Mar 12, 2014

Carbon footprint reduction plan for cities

6 min
Follow @EnergyDigital

The March issue of Energy Digital magazine is live

The iconic skylines of major cities are more than just photos pasted on postcards; they show the strength of a town and evoke emotion in their citizens. Whether it’s the “City of the Big Shoulders,” “Crossroads of the West,” or even the “Paris of the Plains,” the skyscrapers symbolize the might of a nation – the determination of destiny.

But those behemoth buildings represent something else, the unchecked consumption of natural resources.

In every major American city, buildings account for the majority of energy use and carbon pollution – even more than the transportation or industrial sectors. If cities want to be more competitive and more resilient against energy-related crises, they need to boost the energy efficiency of their building stock. Usually, just a handful of large buildings account for a considerable portion of a city’s total energy use. Improving the energy performance of these buildings will yield significant, rapid results.

The mayors from 10 major U.S. cities – Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Orlando, Philadelphia and Salt Lake City – are implementing a four year plan to significantly increase energy efficiency in their city’s buildings, a move that combined could cut as much climate change pollution as generated by 1.5 million passenger vehicles every year, and lower energy bills by nearly $1 billion annually.

The new City Energy Project (CEP), an initiative from the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Institute for Market Transformation, is designed to create healthier, more prosperous American cities by targeting their largest source of energy use and climate pollution: buildings.

“More energy efficiency means new jobs and continued economic growth, and a more sustainable city, which will lead to a further increase in the quality of life for the people of Chicago,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Giant carbon footprints

Largely due to their electricity consumption, buildings are the largest single source of U.S. carbon emissions, representing 40 percent nationwide – more than either the transportation or industrial sectors. That number is even more dramatic at the city level, with more than half of carbon emissions in most U.S. cities coming from buildings – and in some cities as much as 75 percent. Much of the energy these buildings use, however, is wasted.

“City skylines have long been symbols of aspiration and innovation – this project takes that to a new level,” said Laurie Kerr, director of the City Energy Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “In the face of a changing climate and increasingly extreme weather, these mayors know they must act now to make their cities more resilient and sustainable.”

Cities with strong leadership can use their political will and the human capital to cut energy waste, improve the buildings that citizens live and work in, and lay the groundwork for a healthy future. Waiting for the state or federal governments to address energy waste is a waste of time.

“The City Energy Project will give city leaders and the real estate industry the support they need to make buildings better, improving the lives of millions of city residents,” said Cliff Majersik, executive director of the Institute for Market Transformation.

Economic and environmental benefits

Boosting building efficiency reduces the pollution that is affecting weather across the country. It reduces demand for new power plants. It makes cities more resilient to energy-related crises. And it helps clean up the air residents breathe by reducing other hazardous air pollution.

The CEP is projected to cut a combined total of 5 million to 7 million tons of carbon emissions annually. To put that in perspective, that is equivalent to the amount of electricity used by about 700,000 to nearly 1 million American homes annually, or taking 3-4 power plants offline.

There are also economic benefits. This includes creating jobs in a range of fields and skill levels to implement the efficiency measures – from electricians to architects, construction workers to engineers, and building technicians to software providers. It includes lowering energy bills for residents and businesses, reducing the cost of living and doing business, and freeing up money that can flow back into the local economy.

By pursuing well-crafted policies that address the largest buildings, cities may reduce their building-based energy consumption by 5 percent to 10 percent or even more, saving their residents and businesses tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars each year. 

The CEP is projected to save ratepayers a combined total of nearly $1 billion annually on their energy bills (at current prices).

“Building energy efficiency has far-reaching benefits, not only for the environment, but also in enabling high performing work space, facilitating jobs, and resulting in better financial return,” said Kyung-Ah Park, head of Environmental Markets Group at Goldman Sachs.

 How will it work?

Through this project, the cities will develop their own locally tailored plans to advance energy efficiency and reduce waste in their large buildings, which can represent roughly 50 percent of their citywide square footage. These plans, which will include multiple integrated strategies, can make more progress in each city than any one program or policy could alone.

The City Energy Project will offer their energy expertise to help guide the cities through the planning, designing and implementing processes. The energy efficiency solutions that CEP will help the cities develop are flexible to each city’s unique situation, supporting the following goals:

  • Promote efficient building operations: Strong building energy performance can be achieved through efficient operations and maintenance, and the training of facilities personnel.
  • Encourage private investment: Common-sense solutions to financial and legal barriers to energy efficiency should be adopted to increase private investment in building energy improvements.
  • City leadership: Cities should lead by example and reduce taxpayer-funded energy consumption in municipal buildings, and encourage the private sector to match their actions.
  • Promote transparency: Building energy performance information should be transparent and accessible to enable market demand and competition for energy-efficient buildings.

“Energy efficiency creates jobs, lowers energy bills, and is a cornerstone of constructing a sustainable future,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

The project will regularly measure how well cities achieve the targets in their energy efficiency plans. In addition, CEP will track specific metrics on estimated impact, including the annual monetary savings to each city’s residents and the reduction of energy use and carbon pollution. The project could possibly grow to include more cities, but for the foreseeable future, CEP will focus on ensuring the success of these 10 cities

 “With U.S. buildings consuming more primary energy than countries like Russia and India, the scale of the opportunity to optimize building energy performance is significant,” said John Mandyck, chief sustainability officer, UTC Building & Industrial Systems. “Cities collaborating and implementing creative, practical energy efficiency polices can go a long way to reducing America’s $450 billion annual energy bill and carbon emissions.”

The City Energy Project is funded through a unique partnership of three foundations: Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and The Kresge Foundation.

Share article

May 18, 2021

Toyota unveils electric van and Volvo opens fuel cell lab

Dominic Ellis
2 min
Toyota's Proace Electric medium-duty panel van is being launched across Europe as Volvo opens its first fuel cell test lab

Toyota is launching its first zero emission battery electric vehicle, the Proace Electric medium-duty panel van, across Europe.

The model, which offers a choice of 50 or 75kWh lithium-ion batteries with range of up to 205 miles, is being rolled out in the UK, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden.

At present, alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs, including battery electric vehicles) account for only a fraction – around 1.8 per cent – of new light commercial van sales in the UK, but a number of factors are accelerating demand for practical alternatives to vans with conventional internal combustion engines.

Low and zero emission zones are coming into force to reduce local pollution and improve air quality in urban centres, at the same time as rapid growth in ecommerce is generating more day-to-day delivery traffic.

Meanwhile the opening of Volvo's first dedicated fuel cell test lab in Volvo Group, marks a significant milestone in the manufacturer’s ambition to be fossil-free by 2040.

Fuel cells work by combining hydrogen with oxygen, with the resulting chemical reaction producing electricity. The process is completely emission-free, with water vapour being the only by-product.

Toni Hagelberg, Head of Sustainable Power at Volvo CE, says fuel cell technology is a key enabler of sustainable solutions for heavier construction machines, and this investment provides another vital tool in its work to reach targets.

"The lab will also serve Volvo Group globally, as it’s the first to offer this kind of advanced testing," he said.

The Fuel Cell Test Lab is a demonstration of the same dedication to hydrogen fuel cell technology, as the recent launch of cell centric, a joint venture by Volvo Group and Daimler Truck to accelerate the development, production and commercialization of fuel cell solutions within long-haul trucking and beyond. Both form a key part of the Group’s overall ambition to be 100% fossil free by 2040.

Share article