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