4 Bold Ways Cities Are Leading the Clean Energy Transition
Urban areas are often associated with substantial carbon footprints. For example, in 2019, a research team determined that the top 100 highest-emitting metropolitan areas produced 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions. But things have been changing quickly. Some of the most significant clean energy progress in recent years has come from urban areas.
Today we’ll explore the rise of renewables in cities, four of the most impactful ways they’re transitioning to clean energy, and some notable US examples.
Cities Setting Climate Change Goals
Before renewable energy in cities can be impactful, they first need to establish targets like any other initiative. For example, following the federal government’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement in 2017, many of the United State’s largest cities reaffirmed their commitment to a future powered by renewable energy. (Note: The United States formally rejoined the Paris Agreement in February 2021.)
Per REN21, a global renewable energy community spanning scientists, governments, non-government organizations (NGOs), and industry professionals, 350 North American municipal governments had set renewable energy targets by the end of 2020. Roughly 42% of the 834 city-level commitments worldwide can be found in the US and Canada.
How Cities Lead The Renewable Energy Transition
Transitioning from fossil-fueled to renewable energy sources requires a comprehensive plan tailored to an individual city’s constraints. However, some challenges, like building wind power infrastructure, are shared by nearly all metropolitan areas. Similarly, many cities are adopting the same strategies. Let’s look at some of them.
1. Legislation, Policies, and Deals
Although setting targets is the first step to renewable energy transformation, supportive laws and policies must be enacted to start making real-world progress. These must be followed by transactions with renewable energy providers.
According to data compiled by the American Cities Climate Challenge Renewables Accelerator, 1183 transactions occurred between 2015 and 2021. These deals span:
- On-site renewable energy generation – 582
- Off-site physical power purchasing agreements (PPA) – 373
- Community solar energy programs – 181
- Green tariffs – 42
- Long-term renewable energy certificates – 2
- Other – 2
- Off-site virtual PPA – 1
2. Off-Site PPAs and Building Renewable Energy Infrastructure
Many cities have adopted programs like rooftop solar panel installations. However, most cannot currently meet energy demands exclusively through generation projects built within city limits.
Instead, these cities must fund or partner with developers to build renewable energy generation sites elsewhere. These contracts are known as off-site power purchasing agreements (PPAs).
However, cities still face the challenge of transporting the energy generated at these locations, and they’ve begun building the infrastructure to do so. For example, SoCalGas’ Angeles Link project will construct a pipeline capable of delivering green hydrogen fuel equivalent to three million gallons of diesel daily to the LA Basin.
3. Driving Public Transportation Away From Fossil Fuels
One of the conveniences of living in an urban area is accessibility and public transportation. But while public transit helps reduce overall emissions, these vehicles can be amongst a city’s biggest polluters. And to help meet their climate change commitments, many cities are targeting these networks to facilitate their transition away from fossil fuels.
It’s no longer uncommon to find sustainable buses in a city, such as those powered by:
- Electric or hybrid engines
- Green hydrogen, compressed natural gas (CNG), or propane
4. Geothermal Heating and Cooling
Renewable energy can better target cities' higher-emission industries and societal activities when temperatures are regulated with geothermal heating and cooling. Adopting geothermal energy also helps reduce the additional strain on electricity grids from some aspects of broader renewable energy transitions.
Urban areas are known for creating a “heat island” effect that raises ambient temperatures, making it easier to operate heat pumps at higher efficiencies. And the ground naturally helps create more stable temperature zones already.
In some areas, further geothermal innovation is taking place. One cutting-edge example? Washington state is investigating how to use the Cascade mountain range’s volcanic activity to provide electricity for the Seattle-Tacoma area.
US Cities Setting An Example
These types of initiatives are being combined with alternative energy technologies in cities across the US to help mitigate climate change. And looking at some of the major renewable energy deals highlighted by the American Cities Climate Challenge Renewables Accelerator in 2021, we can learn from some examples around the country:
- Albuquerque, NM: A 0.85 MW on-site solar array and extensive battery system—the largest in the state—was installed at a high school in the Albuquerque Public Schools system.
- Batesville, AR: A 6 MW floating solar array—among the largest nationwide—is being built near the Batesville Wastewater Treatment Plant. It will offset an expected 97% of the city’s offices and other facilities.
- Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma: Growing an existing partnership, the Choctaw Nation has committed to doubling its purchases from OGE Energy Corporation’s green tariff program, adding another 5 MW of energy.
- Columbus, OH: Voters approved a landmark Clean Energy Columbus program that enables Columbus’ local government to negotiate energy contracts for residents and small businesses. It will help to achieve a 100% transition to renewable energy through 700 MW of new solar and wind generation.
- Houston, TX: “H-Town” has targeted multifaceted benefits while implementing its Climate Action Plan, including constructing the US’ largest “brownfield” solar project built above a closed landfill. This project will also provide economic opportunities for the nearby and historically disadvantaged Sunnyside.
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As a leader in engineering, procuring, building, and maintaining hydrogen, CNG and LNG infrastructure, FASTECH is committed to helping cities do their part to mitigate climate change. Our projects build out the essential renewable energy infrastructure that California’s cities have come to depend on – and we’re just getting started.
To learn more or get started on your project, reach out to us today!