compact green growth areas in the city.  Both active and passive solar techniques are employed in these projects, and the city also mandates a stringent energy standard for all new homes. In Vauban, some 5,000 zero-energy homes—homes that produce at least as much energy as they need—have been built and a zero energy office complex was added in 2006, along with two solar garages where PV covers the roof of the only allowable parking in the area. This emphasis on solar energy has in turn set the tone and context for what other businesses and organizations could do. The Victoria Hotel in the center of Freiberg, for instance, now markets itself as the world’s first zero-emission hotel, boasting that all its energy needs are satisfied through renewable energy sources, including solar hot water and photovoltaic panels on the hotel’s rooftop.  A host of other environmental features are employed, including providing all guests with free transit passes for riding the city’s exemplary public transit system. The City of Adelaide, in the State of South Australia also envisions itself as a renewable city, as a part of its larger green city initiative.  It has designated solar precincts for the installation of photovoltaics on the rooftops of buildings, including Parliament House. There is a solar schools initiative, with the goal of 250 solar schools (schools with rooftop installations, and that incorporate solar and renewable energy into their educational curricula).  This idea has since been taken up by the new Australian Federal government to be applied to every school in the country. And most creatively the city has been installing grid-connected PV street lamps that produce some six times the energy needed for the lighting.  These new lights are designed in a distinctive shape of a local mallee tree. This is one of the few examples of solar art or solar ‘place’ projects. Along with incentives (financial and otherwise), solar cities recognize the need to set minimum regulatory standards.  Barcelona has a solar ordinance, which requires new buildings and substantial retrofits of existing buildings must obtain a minimum of 60 percent of hot water needs from solar.  This has already led to a significant growth in that city in the number of solar thermal installations. Transport can also be a major part of the renewables challenge. The more that public transport moves to electric power the more it can be part of a renewable city. Calgary Transit’s creative initiative “Ride the Wind” provides all the power needed for its light rail system from wind turbines in the south of Alberta.  Private transport can now also be part of this transition through a combination of electric vehicles and new battery storage technology (together called Renewable Transport by Went, Newman and James, 2008 – see www.resilientcitiesbook.org). Electric vehicles not only can use renewable electricity to power their propulsion they can be plugged in during the day and through their batteries enable the power system to store four times their consumption in renewables. Thus they can provide a critical role in enabling renewables to build up as a much higher proportion of the grid. This breakthrough in technology will need to be carefully examined to ensure that cities use it to be fully sustainable and do not use it to justify further urban sprawl. Renewable power in a city enables it to use energy for creating healthy and livable environments without anything like the impact of fossil fuels. But by itself it will not be enough. Check back next week for the #2 city model resulting from innovations of resilient cities. What do you think? Leave us a comment. ———- Peter NewmanPeter Newman is Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University in Perth, Australia. He is the co-author of Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems, Green Urbanism Down Under, and Resilient Cities: Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change.