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The Role of E-mobility Trends in Decarbonizing Transport

Decarbonizing the Transportation Sector with E-mobility |

It’s no secret that transportation is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, transportation accounted for 27% of all U.S. emissions in 2020. The good news is that there are a number of trends that are helping to decarbonize the transportation sector. One of the most promising is the rise of electric vehicles and other e-mobility options, like electric bikes and scooters.

Here, we take a look at what e-mobility actually means, and why, along with cycling, it can help us move towards decarbonizing transport and thus reducing our carbon footprint.

What is e-mobility?

E-mobility is a term that describes the use of electronic devices and systems to power vehicles. This includes everything from electric cars, e-bikes, and electric scooters to electric buses and trains. These trends are helping to decarbonize transportation, and they’re only going to increase.

The benefits of e-mobility include reduced emissions, lower running costs, and improved energy efficiency. E-mobility is seen as a cleaner, more efficient alternative to traditional petrol and diesel-powered vehicles. As the world looks for ways to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels, e-mobility is expected to play an increasingly important role in the transportation sector.

What’s so good about e-mobility?

Electric cars are much more energy-efficient than motorised vehicles, so you can feel good about reducing your carbon footprint, as they use less energy. 100%-EVs are the more environmentally friendly choice as they themselves produce zero emissions (depending on the power source that powers the grid where the EV is charged, the EV can be entirely zero-emission if the grid is powered by renewable energy). They’re also much cheaper to operate since you’ll only need to charge the battery rather than buying gas or oil. 


For more on electric vehicles, please see:

Benefits of Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Vehicles


Free photos of ElectricalIn addition to electric vehicles, electric bikes have become an emerging popular trend in e-mobility.  Cycling is an efficient and low-emission way to travel, and it’s becoming more popular all over the world, as both a hobby and a way to get to work in a speedy and eco-friendly way.

However, many people are now seeking out even better alternatives to allow them to get around without having to use quite as much effort. As a result, electric bike options are also becoming more popular. Cyclists and businesses are investing in e-bikes and also in quality storage solutions to keep these valuable methods of transportation safe.

Electric bikes free up the road for other road users and are often faster in city traffic. This reduces the number of petrol cars sitting in traffic generating harmful emissions. To take this even further, this guide estimates that an e-bike generates around 134kg of CO2e during the manufacturing process. This is significantly smaller than the carbon footprint of manufacturing a car, which comes in around 5.5 tonnes of CO2 at a minimum.

How can you get the most out of your e-options?

To improve the eco-credentials of your e-bike or electric vehicle, make sure to get yourself on a renewable energy tariff, or generate your own renewable energy. This way, you can be assured that you’re reducing the overall carbon footprint of your transport even further.

To sum up

Electric vehicles, electric bikes, and other e-mobility methods are important trends to watch as we work towards decarbonizing transport. They offer a number of benefits for individuals, cities, and the environment. We hope that this article has given you a better understanding of these two modes of transportation and their role in our sustainable future.


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Austin, Texas: a sustainable city

Bright GREEN City in Texas |

Austin, Texas

Ladybird Lake, Austin, Texas

Eco-friendly Capital

 

Austin

Austin is widely recognized as a top eco-friendly city, especially in the United States. In Austin, through non-profit organizations, sustainability groups, and local government; there are continuous efforts in environmental justice. [See below for a few examples of Austin’s sustainability organizations].

Austin’s local sustainability organizations also work to improve the city’s carbon footprint and make strides toward a renewable energy based local economy. Austin’s sustainability measures are extensive; which is why the city has consistently been recognized as a leading U.S. green city in national sustainability studies.

Austin is an attractive city from an economic and geographic perspective. This is true for hard-working professionals in a variety of fields, from education to agriculture. Additionally, tech or artistically focused, sustainability-focused people, and entrepreneurs do well in the city. Austin attracts a diverse population of job-seekers and migrants, perhaps attracting people to the city due to its unique physical setting.


Community Solar in Austin

Community solar project in Austin

Austin Energy’s Community Solar Program provides access to locally-generated solar energy for customers. They provide solar power from local community solar photovoltaic (PV) projects. Community solar projects are arrays of solar PV invested in by members of a local community from which energy and/ or financial benefits are derived. They will even develop community solar projects if needed (Austin Energy, 2020). Community solar is one example of how Austin is leading American cities, and worldwide, in renewable energy.

A major component of Austin investing in renewable energy projects is community solar investments. These investments are made by Austin’s residents, commercial building owners, and business building owners. Austinites who want solar, or simply see it as a profitable investment, can freely invest in community solar projects. A group of potential renewable energy investors is able to invest in a community pool of solar energy as seen in Austin Energy’s community solar programs – Austin Energy, 2020.

On Austin’s municipal energy grid, in addition to solar, there are other renewable energy sources such as wind, hydro, and biomass; as well as a substantial share of fossil fuel and nuclear energy. However, available energy from solar in Austin is abundant. An increasing quantity of Austin’s residences and buildings have rooftop solar panels or are invested in community solar projects.


Austin residences with rooftop solar

Why is Austin a leader in community solar?  

There are many communities in Austin that can optimally put solar panels on their rooftops because they have access to abundant sunshine – for others, there is community solar. Many community solar investors aren’t otherwise able to have access to optimal solar resources (for example, a property within a shaded area). Often, community solar investors can’t install solar PV panels on their property (such as in the case of a rental property or HOA that doesn’t allow solar PV). Some community solar investors simply like the investment opportunity these renewable energy projects provide.

Community solar project in Austin

On average, there are over 200 sunny days per year in Austin (along with over 100 partly cloudy days with intermittent sun). Austin not only has the right weather for community solar but the right political climate as well.

 

“As cities are leading on climate change, Austin is focused on inclusive innovation around sustainability. We are realizing a greener future, and the Austin Energy Community Solar initiative shows the world how everyone in your community can support and benefit from renewable energy.”  – quote by Austin Mayor Steve Adler.


UTAEI; Austin as a World-leading Sustainable City

 

Austin’s growing prominence in addressing the climate change crisis is hard to overlook. Austin is quickly becoming a leading city in the United States among many American cities transitioning to renewable energy sources. The University of Texas at Austin (utexas.edu) is a global leader in the research and development (R&D) of renewable energy and sustainability technologies.

UT Austin features sustainability technology R&D facilities that are recognized globally as leaders in the field. R&D in sustainability and clean energy technology is found prominently at The University of Texas at Austin Energy Institute (UTAEI). UTAEI came out with a major study, demonstrating that solar and wind, as well as natural gas, are the least expensive forms of energy available (UT News).


Austin– A Bright Example of a Sustainable City

 

Austin skyline next to a portion of Ladybird Lake

Austin has gained the reputation of a sustainable, progressive, and innovative city. The city’s green reputation has spread internationally as well as in the states. The city is well-known for its active concerned citizenry in many sustainability and justice issues.

This is evident by Austinites’ active participation in sustainability and social/ environmental justice movements. [see below for a few examples of Austin’s sustainability organizations]. Austin was ranked #25, one of the top spots for a major US city, in terms of access to green spaces (at 73% of the city covered by green spaces) by interiorbeat.com.

The roles played by the active citizenry in sustainability movements are evident in Austin. Active citizenry is fundamental to the sustainable success, progress, and growth of a city. The city is certainly blessed to have such a well-informed citizenry (evolveaustin.org).


Here is a brief snippet from Architectural Digest on the reasons for ranking Austin as the #1 most sustainable city in the United States

waterfront boardwalk near downtown Austin

“While five out of ten of the greenest [U.S.] cities are located in the Northeast, the number-one spot went to the hipster haven of Austin, Texas, and its surrounding area of Round Rock. With a population of [over 2 million], Austin scored the top slot by a landslide thanks to its 5 LEED buildings per every 1000 residents.

Its title can also be attributed to the .097 miles of bike lanes per every 10,000 residents, demonstrating that commuters are ditching their cars in favor of pedaling their way to work and thereby shrinking their carbon footprint.

There’s also .16 farmer’s markets for every 10,000 residents, .94 electric car plug-ins for every 10,000 people, and 15% of Austin’s land area is park, green spaces, or forest…” FROM –  architecturaldigest.com/greenest-cities-in-america-are-models-for-cleaner-future



Green Spaces in Austin
Lake Austin & Lake Travis

15% of Austin’s land is designated for parks, urban forestry, and other open, green spaces. The City of Austin has not only dedicated much of its land to parks – Austin also has plentiful green areas around freshwater lakes, rivers, and springs. Most prominently, these include Lake Travis, Lake Austin, Zilker Park, and Barton Springs.

The city draws about 5% of the city’s energy needs from hydroelectric projects (dams, tidal barrages) in the lakes of Austin. Additionally, Austin is deploying a larger number of hydroelectric turbines to generate energy, including tidal barrages in rivers to harness the energy of tides and currents.


Hydroelectricity in Austin

Lake Travis

There are three lakes formed by dammed portions of the Lower Colorado River in the Austin area – Lady Bird Lake, Lake Austin, and Lake Travis. All three lakes are used for recreational camping, hiking, boating, and fishing; but a couple of the lakes also double as hydroelectric reservoirs.

Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin does not allow motorized boats, and also is not currently designated for any hydroelectric generation. However, northwest of downtown is Lake Travis – Austin’s largest lake. Lake Travis is designated as a lake that has sections that can be used as hydroelectric reservoirs.

Between Lake Travis and downtown Austin is Lake Austin. Lake Austin is created by dams along the Lower Colorado River. This lake is used as a reservoir for hydroelectric energy generation through the dams with its tributaries and rivers.


Austinites and The Great Outdoors

It is worth noting that a city’s population relative to the quantity of nature surrounding the population can greatly affect urban social structures. Natural settings in an urban environment influence way people interact with each other and form priorities for social justice and environmental justice issues. 

panorama of Austin

In such a rapid urban growth scenario as in Austin, it is important that the definition of a livable city is clearly outlined and it must stress upon having maximum open green spaces. Austin features over 200 parks and more than 50 miles of hiking trails (and much of the trails are also biking trails).

The connection of Austinites to their city’s natural landscape is immensely strong, and this creates a unique sense of place. This connection to the environment is apparent throughout the historical evolution of the city and is made manifest through a variety of avenues like environmental protection campaigns. Examples such as the Texas Campaign for the Environment, are initiated by non-profit sustainability advocacy groups, as well as municipal agencies and institutions.

The purpose of these environmental justice campaigns is to raise awareness about sustainability concerns. For instance; the struggle to protect Austin’s green spaces and local waterways (detailed in the section on Save Our Springs below). These sustainability campaigns (see below for a few prominent sustainability campaigns in Austin) also allow the citizens to band together for the betterment of the city and environment.


LEED and Renewable Energy in Austin

landmark LEED building in Austin – SXSW Center – Austin, Texas

Most of the new homes and businesses developed in Austin are built to the latest energy efficiency standards. Many new buildings in Austin are built to LEED green building standards (leedatx.com). In Austin, some new construction is even carbon neutral; with on-site solar energy generation. Austin is on track to get at least 35% of its energy citywide from renewable energy sources, while all of Austin’s public buildings are already powered by renewable energy. Wind farms in and near Austin supply a substantial amount of energy to Austin’s energy grid; contributing over 15% of the city’s energy. 

Additionally, the city deploys anaerobic digesters at some of the city’s farms to harness the energy of agricultural and animal waste produced at the farms. Anaerobic digesters (AD plants) turn waste into energy that can be used to power the farm or is distributed to the grid for the city’s energy needs. Food waste, and even household waste, is diverted from local landfills and used for the same purpose at local anaerobic digesters in Austin. AD plants generate biogas…converting waste into a useful form of energy.

All renewable energy in Austin is backed up by natural gas generators, and/ or energy storage in utility-scale battery storage facilities. Additionally, large quantities of energy storage are Austin’s hydroelectric reservoirs. Overall, the energy of Austin is green, clean; and accomplishes the city’s goal of lowering the city’s carbon footprint.

The city aims for a public transportation fleet that has a low carbon footprint. Over 1/2 of city buses in Austin currently run on alternative, cleaner fuels like compressed natural gas or biodiesel. Ambulances in Austin have solar panels on the roofs of their vehicles to power EMT’s medical equipment.



*** (demographic info on what makes Austin uniquely sustainable)

Austin, Texas – a shining example of a sustainable city

Austin State Capital building

Austin is the capital city of Texas, as well as Travis County’s seat of government. The city is a thriving and populous city with a population of almost 1,000,000 people and a population density of just over 3000 people per square mile. These population numbers can be largely attributed to the city’s never-ending expansion and migration to the city.

The city’s demographic story is greatly influenced by the incredibly sustained job opportunities that it offers. As the number of people tempted to find job opportunities in the city rises, the population of the city increases. This further intensifies the population density of Austin.

Some facts about Austin’s demographics will offer a clearer picture of the demographic dynamics of the city:

  • In the previous decade, the population in Austin increased by roughly 20%
  • The population of Austin is nearly 1/2 college graduates, and 88% people with an HS degree or higher
  • The number of Latinos in Austin is relatively high, at over 30% of the population
  • The number of people living in poverty in Austin is under 20%, but above 15% (ex. of the definition of living in poverty is a family of 4 living on under $25,000 combined income annually per the US Census Bureau).

In the American South, Austin is one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States. After Phoenix, it is the 2nd most populous state capital, where a 40% rise in population has been observed since 2000. Moreover, Austin is the 11th most populous city in the US, and Texas’s 4th most populous city.

Among the roughly 1 million citizens of Austin are a significant population of migrants and job seekers. Austin is primarily focused on the technology sector of its economy. Additionally, Austin is home to the main campus of the University of Texas, where over 40,000 students are enrolled. Austin has been ranked the #1 city to start a small business by Fortune Magazine.

Austin’s music and entertainment industries are key economically productive sectors in the city. The focus on the tech, music, and arts industries in Austin are further enhanced by several cultural events. The most famous such event is the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) festival. SXSW is Austin’s premier technology conference and music & film event. 



The latest trends observed in Austin’s population offer ways through which the city’s sustainability prospects can be assessed. The most significant demographic trend is that Austin continues to be a growing, diverse city, where the majority-minority division doesn’t exist anymore. There isn’t a single demographic group that can claim a majority in this city, which is a welcome societal change.

Another trend in the Austin population is that there is a decline in families with children, which is the result of the city’s rapid urbanization. This trend offers an insight into the rapidly changing demographic dynamics in Austin.

The number of young, highly educated, and skilled people moving to Austin to join the workforce is increasing. Newcomers tend to choose to live in the urban center of the city, while a majority of families opt to move to nearby suburban greenbelts.

These migratory trends in Austin change the median age and the number of members per household within the city. This affects the public services sector including schooling (e.g. at UT Austin), mass transit, and other city services – services that are overwhelmingly used by young adults.

It’s important that Austin adopts new initiatives that encourage a focus on improving sectors like transportation to address. This is in order to address population-oriented issues such as traffic congestion, housing, real estate sector prices. The most pressing ecological problem that must be addressed with the rapid growth of the city, is environmental pollution. Also, Austin should adopt a newer approach to address these issues in order to make the city inviting, healthy, and investment-worthy for families with children (austinindicators.org).

Hardworking, talented, skilled, and innovative individuals from across the globe are instantly attracted to the city. The investment made by its citizens in the urban landscape has made this city’s quality of life its main engine of economic development. On the other hand, its diverse demographic structure tends to often complement and support the city’s quality of life.

The population of Austin has been increasing steadily since the beginning of the 21st century; hence, it is essential for the city administration to cautiously devise strategies for the future of the city with attention to demographic trends in Austin such as the growing migrant population and the diverse socio-cultural foci of city residents.

It is necessary that the city formulates policies that ensure sustainable development of the city and help in improving the implementation of, and the efficiency of, eco-friendly practices, among other top sustainability concerns for the city, like social justice issues.

Many Austinites worry that the city’s environment will be destroyed because of continuous population growth.  Ultimately, the city’s quality of life will be determined primarily by its environment instead of its size or economy. Proponents of quality of life, such as Austin community members in environmental justice and social justice non-profits, are determined to preserve environmental and socially altruistic aspects of the city that define the identity of Austin.

The city of Austin has historically dedicated itself to becoming a sustainable city, and made efforts at social and economic sustainability.


Sustainability initiatives in Austin

The city of Austin is home to many non-profit charities, and sustainability organizations. We’ll highlight a few of them:  the Smart Growth Initiative (SGI) in Austin, People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources (PODER), Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Org. (campotexas.org), and Save Our Springs Alliance (S.O.S – sosalliance.org).

Smart Growth Initiative in Austin

Austin watershed regulation zones

The Smart Growth Initiative in Austin has become an important example of both the pros and the potential cons of large-scale urban sustainability efforts. This initiative was directed towards addressing the problem of food and clean water deserts within east Austin.

The multi-faceted basis of the SGI are the pillars of economic success, social parity, and conservation. Smart Growth zones include a Drinking Water Protection Zone, Desired Development Zone, and Urban Desired Development Zone, in Austin’s designated watershed regulation areas.

SGI was launched to limit the developments in West Austin, to ensure the preservation of its natural areas, and to stimulate sustainable growth and development of the urban eastern Austin area. West Austin is in close proximity to the city’s current urban center – East Austin. Despite being constructed with positive outcomes as the ultimate goals, the net result of this initiative was negative social justice consequences (Green Policy 360). However, SGI also produced positive environmental, clean water, and sustainable development results.

Success and Failures of SGI

The Smart Growth Initiative was originally devised to stimulate urban renewal, economic productivity, and environmental protections. In Austin however, eventually, it turned out that the plan ended up destabilizing local residents and underpinning their racial attitudes.

The sustainable redevelopment and rezoning of east Austin under the SGI resulted in the subsequent influx of upper-income, highly educated, and young white shifters. This demographic moved to this area in search of affordable homes, as well as to live in an area that has some identity and character of its own.

Also, part of SGI’s priorities was gaining easy access to the downtown, which promised to improve residents’ quality of life. SGI sought to expand employment opportunities and amenities for Austin’s affluent community; but at the same time, these developments affect the cost of living in that area tremendously.

Therefore, gentrification quickly became an important sustainability and social justice issue in Austin. This is a central consideration when developing urban sustainability strategies and policies in Austin, and became the focal point of social and environmental justice groups such as PODER.

People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources (PODER)

In the sustainability agenda for Austin, environmental issues, and economic growth and development, are sometimes prioritized over the issue of social equality, which is why addressing gentrification often takes a backseat. People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources (PODER) is an interracial organization working in Austin to protect lower socioeconomic communities.

One of the most noteworthy and widely acknowledged achievements of PODER is their work against the development of locally unwanted land uses, which usually occur in the form of landfills, incinerators, and waste treatment plants near low-income neighborhoods, and has become a key focus in the development of East Austin.

PODER’s work for environmental justice is indeed quite successful and it is due to their genuine, consistent efforts and effective use of awareness programs to promote public engagement and generate citywide concern among the masses. PODER has worked vigorously against the gentrification of East Austin and has helped in the promotion of environmental justice issues, as these have become a lot more critical to urban sustainability.

PODER Speaks for the Environment and the People

In the gentrification issue, the argument endorsed by PODER has been that the city has been focused on the support of environmental principles, which is positive, but while following these principles, the priorities and sustainability concerns of communities of color have been unjustly diminished, which indeed is not justified.

The influence and importance of this non-profit organization, PODER, in voicing the concerns of the low-income and minority groups of the community cannot be overlooked. The advocacy of PODER is one of the main reasons that the voices of low socio-economic, predominantly minority, communities have been addressed by local policymakers in Austin.

PODER has also helped in fostering the belief that an inclusive approach is important for urban sustainability; and that social and equitable elements of environmental justice must be taken into consideration when the Austin City Council develops public policy. All of these myriad elements affect the city of Austin and, if addressed constructively, will help in positive sustainable development for the city.

Urban Sustainability Issues in Austin

There are still many sustainability issues that have to be resolved in Austin, which do relate to the environment tangentially but relate to urban sustainability directly. One of the most urgent issues in Austin is allowing the voices of Austin’s diverse city population to be heard, particularly lower socio-economic, predominantly minority communities, and to be reflected in decisions made by City Council, and city planners.

Sustainability movements in Austin can be at least partially understood to be the efforts to include a wider swath of Austin’s diverse population in the decision-making processes vis-à-vis public policy in the city, particularly with regard to city planning. In Austin, as with any growing American city, environmental and social justice, and sustainable equities, also refer to the impacts of over-industrialization, distributional injustice with respect to environmental amenities, and vehicle use/ traffic patterns, on communities in the city.

Traffic congestion is a big issue in Austin. Austin residents experience traffic congestion on a regular basis, which is indicative of the way population growth has surpassed the limits of the available infrastructure in the city, resulting in undesirable, yet unavoidable, environmental impacts.

In a 2011 study conducted by Texas A&M, Austin ranked number three in the US as the most traffic-congested city. Forbes magazine has consistently ranked Austin as the fastest growing city in the U.S., with the most employment opportunities available in U.S. cities (according to Forbes). This substantially explains why car-centric, freeway, and highway infrastructure is believed to be insufficient for Austin’s population, as well as environmentally concerning.

CAMPO’s sustainability advocacy

Organizations like the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Org. (campotexas.org) are striving to address traffic issues in Austin. Examples of CAMPO’s sustainability advocacy include creating awareness in the population aimed at reducing the demand for transportation via automobiles. CAMPO also works to increase accessibility to trails, sidewalks, and bike lanes, and increase the use of public transit systems. In addition, CAMPO is actively spearheading advocacy actions aimed at infrastructure improvements, like highway infrastructure capacity to prevent traffic blockage, such as express transit lanes for carpooling.

Urban sprawl and traffic congestion both tend to be incredibly degrading for the environment, and these affect the livability aspects of a city. The prevalence of these issues stands in contrast to Austin’s claim to the title of a top eco-friendly city. The efforts of Austin to improve the sustainability of the city are substantially reflected in the need to decrease car use, or to improve the efficiency of vehicles being driven around Austin, as well as through issues that emerge with the lack of easy modes of transportation for low-income and minority populations.

Save Our Springs (S.O.S.)

A group called the Save Our Springs Alliance represents a major source of organizational action in the sustainability agenda for Austin. S.O.S initially represented a group of citizens struggling to help preserve environmental aspects of the 4,000-acre development proposal for the Barton Creek Watershed. A night-long meeting was held with Austin City Council members in June 1990, where the planned development was unanimously rejected by the council. 

With the establishment of the Save Our Springs Alliance in 1992, S.O.S advocated aggressively for the Save Our Springs Ordinance to become law in the city. The S.O.S. Ordinance ensures that the quality of drinking and potable water for Austin isn’t affected by the water coming off of development areas. The water running off development areas eventually mixes into the Barton Springs Watershed. Around 30,000 supporting signatures were received in favor of this ordinance. Because of the rigorous efforts of the S.O.S. eventually, the ordinance was approved by Austin voters in August 1992. S.O.S. quickly became a popular, mainstream, relevant organization.

The scope of S.O.S. has been expanded, as its profile now includes creating awareness and alliances across Austin. The S.O.S. Alliance officially became a non-profit organization in 1997. This organization now works regularly with local conservation groups to promote the need to protect the Barton Springs and Edward’s Aquifer. Due to the efforts of S.O.S, Barton Creek and Barton Springs are now recognized as key sources of success in advocacy for environmental sustainability causes to Austin residents.


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Sustainable city: CHICAGO

Is Chicago a GREEN City?


Chicago might not be widely known as a green city, however, the city has a Sustainable Action Agenda, a vast network of sustainable mass public transit options, a high share of energy efficient buildings, and is home to a host of other green city initiatives.


downtown Chicago near Lake Michigan

CHICAGO IS – A Sustainable City

– Mass Transit & Green Spaces

L’ railcars, Chicago

Chicago has extensive mass public transportation networks. Chicago features 145 stations for its 8 ‘L’ rapid transit rail lines; and over 120 bus routes with over 1800 buses.

Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has been able to cut its GHG emissions (GHGs) by incorporating more energy efficient transit options even while expanding. CTA’s ‘L’ rail lines and CTA’s bus lines are highly efficient, quick ways to get around the city, and run frequently throughout the day.

Public mass transit options in Chicago include a large network of CTA buses, Metra commuter rail lines, and CTA’s ‘L’ railcar lines (above-ground rapid transit railcars running on elevated subway routes, which combined make over 2,000 trips/ day). CTA has a goal to use 100% clean energy by 2040, and has been able to cut its GHGs by over 10% annually by incorporating more energy efficient transit options while expanding its city fleet.  

Chicago not only features exemplary mass public transit networks but excels at maintaining green spaces in the city as well. The greater Chicago area consists of over 12,000 total acres of parkland (this includes land managed by the state and county – there are over 8,800 acres of green space owned by the Chicago Park District, including over 600 parks). ~8.5% of the land area of Chicago is green space open to the public.

One great example of a large community park in Chicago is Lincoln Park, the city’s largest park (at about 1200 acres). Lincoln Park is the (adjacent) home to a city district (home to over 68,000 people) in Chicago’s Northside, as well as the Lincoln Park Zoo.

Lincoln Park, Chicago


The Sustainable Chicago Action Agenda

 

view of downtown Chicago from Lake Michigan

Chicago has benefited from green urban planning. The City of Chicago has worked hard to put in motion plans to transform the city into one of the world’s brightest examples of a sustainable metropolis.

A path to this goal is found in the 7 themes of “The Sustainable Chicago Action Agenda. These 7 main themes include – Chicago’s Climate Action Plan, Energy Efficiency & Clean Energy, Waste & Recycling, Waste & Wastewater, Transportation Options, Economic Development & Job Creation, and Parks & Open Space

Chicago has developed a citywide Climate Action Plan that mirrors the goals of Chicago’s Sustainable Action Agenda. The Chicago Climate Action Plan includes climate change mitigation strategies featuring energy efficient buildings, clean & renewable energy sources, improved transportation options, and reduced waste & industrial buildings. 


Sustainability Action Agenda of the City of Chicago – focus on LEED buildings

Willis Tower Chicago – tallest LEED Platinum building in the U.S.

One of the aspects of the Sustainability Action Agenda the City of Chicago has been most successful at implementing, and a major part of that which makes Chicago a sustainable city, from an energy use standpoint, is developing sustainable energy efficient buildings. Another is the city’s implementation of sustainable technology with regard to retrofitting buildings.

LEED certifies buildings that demonstrate excellence in the following categories: sustainable sites, location and transportation, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation in design. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

Energy Star is another high energy efficiency standard for buildings and appliances within buildings, particularly high-efficiency electric appliances (such as electric HVAC units). Chicago excels at producing highly efficient buildings, and the electrification of buildings in order to enhance energy efficiency.

With regard to LEED and Energy Star buildings, Chicago has the highest percentage (at over 65%) of LEED-certified/ Energy Star certified office buildings among the top 30 real estate markets in the United States.  The Willis tower (pictured here) went from LEED Gold to Platinum certification in just one year by efficiency retrofitting. The Willis Tower, the tallest U.S. LEED Platinum building, has made significant energy, sustainability, and air quality/ healthy building environment improvements. 


Retrofit Chicago

 

downtown Chicago

In order to make even more advancements in residential and business buildings’ energy and water efficiency, and reduce GHGs associated with buildings in the city, the City of Chicago has launched Retrofit Chicago.  

“Energy efficiency is a priority for strengthening Chicago— helping Chicago to be at affordable, modern, competitive, attractive, livable, and sustainable city. Retrofit Chicago’s energy efficiency pursuits help:  

      • Create Jobs 
      • Save Chicagoans money
      • Improve air quality for workers in commercial buildings
      • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions
      • Demonstrate Chicago’s environmental leadership” 


Renewable Energy in City Buildings

City buildings in Chicago are to be powered by 100% renewable energy by 2035 (per a resolution by the Chicago City Council). All Chicago Transit Authority buses are to run on electric energy by 2040.

The city’s (former) Mayor Rahm Emanuel, along with Chicago Public Schools, Chicago Housing Authority, Chicago Park District, and City Colleges of Chicago, had previously agreed to a 100% clean energy program for Chicago to be implemented over the next 2 decades. This commitment makes Chicago the “largest major city” in the U.S. to commit to supplying all of its public buildings solely with renewable energy


Sustainable Development Division of Chicago

The city of Chicago has initiated a Sustainable Development Division (SDD) to address sustainability concerns in the development of buildings in Chicago.  

The Sustainability Division provides technical assistance for [developers]…required to meet the City of Chicago’s sustainability standards, specifically city-assisted projects [and] new planned developments…[Chicago’s] Sustainable Development Division promotes development practices that result in buildings that are healthier to occupy, less expensive to operate and more responsible to the environment than traditional buildings.

Sustainable requirements involve various levels of LEED [and] Energy Star standards for energy efficiency…The policies are intended to improve…public roadways and parks– [and create] a higher level of stewardship of local water, air, and land resources. The division promotes strategies that absorb stormwater on site, such as…bioswales, permeable pavement and rain gardens, as well as green roofs. Green roofs help to keep rainwater out of overburdened sewer systems, reduce urban temperatures, improve the air quality in densely developed neighborhoods, and reduce a building’s energy costs.” – Chicago SDD

Additionally, Chicago has created the Solar Express renewable energy initiative largely to advance green building in the city. The Chicago Solar Express is a public-private initiative to bring low-cost solar panels to the rooftops of Chicago- by cutting fees, streamlining permitting and zoning processes.

Since 2012, the City of Chicago and ComEd have worked with private partners and the University of Illinois, under a grant from the DOE’s Sunshot Initiative, to lower-cost barriers and reduce market prices of purchasing and installing solar PV for the city. 

“By committing the energy used to power our public buildings to wind and solar energy, we are sending a clear signal that we remain committed to building a 21st-century economy here in Chicago,” [former] Mayor Emanuel said. The city of Chicago will achieve that commitment in a number of ways, including on-site generation and the acquisition of renewable energy credits (mostly wind and solar energy). Jack Darin, president of the Illinois Sierra Club supports the effort, “…by moving boldly to re-power its public buildings with renewable energy like wind and solar, Chicago is leading by example at a time when local leadership is more important than ever.”  FROM: goodnewsnetwork.org/chicago-city-buildings-powered-100-renewable-energy


These efforts of Chicago in green building illustrate the success of Chicago Sustainability themes –  substantially developing energy efficient buildings, and the retrofitting of buildings in Chicago to be LEED and Energy Star certified. Chicago Solar Express, as well as the widespread development of electricity & renewable energy to power buildings throughout Chicago, illustrates more Sustainability themes – clean energy & energy efficiency. Waste Management is yet another Sustainability theme in which the city of Chicago excels.


Chicago’s Waste Management

The City of Chicago has developed ambitious recycling programs throughout the city. By reducing Chicago’s waste and implementing various recycling programs, the city of Chicago is making an effort to conserve resources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with waste management, lower Chicago’s carbon footprint, and reduce space in areas surrounding Chicago currently needed as landfills. These are some of the programs offered by the city of Chicago to increase conservation in the city, especially focusing on Chicago’s recycling programs: 

  • Chicago Public Schools Recycling  program
  • Blue Cart Recycling  – “The City’s Blue Cart program provides bi-weekly recycling services to single-family homes and multi-unit buildings.  By recycling regularly, [residents of Chicago] can help reduce the need for landfills, lower disposal costs, reduce pollution and conserve natural resources, such as timber and water”. Blue Cart Recycling includes almost every type of household waste, and had diverted over a half-ton of waste from landfills in the first 10 months of 2018 alone.
  • recycling drop off centers, a household chemicals recycling center, and a computer recycling facility  in Chicago
  • construction and demolition debris recycling - an ordinance requires that contractors recycle at least 50% of the recyclable debris generated by construction/ demolition 

Another key sustainability initiative that is helping Chicago save money and resources is the city’s wastewater management program. New wastewater treatments are assisting in the recovery of essential energy, solids, and water. These resources are then recycled and transformed into assets that can generate revenue for the city, and protect the environment.


Green Infrastructure in Chicago; Chicago’s Greencorp

The city has also installed 50,000 water meters through the MeterSave program, to help residents of Chicago conserve water and reduce water bills. The city has made a $50 million investment to clean and upgrade 4,400 miles of sewer lines, while also upgrading the built infrastructure, creating a cleaner, greener infrastructure. The City of Chicago is also investing in replacing and enhancing rooftops and roadways in the city to allow for stormwater to circulate back into the environment.  

Chicago plans to continue to replace or build new clean green and clean infrastructure. The city is replacing sewer mains in order to control stormwater accumulation in the sewers. Sitting next to Lake Michigan and atop a swampy marshy land, water management is crucial for Chicago to become a more sustainable and resilient city.

With a history of water pollution and toxic city water, Chicago became one of the lead innovators of waste and water management by securing federal funding in 1970 to upgrade its treatment facilities as a result of the Clean Water Act. Chicago continues to lead by example while reducing its water usage and increasing its efficiency.  

Chicago is also keenly focused on developing sustainability training and jobs among the inner-city population- namely through its flagship program, Greencorps ChicagoGreencorps Chicago provides training and jobs in environmental conservation, as well as nature-area management careers, to Chicago residents with barriers to employment. The Greencorps Chicago Youth Program, which launched in 2013, provides paid, sustainability-focused summer jobs. 


CTA

In addition to robust citywide conservation and waste management programs, the city of Chicago also has well-developed sustainable mass transit systems. Chicago’s mass transit options include transportation offerings from the United States’ 2nd largest public mass transit system; the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), which operates bus and rail lines in the city, including 144 rail stations and over 100 bus routes.  

The city of Chicago is on the way to becoming a leader in sustainable transit. Chicago Transit Authority is committed to providing integral transit options that are greener and more sustainable. CTA is a huge contributor to the city’s sustainability movement because it helps to reduce vehicle emissions by replacing automobile trips with mass transit, reduces traffic congestion, and enables compact development.

The city of Chicago has 1,500 railcars with electric high-efficiency rails, and the new “L” cars are a new family of railcars equipped with innovative braking systems that can transfer electricity back to the third rail, which supplements power to nearby CTA trains (among other advances in the design and function of the railcars). The City of Chicago has launched a significant sustainable mass transportation campaign in order to reduce GHGs, decrease transit costs for the city and its residents, and increase efficiencies associated with transit. Chicago has 1,900 energy efficient buses that were converted to ultra-low sulfur diesel engines in March 2003; since 2007 any new buses acquired have been equipped with clean diesel and hybrid-electric engines. The city of Chicago plans to purchase additional all-electric buses.  

Chicago has also made an effort to promote its multimodal transportation.  That includes its Bike & Ride program. This program was established to improve bicycle access to bus routes and rail stations. In order to do that, the City of Chicago helped develop 6,000 Divvy bikes (Divvy bikes are part of a bike-sharing system run by the City of Chicago Department of Transportation), available for rent at 580 stations across the city. CTA has also worked with car-sharing companies to make for easier access between public transit and car-sharing. The CTA’s multimodal integration addresses transit-friendly development by working with the City of Chicago and other municipalities to connect their services and destinations. 

 



 

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California – Current Progress of a Climate Champion

California – A Climate Leader


Learning From California’s Struggle to Balance Decarbonization With Energy Resilience

Since California passed the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, marking its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), the state has continued to align itself with ongoing climate change initiatives and policies.

After the first decade of the initial policy’s implementation, California boosted its economy while diminishing carbon pollution with clean energy and new green technologies. However, more work needs to be done for California to reduce emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.

Despite a few shortcomings, California’s success in combating climate change can teach other states a critical lesson in applying similar climate action measures.


California: A Work in Progress

California is no stranger to the effects of climate change. In 2021, California Fire and the U.S. Forest Service responded to 8,786 wildfires spanning 2,568,941 acres. The consequences of these frequent fires include lower air quality, reduced soil quality, and the destruction of the state’s ecosystems, homes, and livelihoods.

In other parts of the state, like the Sierra Nevada, hotter temperatures are melting the snow and releasing about 15 million acre-feet of water all at once. With this event occurring more frequently and earlier in the year, the state’s water storage facilities face increased pressure and generate fear of worsening floods and water shortages.

California has recognized the importance of securing its precious resources, including its energy. More fires and extreme temperatures are unavoidable due to climate change in the years to come.

The energy sector has changed dramatically over the years, from depending on natural sunlight to electrical grids to investments in renewable energy technologies. Populations and heavy industry have increased worldwide, and the demand for greener initiatives has, as well.

California has done the following in its effort to become more energy-efficient:

Powerful storms, strong winds, fires, tornadoes, and other natural events can knock out electricity grids for days, weeks, and even months on end. However, it’s essential to create substantial emissions-reducing legislation that tackles the climate crisis and allows for a more resilient power source.

What else can be done to progress the decarbonization of California and other states across the nation?


The Next Step: Decarbonizing Buildings

Buildings are responsible for generating nearly 40% of the world’s global greenhouse gas emissions, a majority of which are produced by operations and materials. California recently launched the Building Decarbonization Coalition (BDC) to continue balancing energy resilience with decarbonization.

Residential and commercial properties account for 25% (roughly) of California’s GHGs, including on-site fossil fuels and refrigerants for space cooling.

The BDC aims to cut 40% of structural emissions and adopt zero-emissions building codes by 2030. It has gathered experts in the energy sector, public interest advocates, building contractors, construction workers, local government officials, real estate agents, and investors for their input and industry knowledge.

The BDC released a guide that details set goals, philosophies, policies, and strategies that California intends to meet in its path toward building decarbonization. Highlights and recommendations from the report include:

  • Adopt an emissions-free building code for all new construction, removing the reliance on fossil fuels and shifting toward renewables instead.
  • Replace heat and hot water appliances in existing buildings with zero-emission alternatives over time.
  • Help increase the market share of clean, electric appliances by replacing all fossil fuel-burning appliances.
  • Ensure that building decarbonization is conducted in a cost-effective, equitable way to prevent burdening disadvantaged communities with excess costs.
  • Guarantee that efforts to decarbonize buildings aid the grid by incorporating renewable energy into the state’s power supply.

Barriers to Building Decarbonization

While California’s building decarbonization pursuits could be applied to emissions-reducing objectives in other states, the BDC and stakeholders recognize that several barriers need to be addressed for the state to reach its goals by 2030:

  • Government officials, industry experts, and the public currently lack interest in and understanding of building decarbonization technologies.
  • Gas utility companies and various labor unions are likely to deliver political resistance, particularly to decarbonizing commercial buildings.
  • A lack of coordination exists between like-minded emissions-reducing organizations throughout the state.
  • Customers and contractors are faced with higher upfront costs and little financial assistance or incentives to back renewable technologies for building decarbonization.
  • Many building decarbonization technologies aren’t available yet, requiring more states to manufacture green technologies, as well.
  • Existing energy policies and building codes need to be updated to meet the newer emissions-reducing goals of decarbonization initiatives.
  • Businesses and organizations don’t understand how they could realize energy savings through decarbonization.

The state needs to seek solutions to these obstacles for the next phase of California’s decarbonization actions to work.


A Model of Success

Climate change will continue to worsen and affect states differently. However, California continues to lead in its approach to decarbonization and energy resilience.

California’s climate policies’ collective political, economic, and social foundation serves as a model of its success. Other states can learn from it and replicate parts of its action plans.



Article by Jane Marsh

Jane works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of –

Environment.co

Categories
Energy Efficiency GCT featured articles Renewable Energy

Sustainable Energy Infrastructure

Clean Energy Transition – GREEN Infrastructure


Updating Infrastructure for Developing Renewable Energy in Cities

People-centered smart cities are cropping up worldwide. They only account for 2% of the world’s landmass but are home to most of its population, energy use, and economic activity. 

Cities are adopting modern clean energy technologies to become smarter, and one crucial aspect is renewable energy. Renewables can empower smart cities and help them reach goals they set for themselves. Citizens and the city benefit (as well as the planet’s climate and environment) from using green energy, such as wind and solar, as well as from the multitude of recent sustainable technology innovations currently available.

It’s no secret that relying on fossil fuels is unsustainable — that’s why almost 200 of the world’s countries have joined the Paris Accord intending to limit global warming and reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). 

Here’s how infrastructure will play a crucial role in developing renewable energy in cities, and hopefully in securing the planet’s future –


U.S. Government Aid in the Shift to Renewable Energy

As cities become larger and smarter, the amount of energy they use increases. As a result, governments are stepping in to provide incentives and funding to municipalities looking to shift to renewable energy. Cities are making a shift to all forms of clean energy technology in multiple economic sectors – energy, buildings, transportation, water, etc… – all types of infrastructure.

For example, President Biden’s sustainable infrastructure and social spending plan – the Build Back Better (BBB) plan – originally included $174 billion in spending to focus on the electric vehicle (EV) market, yet another clean energy sector experiencing rapid growth. [The bill actually passed by Congress in 2021 contained a small portion of this funding – see below].

The BBB plan also originally included tax credits to consumers for purchases of EVs, investment in electric school buses, investment in EV charging infrastructure, investment to retool factories and boost the domestic supply of EVs, and more… Additionally, the original BBB plan proposed $100 billion to modernize the country’s electric grid and modernize energy infrastructure across the country.

If the U.S. signs even a scaled-down version of the BBB into law, it would be considered one of the largest federal efforts to curb GHGs. 

However, the BBB plan is ambitious and represents challenging legislation to advance. A small slice of the BBB (roughly 15-20% of the original BBB plan) passed through Congress and was signed by President Biden (in November 2021). This legislation – the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) does include funding for modern infrastructure needs. Although at a much lower funding level than the original BBB proposed, the IIJA invests $550 billion in new spending over five years to bolster the nation’s infrastructure, public mass transit, broadband, water, energy, environmental concerns, EV charging infrastructure, and electric & low-emission school buses.

The IIJA also includes investments in the modernization of U.S. energy grids, clean energy technologies, clean energy infrastructure, and hundreds of billions in additional investments in sustainability this decade. See this link for a full list of IIJA’s investment priorities in transportation infrastructure, water infrastructure, broadband, energy, and environmental concerns). 


Cities worldwide do have some government support in their transition to renewable energy in some cases. In fact, globally, more than 1 billion people live in areas with renewable energy targets or policies. However, there also needs to be more private investment to help build sustainable infrastructure. 


How Cities Can Assess Energy Demand

Cities must first address their current energy usage before implementing renewable power to improve their infrastructure. 

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) has many online tools that local and state governments can leverage to better understand their energy consumption. For example, cities can access data that breaks down power usage by:

  • GHGs
  • Electricity and natural gas consumption/expenditures
  • Residential and commercial building stock
  • Fuel consumption, vehicle miles traveled, and registration by fuel type
  • Renewable energy procurement options

The data plays a significant role in helping cities determine their energy usage and shows what areas of consumption need to be reduced. This will lead to government agencies making more strategic decisions regarding renewable implementation. 

Once cities understand their energy usage and the benefits of renewables, they can then focus on planning implementation to make infrastructure more efficient, sustainable, and reliable. 


Updating Crucial Infrastructure Components

What are the crucial components of infrastructure that need to be updated to achieve higher levels of sustainability? Not all of the priority investments of the IIJA are in clean energy infrastructure – for example, large investments in the IIJA are dedicated to repairing roads and bridges (conventional infrastructure). However, the IIJA also invests $7.5 billion for EV charging infrastructure, $2.5 billion for electric school buses, and $2.5 billion for low-emission school buses.

Here is a brief list of just a few vital infrastructure items (some of which are investments in the IIJA law, some of which are in the original BBB plan, as well as a couple of novel ideas for sustainable investment) –

Electric Grid

In the next few years, cities will have to update the power grid to prepare for a net-zero future. Strengthening and modernizing the electric grid means cities will face fewer disruptions. Increasing resiliency has to be a top priority for cities across the country. 

Here are some of the ways the electric grid can improve over time and with proper funding:

  • Employing microgrids to strengthen resilience
  • Recording demand response from grid customers
  • Enacting smart metering
  • Updating grid hardware
  • Using grid energy storage devices

Water Systems

Water and power are intimately connected, but what role does water play in power generation? It generates energy because it’s used by thermoelectric power plants and refining and processing fossil fuels. Plants and refineries use large quantities of water to operate. For this reason, and for the benefit of public health, sustainable purification systems can help lessen these large water footprints.

Cities will have to invest in efficient water infrastructure to reach sustainability initiatives throughout all socioeconomic sectors, so that all of society benefits.

(Novel sustainable energy infrastructure ideas for -) Highways

State and local highway departments have many responsibilities, from plowing roads during snowstorms to taking on major repairs or replacement projects. A significant amount of electricity is needed to power them efficiently. Think about the roadway signs, lights, rest stops, and maintenance buildings. All these factors increase energy consumption. 

Some state departments of transportation (DOTs) have implemented solar in highway rights-of-way (ROW) to offset electricity costs and consumption. Additionally, the Federal Highway Administration has supported the move for state agencies to adopt renewable energy to power highways. Improving roadways will be crucial when developing renewable energy in cities.


Moving Toward a Sustainable Future

Cities must carefully plan the implementation of renewable energy sources to be more sustainable. The most important factor to consider is updating infrastructure. 

Cities, states, and federal government agencies must work together to update the various aspects of infrastructure that will make cities more sustainable. It will certainly be interesting to see how municipalities use their resources to transition to renewables to sustain current and future demands.



Article by Jane Marsh

Author bio:

Jane works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of

Environment.co



 

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The future generation of batteries

What are future generation of batteries going to be?


Advanced li-ion batteries

Next-generation lithium-ion (li-ion) batteries are being developed, and varieties are already currently in the marketplace. These next-gen li-ion batteries have 2-7X the efficiency of current batteries, often while reducing costs. New varieties of advanced li-ion batteries maintain a stable capacity for 20+ years. Next-gen li-ion batteries can charge in minutes, are rechargeable, have a higher capacity, and are more cost-efficient than previous battery generations.

The most common type of high capacity, widely used, advanced batteries being developed today are li-ion batteries made in combination with other metals. Developing advanced batteries ends up creating a unique battery technology (like li-ion cobalt oxide, which is frequently used today in portable devices – cell phones, laptops, etc…).

[Another metal commonly used in batteries for a wide variety of products and electric vehicles (EVs), and often combined with other metals and elements – is nickel. “Nickel (Ni) has long been widely used in batteries, most commonly in nickel-cadmium (NiCd) and in the longer-lasting nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) rechargeable batteries…”.]


Next-gen battery technologies

Here are a few other examples of advanced li-ion next-gen battery technologies currently in the market (but less widely commercially available than li-ion cobalt varieties. (Here is a YouTube video on li-iron phosphate batteries, also known as LFP batteries). Lithium-iron-phosphate batteries are currently a popular battery solution for some stationary battery applications. Other advanced battery technologies currently in development include:

All of these promising, best-in-class batteries based on advanced li-ion chemistry are more efficient than the products of previous li-ion battery generations; and are also lighter, longer-lasting, often still rechargeable while also developed to charge quickly; and have a higher energy capacity.

These cutting-edge li-ion batteries based on the latest battery chemistries are emerging into the mass marketplace; as they transition from R&D, beta-testing, and demonstration phases. Advanced next-gen li-ion batteries could revolutionize battery technology for:

  • smartphones, computers, tablets
  • EVs
  • grid energy storage
  • commercial/ municipal buildings
  • RVs, boats
  • aerospace applications, other industrial applications, and much more.

Battery recycling

The next step in ensuring that future generations of li-ion batteries are actually a sustainable solution is a concerted effort by battery manufacturers to develop batteries with future recycling options built-in the battery design. Here’s a snippet from C&EN about the importance of having future recycling requirements in mind as a priority for battery manufacturers:

Lithium-ion batteries have made portable electronics ubiquitous, and they are about to do the same for electric vehicles. That success story is setting the world on track to generate a multimillion-metric-ton heap of used Li-ion batteries that could end up in the trash. The batteries are valuable and recyclable, but because of technical, economic, and other factors, less than 5% are recycled today.

The enormousness of the impending spent-battery situation is driving researchers to search for cost-effective, environmentally sustainable strategies for dealing with the vast stockpile of Li-ion batteries looming on the horizon.   FROM –  cen.acs.org/materials/energy-storage/time-serious-recycling-lithium


Cobalt controversy

One glaring issue with li-ion batteries is the lack of sustainability in sourcing the critical rare earth metals used in li-ion batteries. Especially problematic is cobalt sourced from Congo (cobalt is frequently found in batteries in smartphones, portable computers, and EVs).

Cobalt sourced from Congo (which supplies roughly 2/3 of the world’s cobalt), and then used in li-ion cobalt oxide batteries (as well as other batteries – for issues such as battery durability and the like) are unsustainably and unethically sourced. Cobalt from Congo is the product of cobalt mining rife with human rights abuses (child labor, labor for insufficient wages, labor in hazardous, unregulated conditions), unmitigated environmental and social injustices, and other unsustainable practices.

Cobalt is found in many varieties of li-ion batteries, and even nickel-based batteries, and other batteries that use a combination of metals and elements. However, there are batteries with no cobalt or other unsustainable rare earth metals (such as those promising battery types mentioned above in this article). There are manufacturers producing li-ion cobalt-free batteries, as well as many battery manufacturers committed to using cobalt that is not sourced from Congo; but rather other parts of the world that do not have human rights abuses in cobalt mining.

Since child and slave labor have been repeatedly reported in cobalt mining, primarily in the artisanal mines of DR Congo, technology companies seeking an ethical supply chain have faced shortages of this raw material and the price of cobalt metal reached a nine-year high in October 2017, more than US$30 a pound, versus US$10 in late 2015. After oversupply, the price dropped to a more normal $15 in 2019. As a reaction to the issues with artisanal cobalt mining in DR Congo a number of cobalt suppliers and their customers have formed the Fair Cobalt Alliance (FCA) which aims to end the use of child labor and to improve the working conditions of cobalt mining and processing in the DR Congo.

Members of another ethical cobalt mining organization, the Responsible Cobalt Initiative, include FairphoneGlencore, and Tesla, Inc. Research is being conducted by the European Union on the possibility to eliminate cobalt requirements in lithium-ion battery production. As of August 2020 battery makers have gradually reduced the cathode cobalt content from 1/3, to 2/10, to currently 1/10, and have also introduced the cobalt free LFP cathode into the battery packs of electric cars such as the Tesla Model 3. In September 2020, Tesla outlined their plans to make their own, cobalt-free battery cells.FROM  –    wikipedia.org/wiki/Cobalt#Batteries


Summation of Current Advanced Battery Technologies

Widely commercially available advanced li-ion batteries (such as li-ion cobalt oxide, or the promising LFP batteries gaining popularity for home energy storage and EVs) remain the most prominent high capacity batteries widely available in today’s market. These advanced batteries are produced for smartphones, laptops, EVs; as well as small-scale (residential/ commercial building), and large-scale (grid, industrial) energy storage.

However, sodium-ion batteriesgraphene-based batteries, and zinc-air batteries represent cheaper, more abundant, more environmentally-friendly material than lithium; that could produce a less expensive battery with possibilities for long-term energy storage and applications for a wide range of products – if R&D in these technologies yields batteries that can be widely commercially marketed.

Lithium-vanadium phosphate batteries are a next-generation battery solution that shows promise; as they can extend the range of EVs, for example. These batteries potentially have greater power than advanced batteries found in many EVs today, but also greater safety than the batteries found in smartphones and laptops.

In addition, recharging lithium-vanadium batteries could be faster than batteries currently used in EVs and computers. Other promising advanced next-gen battery types with varying degrees of research and development, and at different levels of marketability, include various types of flow batteries.


Flow batteries

Flow batteries, such as vanadium flow and zinc-iron redox flow, have a longer battery life than conventional li-ion batteries. Flow batteries have a battery life of over 20 years, quickly charge and discharge; and easily scale up from under 1 MW to over 10 MW. Vanadium flow batteries represent high capacity energy storage, can be idle when solar and wind aren’t producing, and then discharge instantly. They have the unique ability to charge and discharge simultaneously and to release large amounts of electricity quickly.

As they are inexpensive to scale up, vanadium flow batteries represent an opportunity for reliable, affordable large-scale energy storage. At this point, many types of flow batteries are still in the R&D phase due to the expense of manufacturing these batteries; with only limited commercial availability. However, commercial deployment of flow batteries is seen in some areas worldwide today, including some large markets – such as throughout Australia and Asia.

Unlike vanadium flow batteries, which currently represent a great, realistic battery alternative, lithium-air batteries only theoretically represent a great battery alternative. Lithium-air batteries could triple the range of EVs; and could give fully charged EVs the same range as maximum range gasoline cars with a full tank. However, whereas vanadium flow batteries can charge and discharge repetitively with no problem, it has been notoriously difficult to manufacture rechargeable varieties of lithium-air batteries.



New, promising batteries are currently being manufactured with everything from:

  • li-ion + cobalt, phosphate, manganese, silicon
  • combining these elements, along with nickel – for lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxides, or NMCs as these batteries are known)
  • batteries based on vanadium, zinc, sodium, or even graphene.

Advanced R&D is being done on “superconductors“, flow batteries, solid-state batteries, and various metal or air-flow type batteries. Additionally, there are experimental combinations such as lithium-sulfur, lithium-nickel-manganese-cobalt, and lithium-titanate oxide. New advanced next-gen batteries are quickly gaining ground both in terms of R&D, as well as deployment. Advancements in next-gen batteries will help add renewable energy storage to the grid, add charging capacity to our cell phones and laptops, and help extend the range of electric cars to compete with gasoline ones.



Please also see:

renewable energy storage


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Clean Hydrogen Power

Clean and GREEN H2 |


Hydrogen and the Clean Energy Transition

Hydrogen is one of the most promising emerging energy technologies to fill the rising global demand for clean low carbon and emission-free energy sources. The recent global societal shift towards environmental sustainability, and the global imperative for climate action, have significantly altered energy consumption patterns.

Clean and renewable energy companies are booming. Solar companies experienced their highest production and distribution rates in 2020, enhancing the national use of renewable power. In addition to solar, other renewable energies and emerging next-generation clean energy technologies (such as hydrogen and carbon capture) are also having breakthrough years. President Biden has influenced alternative energy sourcing by establishing ambitious sustainability standards in the U.S. – such as net zero by 2050, and a carbon-neutral electricity grid by 2035. The Biden administration also seeks to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) by 50-52% by 2030 (from 2005 levels).

Biden generated the Build Back Better (BBB) plan, seeking to invest in American society and the American clean energy sector. The proposed program allocates trillions of funding dollars for United States’ infrastructure (as well as other programs that benefit society), including funding for the clean energy industry, promoting technological advancements and system alterations.

The Build Back Better plan includes funding for hydrogen and carbon capture technological RD&D (as well as a variety of other next-generation clean energy technologies). Various parts of the BBB climate-related plan also include funding for clean energy infrastructure, EV charging infrastructure, financial incentives such as tax credits for renewable energy, and modernizing the US electrical grid (in addition to more clean energy programs). When the US diversifies production and use of clean energy (including clean hydrogen and carbon capture), national greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) are effectively reduced.

Fortunately, Congress did end up passing a part of the original BBB plan – the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). The IIJA does have some investment for technological measures described in this article and was signed into law by President Biden in November 2021. Unfortunately, it does not look like the rest of the original BBB will pass Congress during Biden’s first term. Still, both the development of hydrogen technologies and carbon capture technologies, have bipartisan support. The technological developments discussed in this article are set to continue advancing this decade (a bit more slowly than if the full BBB passed.)


Domestic Energy Production Challenges

Nearly 80% of America’s energy production and consumption (with the transportation sector included) is derived from fossil fuels. These finite natural resources (coal, oil, and gas) create atmospheric pollution during combustion (GHGs and other pollution). GHGs alter the planet’s natural temperature control process, degrading the global ecosystem. On the other hand, hydrogen represents clean energy; as hydrogen, itself, doesn’t release carbon or contribute to atmospheric pollution. 

The Earth absorbs sunlight, generating heat and warming the surface. The planet is capable of reabsorbing a finite amount of additional solar radiation or emitting it back to space. When GHGs invade the environment from the combustion of fossil fuels, they alter the atmosphere’s natural composition and change the process. GHGs have a higher sunlight-to-heat conversion rate and trap energy rather than sending it to space.

Over time, the entrapment and overproduction of heat raise Earth’s temperature. As the planet warms, the evaporation rate rises, oceans heat up, and global weather patterns are changed; resulting in extreme flooding in some global regions (from increasingly extreme storms), and elongated drought periods (causing wildfires, damage to agriculture, etc…) in others. Global warming also degrades aquatic ecosystems, causes rising sea levels, and adversely affects biodiversity worldwide (among other global adverse effects of climate change).

Hydrogen is a clean energy solution for energy storage and transportation to replace climate-change-causing fossil fuels. Right now, hydrogen can be used as a fuel source for cars and buses – and in the future, for long-haul shipping, heavy-duty trucks, and, hopefully, long-haul aviation.

Hydrogen can be used for energy storage. Hydrogen also represents a potential zero or low carbon emissions fuel source for HVAC in buildings; a zero carbon emissions solution for building heating. Hydrogen potentially performs all of these functions without contributing to global warming, air pollution, or climate change (zero carbon in the case of green hydrogen – whereas blue hydrogen represents a low carbon solution – see below for a description of the hydrogen production color spectrum).


What is Carbon Capture?

As the demand for zero and low carbon emissions energy sources rises, environmental engineers and scientists develop new clean production technologies. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) decreases GHGs in the process of producing hydrogen in natural gas power plants (as well as in energy generation from other fossil fuels, and other industrial processes). CCS + H2 production generates reliable low carbon power – hydrogen. After capturing the carbon emissions from methane reforming (in the blue hydrogen production process, described below), partial oxidation restructures the elements as they flow through a catalyst bed, creating clean hydrogen. The actual use of hydrogen for energy generates zero pollution and no carbon emissions.

Though carbon capture cannot directly generate hydrogen for sustainable energy uses, methane reforming in natural gas power plants can. Methane reforming in natural gas power plants combines Fahrenheit steam, combined with a catalyst. The process produces hydrogen and a relatively small amount of carbon dioxide (smaller than the natural gas energy-generating process). Carbon capture can be used to capture CO2 from the natural gas combustion, as well as the methane reforming cycle – a low carbon process to create clean hydrogen.

Environmental scientists and engineers develop carbon capture technology to reduce atmospheric pollution from manufacturing facilities and power plants. The technology can absorb 90% of carbon emissions, significantly decreasing GHGs.

Pre-combustion carbon capture turns fuel sources into a gas rather than burning them. Post-combustion capturing separates carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion emissions. The collection of CO2 travels to an alternate processing facility where individuals repurpose or store it, decreasing adverse ecological effects.


Hydrogen Production – the 3 Colors

Engineers have developed various methods of hydrogen production and differentiated them on a color spectrum. When companies create H2 from methane reformation without collecting carbon outputs, they generate grey hydrogen. This process releases 9.3 kilograms of GHGs for every kilogram of hydrogen. In order to create a sustainable, low carbon solution for future hydrogen production, the world must transition away from grey hydrogen to environmentally-friendly hydrogen production methods (grey hydrogen currently represents a vast majority of global hydrogen production).

Companies can capture carbon emissions in the methane reformation process, storing them to preserve the atmosphere, producing blue hydrogen. The CCS process can collect up to 90% of the CO2 emissions and place them underground for climate change prevention. The process is significantly more sustainable than grey hydrogen production.

The zero carbon emissions hydrogen production process uses renewable energy, electrolyzers, and water, generating green hydrogen. Advanced technological devices (electrolyzers) separate hydrogen (H2) from H2O using electrolysis. Solar panels and wind turbines power the systems, creating zero emissions throughout the practice.

Green hydrogen is the most sustainable version of the energy source. Industries can power their production using a 100% clean energy source (green H2), eliminating atmospheric pollution from the process.

The process of producing green H2 is much cleaner than the conventional, ecologically degrading hydrogen development practice of methane reforming. Traditionally, energy professionals generate H2 from fossil fuel sources, generating 830 million tons of GHGs annually. Producing green hydrogen from zero-emission sustainable sources can enhance its efficiency while reducing atmospheric degradation. Producing blue hydrogen still uses methane reforming, but by also using CCS technology, a cleaner method of producing hydrogen is being used.


Hydrogen Fuel Cell Energy
hydrogen fuel cell

The process of producing hydrogen can supply fuel for hydrogen-powered fuel cells, creating an alternate clean energy source for energy storage and transportation. The cells work like batteries, running off of the hydrogen inside of them. They contain one positive and one negative electrode, generating the cathode and anode.

The two electrodes contain an electrolyte. Hydrogen fuels the anode, and air powers the cathode, separating molecules into protons and electrons. The free electrons travel through a designated circuit, creating electricity. Excess protons move to the cathode, combining with oxygen and generating water as the output. Pure water is a sustainable alternative to other GHGs, and water is the only emission in hydrogen power generation.

hydrogen fuel cell bus – Berlin, Germany

Hydrogen fuel cells are used in energy storage, and hydrogen buses, as clean energy battery solutions. Read more about Europe’s extensive effort to expand the hydrogen bus presence on the continent here. The only emissions from hydrogen buses run by fuel cells are water.

Homeowners can also potentially utilize hydrogen fuel cells, shrinking their carbon footprints. Hopefully, hydrogen will be used in large home appliances in the future, such as electric HVAC units, electric furnaces, electric boilers, and other applications. Adopting electric home appliances can aid the transition away from fossil fuel-derived power sources. 

You can compare your carbon footprint and utility savings by first receiving an energy consultation. A professional energy consultant can unveil your property’s compatibility with hydrogen fuel cell power sources. They can also recommend energy efficiency practices, reducing your carbon footprint over time.


Benefits of CCS, Electricity, and Hydrogen Fuel Sourcing

President Biden set a national carbon-neutrality goal upon entering office. Meeting the objective requires a restructuring of the energy sector. Both hydrogen and carbon capture represent solutions to accelerate the low-carbon, clean energy transition. Biden plans on developing a carbon-neutral electric grid, sourcing 100% of U.S. electricity from clean energy sources.

Although still fairly expensive, clean hydrogen represents a highly efficient low-carbon power alternative. “Hydrogen can be re-electrified in fuel cells with efficiencies up to 50%, or alternatively burned in combined cycle gas power plants (efficiencies as high as 60%).”  [Quote from  –  energystorage.org/technologies/hydrogen-energy-storage]. We can effectively develop a carbon-neutral nation by diversifying our electricity sources.

Green and blue hydrogen development can provide sustainable support for the electric grid, be used in the transportation sector or energy storage (in hydrogen fuel cells), and even as a low carbon solution for HVAC units and other major appliances in buildings. CCS with hydrogen development (producing blue hydrogen) represents a low carbon source of clean hydrogen, while green hydrogen production represents a zero carbon source.

We can generate clean energy while eliminating further atmospheric degradation when we target significant pollution producers and replace dirty energy with clean energy sources like electricity and hydrogen. Both electric and hydrogen buses represent clean energy solutions. Utilizing electric vehicles (EVs) can increase society’s access to emission-less power. If you want to drive with zero emissions, you also have the option of choosing a hydrogen fuel cell car (although, currently, an EV represents the less expensive zero emissions option). With both electricity and hydrogen, ultimately the process of generating the energy must come from a low carbon or zero-emissions source in order to truly be a clean energy solution.

The process of using electricity and/ or hydrogen in buildings and transportation also reduces the enhanced greenhouse effect by decreasing atmospheric emissions. When we capture the elements before they reach the environment, we prevent the overproduction and entrapment of heat (as in blue hydrogen). Green hydrogen, or electricity powered by renewables, shrinks the carbon footprint of energy production closer to zero.


Enhancing Urban Sustainability

Many cities have recently increased their sustainability standards, regulating carbon emissions and pollution production processes. They are electrifying transportation, and buildings, requiring cleaner energy (as in renewable portfolio standards and clean energy standards). CCS used in combination with hydrogen power (blue hydrogen) production can support urban transformations towards clean, low-carbon energy. Green hydrogen power production can support the urban energy transition completely away from fossil fuel reliance towards zero-emission energy.


Article by Jane Marsh

Author bio:

Jane works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of

Environment.co



 

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Economy vs. the Environment

GREEN, Healthy Environment = GREEN, Healthy Economy


Economic growth does not have to come at the expense of the environment. Sustainable technologies (such as renewable energy, energy efficiency, sustainable mass transit, electric vehicles) are also extremely beneficial to the economy. For example, the renewable energy industry employs over 500,000 people in the United States. The coal industry is responsible for under 90,000 jobs in the US. In addition, the cost of renewable energy, like solar and wind, is lower than coal (especially when looking at the levelized cost of energy), as depicted in this chart:

(chart from: wind-and-solar-are-our-cheapest-electricity-generation-sources-now; and also see: lazards-levelized-cost-of-energy)

GREEN Growth

A good example of eco-environmental sustainable growth can be seen clearly at the national level. Economic growth is beneficial and necessary for both industrialized and developing nations; as modernization (cities, national infrastructure, vital services, etc…) significantly improves the quality of peoples’ lives.

Unfortunately, most global economic growth historically has only been possible with the exploitation of natural resources. Historically, this exploitation of natural resources has been in land (as in exploitation of forests. wilderness), water (e.g. oceans, rivers, lakes), and especially fossil fuels (gas, coal, and oil for energy, oil/ petrochemicals for manufacturing).

Today, this exploitation of natural resources is no longer necessary to achieve growth; sustainable technologies are abundant, efficient, and affordable (such as renewable energyenergy efficiency technologies, sustainable mass transitelectric vehicles, etc…).

The global sustainability movement best represents the current global modernization movement; as evidenced by increased global investment in, and increased innovation of, clean energy technologies. In addition to the lower cost of, and increased efficiency of, clean energy technologies, the clean energy is the fastest growing segment of the US economy for job growth.


Please see: Renewable Energy JOBS are UP; and RE cost is down


Efficiency of sustainable technologies

Modern, 21st-century sustainability technologies are simply more energy-efficient and cost-efficient than their 20th-century fossil-fuel-intensive counterparts; as evidenced by hybrid and electric vehicles (EVs). EVs and hybrids get greater MPGs with greater fuel efficiency; providing much more savings (and responsible environmental safety as well), than all transportation options relying on more polluting vehicles running only on internal combustion engines (ICE vehicles).

EVs generate much less CO2 and other GHGs than ICE vehicles; especially when EVs are charged with electricity from a municipal grid powered with low-carbon energy sources. There’s also savings on maintenance costs, in addition to savings on fuel and much lower emissions, with EVs and hybrids compared to ICE vehicles (even when an EV is more expensive to purchase than a similar ICE vehicle); as illustrated in this chart comparing the total cost of ownership for a Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid (PHEV) vs. ICE equivalent minivan:

PHEV vs ICE vehicle – total cost of ownership

The significantly greater long-term, sustained economic benefits of, and opportunities provided by, modern, sustainable technologies are true for every technology that uses clean energy instead of dirty fossil fuels. The economy grows more as companies’ carbon footprints are reduced, fewer natural resources are used, the environment is treated with care; and more efficient products, as well as sustainable jobs, are developed.

Economic growth only TRULY happens (long-term) with sustainable technologies, which promote both economic growth AND environmental protections. If the economy has boom cycles due to environmental deregulations which allow coal, oil, gas, and petrochemical companies to avoid best environmental practices – how is that not counter-productive and a negative strategy overall?


Economic costs of unsustainable energy

Let’s say one person in the community gets wealthy due to loosening regulations on fossil fuel development, while another deals with damage due to the same deregulation. For example, in the case of a mishap in fracking or drilling when there are deregs allowing for booming fossil fuel business, but also causing destruction due to lax environmental standards. This is seen in: us-oklahoma-drilling-blast/five-missing-after-oklahoma-oil-and-gas-drilling-site-explosion.

The costs (negative externalities; costs to public health and the environment) of damage due to fossil fuels are increasing; costs of repair, cost of clean-up for environmental pollution, and/ or medical costs due deregulation & increased pollution (not to mention loss of life and personal injury in fossil fuel development and production), global warming, less clean water, air, land etc…

These costs associated ONLY with fossil fuels and NOT with renewable energy, increase when environmental deregulations continue to be given to what should be highly regulated fossil fuel industries. The federal, state, and private resources required to deal with the many problems associated with the deregulated fossil fuel industry offset any short-term economic gains. With clean energy and energy efficiency job growth and economic investment there is sustained long-term growth, without the abundance of negative externalities that come with fossil fuels.


Sustainable economic growth

Isn’t it a better idea to focus on a sustainable social business growth model vs. analyzing adjusted gains due to continual subsidies to fossil fuel companies; and deregulating industry to help fossil fuel intensive companies in the stock market? 10% of the richest Americans own 84% of all stocks in the stock market.  A much better indicator of economic health is the job market, and, in fact: jobs in clean energy are up to 10 times higher than jobs in fossil fuel industries.

For example, take this chart which compares US jobs in solar (& wind energy) v. jobs in fossil fuels (& nuclear):


Job opportunity is much more focused on the clean energy sector than fossil fuels- see: The United States green economy now employs 10 times more people than the fossil fuel industry



An article from the Earth Institute of Columbia University looks at the need for combining the ideas of environmental sustainability and economic growth. Here, the author specifically examines the economic opportunities created with environmental regulations>>>

“There are political and business leaders who do not care if economic growth causes environmental damage and there are environmental advocates who do not believe you can have economic growth without causing environmental damage. In a New York Times piece on the climate and economics discussions at Davos, Mark Landler and Somini Sengupta reported that:

Critics pointed to a contradiction that they said the corporate world had been unable to resolve: how to assuage the appetite for economic growth, based on gross domestic product, with the urgent need to check carbon emissions. “It’s truly a contradiction,” said Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “It’s difficult to see if the current G.D.P.-based model of economic growth can go hand-in-hand with rapid cutting of emissions,” he said.”

I find this dialogue a little amazing since it completely ignores the history of America’s success in decoupling the growth of GDP and the growth of environmental pollution. This fact of American environmental and economic life began around 1980, a decade after the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and continues today. It’s really quite simple: with public policies ranging from command-and-control regulations to direct and indirect government subsidies, businesses and governments developed and applied technologies that reduced pollution while allowing continued economic growth…

Environmental protection itself contributes to economic growth.”     FROM –  blogs.ei.columbia.edu/economic-growth-environmental-sustainability

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Plan for Smart Meter Deployment in all 50 States

Modern SMART Meters

Many buildings in America today still rely on inefficient energy infrastructure, such as older models of energy meters, instead of modern, cost-effective, energy efficiency technology such as smart meters.[1] Smart meters are energy meters with digital, high-speed, real-time, two-way communication, and data storage functions. Since 2013, the number of smart meters have passed the number of older models of meters deployed on energy grids throughout the United States.[2]

Energy utilities should continue to expand the deployment and implementation of smart meters to market capacity in the United States. Market capacity for smart meter deployment is defined here as replacing ALL old energy meters with smart meters throughout the United States.


Defining: what is a smart meter?

A smart meter records the electrical energy used by a building and sends that information digitally to the utility (and often can send the data to customers, too); in real-time, for monitoring and billing. Smart meters allow for two-way communication between the customer’s energy meter, and the utility (as well as for the energy customer, in many circumstances). They allow for utilities to read meters remotely; and for the utility to take operational control of the meter remotely when necessary.  Smart meters can also track energy consumption and provide data on the energy supply/ demand at the time of use.

Smart meters provide other data for analysis, such as power quality and power outages. They can store and/or transmit data on demand; and smart meters are programmable with respect to the data the smart meter is collecting, storing, and transmitting. Smart meters transmit data wirelessly (dependent on the wi-fi capabilities of the area in question) to utilities (and to energy customers in many smart meter systems). They use cable and/ or broadband carriers if the wireless or cellular signal in the area is not sufficiently operative.

Real-time Smart Data

Smart meters provide real-time, high-speed data and analytics to utilities; making the utility more efficient, responsive, resilient, and reliable. In addition, this data and analytics can, in many cases, be passed on to energy consumers. This enables energy customers to be more informed, and more efficient, with their energy usage; along with utilities.

Smart meters increase the energy efficiency of the energy used by utilities and energy customers (how smart meters increase energy efficiency for utilities and consumers is further detailed in the “Benefits of Smart Meters” section below). Smart meters can reduce customer’s energy bills by helping to reduce their energy consumption, and reduce electrical energy demand from utilities and on the grid (as seen in the examples in the “Case Studies” section below).

By reducing energy production and consumption from the utility/ energy grid and energy customers, and by making energy use more efficient, smart meters effectively reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with power generation. Therefore, they also reduce the impact of GHGs associated with energy generation on climate change (see section on “Benefits of Smart Meters – for environment” below).[3]  

How are Smart Meters Deployed?

Smart meters can be deployed by utilities on a city-wide, a statewide, or a regional, basis. Local governments, city municipalities, or state governments, along with private energy utilities/ energy infrastructure companies, can help promote the use of smart meters.[4] The local/ state utility usually manages and maintains smart meters and related infrastructure, and the utility usually maintains customer relations/ accounts.

However, third-party private energy companies (both associated with, and/ or independent from, the utility) can take over some services, and continue to do so more and more in the 21st century. Today, there are private energy companies that offer these services to customers throughout the United States,. In these energy services, a customer signs a contract for a subscription of smart meter compatible equipment, smart meters, and smart appliances.[5]

Smart public-private partnerships

The utility will generally maintain and manage the energy infrastructure, the actual energy distribution, however the utility may want to stop directly servicing the customer account/ customer relations. A private energy company (a private company other than the utility) can sometimes take over managing the energy customer’s account.[6] The U.S. should create and leverage private-public (utilities, other private energy companies, government) partnerships in the energy sector to replace old meters with smart meters in all states in the United States.

Utilities usually supply most of the up-front capital (energy meters, other energy infrastructure including energy distribution systems), the initial deployment, the maintenance of energy meters; however, utilities also often depend on public and private efforts made by local municipalities, or State governments, and/ or other private energy companies. In order to use smart meters, the old meters for energy customers need to be swapped out with new smart meters.

More often than not, smart meter deployment and use is driven by, and promoted by, private-public partnerships, involving utilities and government. These sectors will need to contribute resources and effort in order for a complete switch to smart meters to be made in large areas such as cities, states, and regions.

Examples of smart meter deployment, use, and smart meter implementation plans in the immediate future, include Pennsylvania, as well as more examples of success with recent smart meter deployment and implementation in other US states (the “Case Studies” section below details the success of smart meter deployment and implementation in these areas of the US), and countries throughout the world, found below in the “Case Studies” section.

Act 129 in Pennsylvania – Boon for Smart Meters

One example of statewide legislation which has led to widespread deployment of smart meters, as well as implementation plans for smart meters, is Act 129 in Pennsylvania. Act 129 of 2008 amended Section 2807 of the Public Utility Code [in Pennsylvania] by adding a requirement for electric distribution companies (EDCs) with greater than 100,000 customers to submit, for PUC approval, a smart meter technology procurement and installation plan.”[7]

Customers of the parent energy company First Energy (in Pennsylvania) can expect old meters to be swapped out for new meters (if it hasn’t been done already), as local utilities, for example, customers of West Penn Power, Penelec, and Met-Ed get new smart meters; while the roll-out of smart meters for customers of the utility Penn Power is now complete.


Benefits of Smart Meters

Smart meters present an opportunity for 3 main categories of benefits; benefits to energy companies, benefits to energy customers, and benefits to the environment:

Benefits to Energy Companies

  • Monitors the electric system much more quickly AND *aa.
  • Enables dynamic pricing, which adjusts the production of energy for required for buildings, and the cost of electricity based on demand, AND *bb.
  • Makes it possible to use energy resources more efficiently
  • Provides real-time data that is useful for balancing electric loads while reducing power outages (i.e. blackouts), the utility can quickly problem solve power quality issues, disturbances, and outages effectively and based on accurate real-time data
  • Reduces the expense to the utility of building new power plants to keep up with energy demand from utility by increasing energy efficiency by customers/ buildings, and decreasing energy use by buildings
  • Helps to optimize income with existing resources

Benefits to Energy Customers

After the electric company has deployed and implemented all of the features of smart meter technology,  its smart meter infrastructure; smart meters offer the following benefits to electricity customers:

  • *aa. Far greater (and more detailed) feedback regarding energy use (through Energy Management systems)
  • *bb. Enable BOTH utilities AND consumers to adjust their habits (through data analytics software, Energy Management apps) in order to lower energy generation costs and electrical bills
  • Reduces the number of blackouts and system-wide electricity failures

Benefits to the Environment

  • Reduces the need for new fossil fuel power plants that produce GHGs
  • Reduces GHGs from existing power plants by increasing energy efficiency, and decreasing energy production and consumption
  • Reduces carbon footprint of energy customers
  • Reduces or eliminates pollution created by vehicles driven by meter readers [8]

Smart meters are currently being given a hard look by most utilities in the US to replace (or utilities already have plans to, or have already replaced) old, “non-smart”, meters throughout the country; as the United States continues to upgrade its energy grid in every state to a modern, 21st century, smart grid nationally. Smart energy meters give utilities, as well as energy customers, a detailed, real-time look at energy consumption in a building (even narrowing the detailed data into categories like ‘HVAC’, and ‘electricity’.

Also gaining in popularity are tools such as residential/ business building Energy Management energy monitoring systems and apps (systems for monitoring energy consumption in buildings, apps for tablets or smartphones) to regulate the efficiency of energy consumers’ energy use.

Some building Energy Management apps are able to incorporate the data from smart meters into apps for smartphones or tablets, and further break the data down into sub-categories of energy used by specific appliances in the building; given that the appliance has to also be a smart appliance, and connected to the smart meter, and that the given model of smart meter, and the model of appliance, must have that capability).[9]

Smart meters (and building Energy Management systems) allow utilities to reduce their energy costs during off-peak times by increasing energy efficiency, and by helping utilities recognize energy use patterns for building, and balance energy supply and demand loads, therefore reducing overall energy generation needed for buildings.[10] Utilities can then pass those cost reductions onto customers, re-invest those cost savings in research & development of even more cost-saving technologies, or simply enjoy the greater profit with the increased revenue.

Additionally, smart meters reduce labor costs for the utility- namely the amount of labor needed by the utility to monitor consumption of energy; as technicians from the utility are replaced by automated high-speed wireless data networks. This also poses a direct savings to the utility. Also, energy bills are more accurate with the use of smart meters and smart technology, as opposed to with the human manual readings of energy meters for the utility, as the utility sends people out in the field to go meter by meter recording data when old meters are used by the utility.[11]

Furthermore, “smart buildings promise to improve efficiency by [designing] these [smart meter, Energy Management] systems to reduce operating costs and increase the safety, productivity and quality of life of those who work and live inside their walls.” FROM- forbes.com/honeywell/


“New advanced metering infrastructure [smart meters] that can measure customer load with increased granularity has created opportunities for variable rate structures, effective demand response and increased customer control over their energy use. And now, with the ability to compare real-time usage to historical baselines, the industry can begin to more accurately value efficiency as energy…” FROM- how-smart-meters-are-changing-energy-efficiency-in-california/

Lastly, buildings represent the #1 source of GHGs in America, when the totals of the emissions from energy to create electricity for buildings and energy production for HVAC are combined.[12] Smart meters change (decrease) the share of emissions created by buildings by allowing utilities and customers to generate and use energy more efficiently.[13]


Case Studies

The growth of smart meter deployment in the United States is summed up in the following case studies-

Although the initial expense of smart meter deployment represent substantial up-front costs to utilities (billions of dollars are invested annually by utilities in researching & developing, and deploying, smart meters, and smart meter infrastructure), the return on investment from implementing this technology (as seen in the financial benefits listed above) are also substantial, and often present a short-term cost horizon which is favorable to the utilities, making the initial investment in smart meter development, with a break even point of only a few years.[14]

States in the US currently have been successfully deploying and implementing smart meters for energy; including in Pennsylvania (as demonstrated in the case study above), New York, and Illinois (as seen in the case study examples below).

Similar to First Energy in Pennsylvania, ConEd in New York plans the deployment of smart meters to all of their customers in the state (although ConEd took the initiative to plan on the statewide deployment of smart meters independently, without first being compelled by legislation).[15] ConEd in Chicago and Northern Illinois aims to have installed approximately 4 million smart meters in all homes and businesses across northern Illinois by the end of 2018.[16]

Although the following worldwide locations may not be all entirely analogous to U.S. states (different economies, different demographics as compared to the United States), it is interesting to note the success of smart meter programs throughout the world. The growing deployment of smart meters throughout the world is summed up in the following examples:

  • Europe- The UK plans to have smart meters deployed to all residential properties (30M+ homes) by 2020, as well as most small businesses (2M+ businesses).
  • Canada- In the province of Ontario alone, there are 800,000+ residential and commercial properties with updated smart meters.
  • Japan- Businesses utilize smart meters throughout commercial buildings in the country, and Japan’s Energy Conservation Centre plans more research & development, and deployment and implementation, of smart meters.
  • Australia- In the province of Victoria, there are plans to deploy smart meters to 2.6M properties. As the deployment of smart meters is taking place, energy customers are offered in-home displays tied to the smart meters, eliminating the need to go outside to look at the display.[17]

“As climate change and its effects become more apparent, the energy industry is working to change the current system as quickly as possible to improve energy efficiency and reduce human activity’s impact on the environment. Although some companies and countries are slower to adopt smart meters and similar concepts than others, no one can argue the fact that a massive overhaul of the current systems is imperative.”[18]

The most effective strategy to increase the impact of smart meter deployment and implementation in the United States is to encourage and promote smart meter deployment and implementation in all 50 states of the United States.

 



footnotes:

[1] Website URL+ path: https://www.forbes.com/sites/honeywell/2016/10/28/why-we-need-smart-buildings/#1e314cad77d9 (accessed11/15/2018)

[2] URL + path: https://www.utilitydive.com/news/how-smart-meters-are-changing-energy-efficiency-in-california/410489/ (accessed 11/15/2018)

[3] URL + path: https://www.energycentral.com/c/iu/smart-grid-and-climate-change (accessed 11/12/2018)

[4] URL + path: https://dailyenergyinsider.com/news/6539-utilities-regulators-jointly-improve-nations-electric-grid-aii-says/ (accessed 11/15/2018)

[5] URL + path: https://www.forbes.com/sites/allbusiness/2018/10/06/clean-tech-startups-key-issues/#58faf723194e (accessed 11/12/2018)

[6] URL+ path: https://www.marketsandmarkets.com/Market-Reports/smart-meter-366.html,https://www.marketsandmarkets.com/Market-Reports/smart-meter-366.html (accessed 11/15/2018)

[7] URL + path: http://www.puc.pa.gov/filing_resources/issues_laws_regulations/act_129_information/smart_meter_technology_procurement_and_installation.aspx (accessed 11/15/2018)

[8] URL + path: https://www.thebalancesmb.com/pros-and-cons-of-smart-meters-1182648 (accessed 11/16/2018)

[9] URL + path: https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/utilities/smart-meters/ (accessed 11/16/2018)

[10] URL + path: https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/save-electricity-and-fuel/appliances-and-electronics/reducing-electricity-use-and-costs (accessed 11/16/2018)

[11] URL + path: https://www.esa-automation.com/en/smart-meters-and-their-purpose-in-industrial-automation/ (accessed 11/16/2018)

[12] URL + path: https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions (accessed 11/15/2018)

[13] URL + path: https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2017/01/f34/AEP_Smart-Grid-Technologies-Cut-Emissions-Costs-Ohio-SGDP.pdf (accessed 11/15/2018)

[14] URL +path: https://www.iotforall.com/how-make-smart-city-projects/ (accessed 11/16/2018)

[15] URL + path: https://www.coned.com/-/media/files/coned/documents/our-energy-future/our-energy-projects/electric-long-range-plan.pdf (accessed 11/16/2018)

[16] URL + path: https://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/progs/env/smart-grid-for-a-smart-chicago.html (accessed 11/16/2018)

[17] URL + path: https://www.greencitytimes.com/smart-grid-overview/ (accessed 11/16/2018)

[18] URL + path:

https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2013/07/f2/20130716-Energy%20Sector%20Vulnerabilities%20Report.pdf

(accessed 11/16/2018)



FAQ

  1. What is a smart meter?

    smart meter records the electrical energy used by a building and sends that information digitally to the utility; in real-time, for monitoring and billing. Smart meters allow for two-way communication between the customer’s energy meter, and the utility, allowing for utilities to read meters remotely, and for the utility to take operational control of the meter remotely when necessary.  Smart meters can also track energy consumption and provide data on the energy supply/ demand at the time of use.

  2. What are some of the benefits of smart meters?

    Smart meters enable utilities and energy customers to produce and consume energy on a more efficient basis, where energy supply more accurately meets energy demand as reported from data collected and transmitted by smart meters. Not only is energy produced and consumed on a more efficient basis with use of smart meters, energy use is effectively decreased with the implementation of smart meter technology. By reducing energy production and consumption from the utility/ energy grid and energy customers, and by increasing energy efficiency, smart meters reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with power generation; and reduce the impact of GHGs associated with energy generation on climate change. 

  3. How are smart meters deployed?

    Smart meters can be deployed by utilities on a city-wide, a statewide, or a regional basis. Local governments, city municipalities, or state governments, along with private energy utilities/ energy infrastructure companies, can help promote the use of smart meters. The local/ state utility usually maintains smart meters and related infrastructure, and the utility often maintains customer relations/ accounts. However, third-party private energy companies (both associated with, and/ or independent from, the utility) can take over some of the management of energy distribution and customer relation management services.

GCT tags

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A Close Look at San Diego’s HERO Program

San Diego: GREEN Buildings


San Diego, Green Buildings, HERO Program

The importance of green energy for use in homes and businesses is becoming more and more widespread. Families, businesses, and whole communities are making the proactive effort to renovate their energy systems in order to pursue more cost-efficient and energy-efficient methods. San Diego is a U.S. west coast city that is a global leader in green buildings.

The HERO program in San Diego is an extension of the California Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program as applied to San Diego. The PACE program is also available throughout several states [for more information on the CA HERO program, please see: renovateamerica.com]. With the implementation of San Diego’s Home Energy Renovation Opportunity (HERO) program, building owners throughout San Diego (as well as the greater Southern California area; and throughout several states) are renovating their properties with efficiency upgrades.

One example of a building upgrade popular with HERO customers, is installing solar PV on rooftops or on a building’s property, along with the necessary technologies to make solar energy their main energy source. Solar upgrades are among a variety of renovations offered by HERO programs to improve buildings’ energy efficiency.

PACE, HERO, and Renovate America programs

It might come as no surprise that solar energy systems are expensive to implement, thus potentially preventing homeowners from pursuing this more efficient clean energy system. It’s for this reason that many areas across the nation have introduced the concept of PACE.

In San Diego, the PACE concept takes the form of the HERO program. HERO and similar programs have the potential to cover 100% of the cost of solar energy system implementation and building efficiency upgrades; from solar panels and energy-saving windows, to water saving upgrades. This financial assistance makes access to clean energy and a renovated building with energy efficiency upgrades much more feasible.

Clean energy upgrade financing through HERO programs offer low-interest options; and can even be repaid through property taxes. With a simple application process and options for even those with unfavorable credit scores, the HERO program provides homeowners committed to making the transition to clean and efficient energy with manageable rates and fees.

Since 2011, a clean energy focused organization called Renovate America has offered this HERO program to fund billions of dollars in home improvements for tens of thousands homes and buildings throughout the country. Starting in Riverside, California, this program was developed in order to allow homeowners to bring their clean energy desires to reality. In Riverside County alone, over 20,000 homes have utilized the program in order to make clean energy modifications to their homes.

Since expanding to San Diego County, the same program has provided financial assistance for thousands more local projects. Thus far for San Diego county, this program has facilitated a substantial increase in jobs, provided millions of dollars in funding for sustainable options, conserved over 1,000 million kilowatts of energy, and saved more than 1000 million gallons of water.

These benefits go hand in hand with what the HERO program is doing for homeowners as well. The amount saved on energy bills and reduction in their personal carbon footprint are other advantages to consider when making the decision to apply for this clean energy financing.

Overall, though, when taking a look at the positive reception from homeowners and the effectiveness of the program, it is easy to see that individuals are ready and willing to take advantage of a program such as this in order to go above and beyond to make a change for the better. Moving in the right direction in regards to clean energy changes is made that much more possible with the help of the HERO program and others like it.



Please also see:

Profiles in Sustainable Cities – San Diego, California