5 Ways for Cities to Implement Sustainable Waste Management |
Article by Jane Marsh |
Global and national policies for more sustainable waste management are years away, so cities must take on the responsibility of enacting change. Countless places worldwide are using advances in technology to help combat the waste crisis.
Cities are setting their own guidelines for change and focusing on working toward a zero-waste system. Managing garbage and keeping it from landfills is the primary concern. San Francisco, a zero-waste leader in the United States, has worked hard to keep 80% of its trash out of landfills.
As cities worldwide test new waste management ideas, they learn what does and does not work. Sharing these advances can help move global initiatives further forward. Here are just a handful of ways various places are answering the waste crisis.
Generate Energy From Waste
One way of diverting trash from landfills is to burn it. Power plants that would typically rely on fossil fuels can instead use garbage to generate electricity and heat. Though a seemingly simple solution, critics argue that the disposal method is not worth the cost — high quantities of greenhouse gas emissions.
A plant in Denmark may have found a solution. Copenhagen is home to a waste-to-energy power plant called Copenhill that features a large green slope used for skiing in winter and hiking in warmer months. Copenhillburns 450,000 tons of trash into energy each year, providing over 30,000 homes with electricity and 72,000 with heat.
Copenhill is different from other waste-to-energy power plants because it’s working on ways to capture carbon gas emissions and store or recycle them. Copenhill heats about 99% of the buildings in Copenhagen. It is also working to reduce its use of fossil fuels, which are scarce resources. The success in Denmark prompts other cities to consider implementing this system as well.
Enact Pay-as-You-Throw Programs
Pay-as-you-throw programs are growing in popularity. Communities without these initiatives in place fund waste removal with property tax money. There is no incentive for households to reduce the amount of garbage they produce. Pay-as-you-throw programs charge residents by the bag. People must either purchase special colored trash bags or tags to attach for $1-$2. Setting fees for waste removal is no different than charging for other utilities. It helps make consumers aware of their consumption and can make a significant impact.
New Hampshire is already seeing benefits from its pay-as-you-throw program. It compared data from 34 towns with this program in place to those that did not and found it decreased waste by 42%-54%. This simple plan makes individuals more accountable for their trash and helps reduce the burden on landfills.
Find Ways to Recycle Hazardous Waste
Hazardous waste is difficult to dispose of and adds harmful chemicals into the atmosphere. Part of the problem is that many consumers do not know what constitutes a dangerous material and can be throwing potentially harmful items into their regular trash. These products can leach toxic metals and chemicals into the atmosphere and soil, affecting air, food, and water quality. In order to protect the environment, hazardous waste must be managed sustainably.
Cities need to educate residents about the dangers of throwing these everyday items in their garbage. Common hazardous items include printer cartridges, lightbulbs, car fluids, batteries, and nail polish. The best way to recycle these products is to take them to a location designed to treat them properly. For instance, some hardware stores take batteries for recycling. Putting better and more consistent systems in place for households to recycle their hazardous items could make a huge difference.
Additionally, the same sort of care in managing waste from households applies to healthcare. Medical waste needs to be managed sustainably, including the use of color-coded bins and recyclable products, when possible. Managing waste from healthcare also can protect the environment from toxins generated by hazardous medical waste.
Install AI-Powered Dumpsters
One problem with typical waste management is that dump trucks collect dumpsters on a set schedule, often a few times a week, regardless of whether they are full and ready to be emptied or not. The different types of items thrown into these dumpsters also pose an issue. Hazardous materials, food waste, and recycling often end up in these receptacles when there are better, safer ways to dispose of them.
Miami has been testing a new system for waste management at the level of the dumpster. It has installed AI-powered dumpsters throughout the city that monitor when they are full and what types of garbage are inside. This new method means trucks only collect trash when the receptacle is full, saving carbon emissions from driving when unnecessary. Miami has also used this technology to educate residents of buildings that continually put trash in the dumpster that should be recycled, composted, or disposed of properly.
Improve Waste Sorting Systems
Finding improved methods for sorting garbage from materials that can be reused and recycled would go a long way toward reducing the burden on landfills. Removing recyclables, disposing of hazardous waste properly, and saving food for composting are all helpful. Still, cities struggle with implementing a system that covers all the different types of trash.
Songdo, South Korea, has made great strides in becoming zero waste. It accomplishes this through a system of pipes that lead from homes to the necessary trash processing areas. Different lines are for various types of garbage.
Closer to home, San Franciso has improved its trash collection system by having three garbage bins curbside instead of one. There is a container each for refuse, recyclables, and compost.
We Must Do Our Part
Cities can only do so much on their own. Many of these programs come to a standstill without public buy-in. It takes individuals who are willing to implement new systems for separating their trash to make a change. Try composting on your own or use a service provided by your city. Check to make sure you aren’t throwing out hazardous materials and do your due diligence to dispose of them properly. Small steps like this enable citywide improvements that can then expand to national and global levels. It all starts with you.
Article by Jane Marsh
Jane works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of
As the conversation around greenhouse gas emissions and climate change intensifies, cities are implementing green initiatives to make life easier and healthier for the planet and citizens.
Innovative communications and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies have pioneered the shift towards “smart cities” and a supportive digital landscape that promotes sustainability, optimal well-being, and public safety.
Here are ten ways sustainability and new IoT technology prove invaluable for worker safety, as well as public health and safety in general>>>
Improves Indoor Air Quality
Scientific evidence has indicated that indoor air quality has been more polluted than outdoor air. Since most people spend 90% of their time inside, it’s not unlikely they’re at a greater risk for illness and respiratory issues.
Poor indoor air quality often leads to sick building syndrome (SBS)—cold symptoms, allergies, and other chronic conditions that derive from toxic building materials, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), asbestos, and other chemical and material treatments.
However, smart cities are using special IoT software to combat SBS. Currently, tech companies are developing a sensory system that can be integrated into existing buildings to monitor and improve air quality indoors in real-time.
Reduces Workplace Accidents
IoT technologies also aim to reduce workplace accidents. For example, improving air quality should eventually reduce absenteeism at work, leading to fewer injuries. Even current research shows that healthier workers are less likely to have accidents on the job.
Actual examples of IoT software that are currently improving worker safety include:
The implementation of IoT systems in plant equipment, such as forklifts that can isolate risky work areas during high traffic
Boosts Employee Retention
Since the world’s reopening from the coronavirus pandemic, companies have experienced an exodus of employees known as the Great Resignation.
In January 2022, 4.3 million employees quit their jobs while organizations scrambled to fill 11.3 million openings. Finding skilled workers is a time-consuming and expensive process, making employee retention all the more critical.
Implementation of green infrastructure in cities helps alleviate mental fatigue. Considering sustainable cities aim to improve the quality of life for their citizens, interactions with green spaces are beneficial for employees.
When workers have easy access to nature throughout the day, whether spending their breaks outdoors or having a view of a park from their office window, they can experience its many therapeutic benefits.
Lean Operations Decrease Risks
The idea behind lean operations is performing better work with fewer resources. IoT systems improve occupational safety and promote more promising manufacturing practices through automation, such as:
Sensors that automatically turn heavy machinery off when it’s not in use
Transfer of employees from high-risk labor jobs to safer higher-paying positions
Increased productivity while reducing physical harm to humans and the environment
Lean operations also encourage organizations to develop more robust long-term sustainability plans with employee safety at the forefront.
Green cities utilizing IoT systems enhance municipal workers’ safety, in particular. For example, pipe crawlers are small robots with attached cameras that crawl hard-to-reach pipes to detect sedimentation, cracks and leaks, dents, and other blockages. This prevents workers from having to climb into unsafe, germ-infested areas.
Prevents Gas Leak Exposure
Innovative city technology is a critical component for municipal occupational safety in additional ways. Green cities may employ devices that detect methane gases, pole tilt sensors, or air quality monitors to ensure public safety.
These IoT systems allow the city to predict potential hazards and respond to disasters more effectively. When it comes to gas leaks, advanced meters can detect open fuel lines or unusual flow conditions, setting off an alarm.
Considering utility workers are typically the first responders to a gas leak, IoT technology can shut off gas remotely before worker exposure at the site.
Access to Healthier Food
Green cities that implement urban agriculture enhance worker and public safety by providing access to healthy, affordable food.
Emerging agricultural technologies include vertical farming, IoT sensors in open fields, and smart greenhouses. Farmers that use IoT systems can remotely monitor moisture and temperature levels, security, and irrigation.
Through IoT tech combined with cutting-edge food technology, there is a year-round organic food source in metropolitan areas for improved public health.
Cybersecurity Enhances Workplace Security
Industries like information technology and web development can benefit from innovative office solutions the most, such as utilizing personal devices and cloud computing. However, with the rise of wireless technology comes the need for enhanced security.
Green cities employ IoT systems to protect the cybersecurity of their networks, and many municipal departments and other companies are doing the same. Without it, corporations risk distributing and losing sensitive data.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 46% of companies use a biometric authentication system to protect data collected on devices. Some forms of biometric authentication include face recognition, fingerprint recognition, iris scanning, and voice recognition.
Reduced Energy Consumption
IoT technology can reduce energy emissions throughout offices and green cities. Smart thermostats and lighting, for example, boost building sustainability.
Commercial spaces that operate smart technologies can monitor energy inputs and outputs while improving efficiency, essentially cutting costs.
Concerning improving air quality indoors, implementing IoT automation in offices helps monitor workplace air conditioning, machinery, water heating, and refrigeration—all ways green cities can further protect worker safety.
Green cities that focus on occupational safety benefit everyone, from employees to upper management. Workplace injuries and disease are costly, but the utilization of advanced technologies is improving health and safety in more ways than previously anticipated.
Jane works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of
Cities are the heart of every global region. They house generations of families, are often headquarters for the world’s biggest companies, and provide universities that produce the most innovative minds. It’s no wonder why so many people throughout the world want to live in a city.
However, an increase in residents also creates additional air pollution that harms everyone’s health. These are some of the technologies improving air quality in cities to make them better places to live and work.
Many people sell their cars when they move to a populated downtown area, but everyone will still require some kind of vehicle for transportation.
Whether you take a conventionally-fueled (fossil fuel-based) bus or drive yourself around the city in a vehicle with an internal combustion engine (ICE), the transportation method will burn gas and create carbon dioxide (CO2) that intensifies global warming. ICE vehicles also create many forms of pollution that adversely affect public health and the environment.
The number of EV models will double in 2022 and continue rising in 2023. More people will have access to vehicles with electric motors that eliminate tailpipe emissions and therefore tailpipe pollution, and which prevent CO2 from entering the planet’s atmosphere.
2. Vehicles Designed for Hydrogen Fuel
In addition to electric cars, engineers, scientists, and vehicle manufacturers are also developing vehicle motors powered by hydrogen gas. Hydrogen doesn’t create carbon dioxide or harmful emissions when burned, so it would be a 100% clean energy alternative. The U.S. Department of Energy is leading research to make FCEVs safe, affordable, environmentally-friendly vehicle options. Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) produce no tailpipe emissions (other than water vapor), and FCEVs are more efficient than conventional ICE vehicles.
3. Rentable Electric Bikes
Bicycles are another alternative sustainable technology for transportation purposes. Many cities pave their roads with bike lanes included, and some cities even rent out e-bikes and other electric micro-mobility devices (e-scooters, e-skateboards, etc…) to increase sustainable transit options.
Publicly available or rentable bikes will get people across the few blocks they need to travel without burning fossil fuels. It’s a pollution-free form of transportation that immediately makes the surrounding air safer to breathe.
4. Personalized HVAC Systems
Urban airborne pollution also involves everyone’s homes. Every ounce of air in your home can contain up to 40,000 dust mites or more if the house isn’t clean.
It’s so important to tailor your HVAC unit to your household because some families breathe more air pollutants than others. Getting professional advice will point you toward the most suitable air filters and a cleaning schedule that will make your system last longer.
5. Construction Site Filtration Machines
Research shows that 23% of urban air pollution originates from ongoing construction projects. This is an especially pressing concern in cities because there’s always ongoing construction.
Massive filtration machines at technologically advanced sites pull air through filters during the workday and push out clean air for workers to breathe. They removes dust and other contaminants that people might breathe while working on the site or walking past.
6. Air Quality Sensors
Sometimes city air is safer to breathe than others, so people can check websites or apps to see the current pollution level where they live. Numerous cities installed air sensors to provide accurate instant readings.
Chicago installed their sensors on lampposts in 2014 to track four common pollutants like carbon dioxide and particulate matter. The chips will upgrade to add volatile organic compounds (VOCs) when the technology is available. The ability to upgrade without reinstalling new technologies is one of the many benefits of using emerging tech to improve air quality in cities.
7. Wet Deposition Sprinklers
When it rains or snows over a big city, the water particles capture air pollutants and chemicals before bringing them down to earth. Longer periods of rain in one place capture more pollution, but rain systems have varying lengths and move through regions quickly.
Wet deposition sprinklers recreate this helpful process by operating as long as people need. They’re especially helpful in areas with high amounts of airborne pollution.
8. Biomass Household Stoves
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 2.6 billion people cook with kerosene, which puts them at risk of inhaling fatal gases. It’s most common in developing countries, but biomass fuel is an easily accessible alternative. It contains naturally degradable compounds like wood, farming waste, and animal dung. People can access all three components where they live and make the fuel at home.
There is a concern for anyone using biomass stoves long-term. Although the fuel doesn’t create carbon monoxide, it can release carbon dioxide fumes that are poisonous in spaces that lack ventilation. Air cleaning technologies will continue to develop and meet people where they live in these regions.
9. Pollution-Vacuuming Pods
Cities with massive highway infrastructure put more focus on airborne pollutants created by vehicles. Many have set up pollution-vacuuming pods that sit under each road in response to that. Pipework connects the pod to the upper street and sucks in air to remove ozone, hydrocarbons, and carbon monoxide.
It’s another new technology that makes city air safer to breathe, especially for pedestrians walking along high-traffic streets.
10. Self-Cleaning Structural Concrete
Concrete buildings are fire-proof and withstand extreme weather, so they’re an optimal urban construction solution. They’re an even better choice when construction teams use self-cleaning concrete to cover the outer walls and roof. It uses photocatalysis to break down pollutants with sunlight redirected off the concrete.
Because this technology can also create urban necessities like parking decks and sidewalks, it’s a widespread pollution solution.
Urban leadership and residents should adopt technologies that improve air quality in cities, such as sustainable transit alternatives and household upgrades. Sustainable technologies make a significant difference in reducing airborne pollutants that harm city residents and the planet.
Jane works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of
Additional “technologies” that vastly improve urban air quality are the ancient “technologies” of planting trees and maintaining green spaces – as described in the Green Urban Planning article on GCT. Here’s an excerpt from the Green City Times’ Urban Planning article:
Climate change is adversely affecting all parts of the earth. There have been dramatic increases in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) globally since the industrial revolution of the 19th century. The planet warms faster as more GHGs are added to the earth’s atmosphere.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, expressing the global scientific consensus on the matter, warns that “global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) need to fall by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. This means that any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air…The decisions we make today are critical in ensuring a safe and sustainable world for everyone, both now and in the future.”
With GHGs (CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, other gases – see epa.gov/ghgemissions/overview-greenhouse-gases) continually added to the earth’s atmosphere, the planet continues to warm at an increasing rate. Unfortunately, much larger changes to the earth’s climate are projected despite the current pace of global climate change mitigation.
Thus, an increase in the pace of climate change mitigation (such as increased global investment in, and implementation of, clean and sustainable energy technologies) is imperative to slow the pace of climate change. In this article, the focus is on just a few (of many) categories of climate change, all of which represent significant adverse impacts to people and ecosystems.
Adverse climate feedback loops will lead to ‘tipping points‘ that might cause ‘runaway climate change‘. The way to avoid this scenario is for governments, industries, and the private sector throughout the world to increase investments exponentially in climate mitigation technologies.
Adverse Climate Feedback Loops
As the planet’s temperature rises, ocean temperature also rises in some regions globally, while simultaneously droughts and wildfires increase in other regions, and adverse climate feedback loops occur globally. For example, as the earth’s temperature and ocean temperature rise, there is also an increase in the size and frequency of intense storms and flooding. The increase in extreme storms leads again to an increase in the very factors that lead to more extreme wet weather in the first place (evidence of an increase in adverse climate feedback loops).
At the same time that extreme storms pummel some regions, global warming leads to extreme drought in other parts of the planet, and severe wildfires result. The larger wildfires and drought dry out land and make way for more adverseclimate feedback loops (higher average temperatures, more extreme drought, more extreme wildfires, etc…). An increase in severe drought globally also has knock-on effects, such as devastation to agricultural food crops throughout entire regions of the planet.
From the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization: “The percentage of the planet affected by drought has more than doubled in the last 40 years and in the same timespan droughts have affected more people worldwide than any other natural hazard. Climate change is indeed exacerbating drought in many parts of the world, increasing its frequency, severity and duration. Severe drought episodes have a dire impact on the socio-economic sector and the environment and can lead to massive famines and migration, natural resource degradation, and weak economic performance.” FROM – fao.org/land-water/droughtandag
Global warming presently is primarily due to human-caused GHGs from the combustion of fossil fuels. Essentially, rises in GHGs will continue to increase average global temperatures at a continuously higher rate.
The impacts and pace of global warming simultaneously accelerate adverse feedback loops, which have the effect of increasing the pace of global temperature rise.
Thus, the hope to reduce the consequences of climate change is tied to the successful global effort to reduce GHGs.
Consequences of global warming and related adverse climate feedback loops include increases in extreme weather events of all kinds, such as:
increased severity of hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones
disruption of global weather patterns, such as jet stream disturbances that send colder weather further south (i.e. ‘polar vortex‘)
chaotic increases in rainfall and flooding in parts of the world, while simultaneously other parts of the world experience –
drought, heatwaves, wildfires, and devastation to agriculture
increases in toxic algal blooms; especially in freshwater ecosystems such as lakes, but also in coastal marine habitats
extinction of wildlife species and ecosystems; degradation of wildlife habitats and biodiversity globally
Sea level rise is already threatening some regions of the planet, especially during extreme high tide and flooding events, and especially for low-lying communities on coasts and islands. Melting ice of all sizes, and warming oceans, adversely affects the lives of marine wildlife species and ecosystems. Read more about the adverse effects on marine wildlife from global warming below.
Ocean acidification has led to mass die-offs of coral reefs, home to a diverse set of marine species. Compounding adverse marine changes have affected coastal ecosystems, island-nations, and communities, causing them to face increasing exposure to storms, floods, as well as the aforementioned marine ecosystem issues. All of these factors have led once-thriving marine ecosystems and coastal communities to be in a state of distress, struggling for survival.
Increase in Wildfires
Wildfires are forecast to continue to increase in frequency, duration, and range. Increasing global temperatures will continue to increase the number and level of wildfires worldwide. The increasing number of wildfires will, in turn, cause a continued increase in global temperatures. This is a diabolical adverse feedback loop of increased atmospheric GHGs and adverse effects of global warming; a continuous cycle of global environmental devastation.
Despite the seemingly unusual high frequency of the raging wildfires that took place recently, it is alarming that there are many more large wildfires predicted over the coming couple of years. In California and Australia, as well as throughout the entire planet; warmer temperatures, drier land conditions, and extreme dry gusty wind are expected to expand the length and increase the intensity of wildfires.
Thawing permafrost will release large amounts of potent GHGs, such as methane, increasing global warming. Thawing ground (for example, in Siberia) is also likely to disrupt municipal building sectors and other infrastructure on a regional basis; for regions where human activity and permafrost are both present. The recent Arctic fires are an example of an adverse climate feedback loop; the fires set loose significantly high amounts of the potent GHG methane that had been locked in permafrost; increasing global warming and the potential for more severe Arctic fires.
Austinis 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.
Austin Energy’s Community Solar Program provides access to locally-generated solar energy for customers. They provide solar power from local community solarphotovoltaic (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.
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.
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 realizinga 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 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 justicemovements. [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 –
“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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
There is a substantial shortfall between GHG emission reduction pledges that almost 200 countries have made, and global climate reality. Worldwide, almost 200 countries have set climate targets – independently, and internationally all member-nations of the UNFCCC* have recommended targets.
At the same time, there is also a genuine, continuing effort by the world’s countries to try to limit global temperature rise to below 2° Celsius average global temperature increase (above pre-industrial era global temperature averages) by the end of this century. 2° C is the number that represents saving the planet from the worst effects of climate change.
The UNFCCC advises all world governments that a reduction in global GHGs (NDCs) by 7.6% annually for the next decade is required to meet the ambitious 1.5°C Paris target (see below).
What Measures are Needed to Reach Climate Targets?
In order to prevent the most damaging effects of climate change, the international community has pledged (both in the COP21 at Paris, and in subsequent years) to increase the use of such sustainability technologies like renewable energy and energy efficiency measures; while simultaneously decreasing fossil fuel use, in order to mitigate GHGs…emissions which lead to global temperature rise.
The reality is that the average global temperature rise will likely be significantly greater than what was promised at Paris – barring concerted, ambitious climate action by the international community. A 4.1-4.8°C degrees rise in average global temperatures would result if the world simply maintains the status quo. The world is thankfully not simply going to maintain the status quo in reality. This is evidenced by progressive net zero targets by the US and China (among many other nations), and best exemplified by ambitious climate action by the EU and especially Northern European countries.
The Paris pledges, as well as actions by nations, industries, and private investors, after COP21, demonstrate a genuine global effort. This global effort to reach climate goals involves the research, development, and effective use of sustainable low- or zero-emissions technologies and measures. Of course, this is great, but global temperature rise is still projected to be over the global temperature goals committed to in Paris.
In other words, a 2+°C change over the acceptable 2°C limit by the end of this century will result even if all pledges by all countries are actually met. Even in this somewhat positive scenario (and in the realistic best-case scenarios), as of now, there is still a shortfall – this NYTimes interactive piece clearly illustrates this problem — for the original 2015 NYTimes interactive click>>> http://tinyurl.com/gct333
If all nearly 200 nations keep all of their promises from COP21, global temperature rise will be limited to just 0.035°C (0.063°F) annually (best case). Even if every government on the planet that participated in COP21 keeps every Paris promise, reduces GHG emissions as promised, and shifts no emissions to other countries; and also keeps these emission reductions going throughout the rest of the century – the average projected global temperature rise will be kept to just 3°C (5.4°F) by the year 2100.
United States Future Climate Ambition
Obama’s Clean Power Plan, his moratorium on drilling for oil in the Atlantic, the U.S.’s 3-year moratorium on building coal mines on federal land represented progress on climate goals that was, and still is, the best hope for America to do its part. Now that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are the new United States President and Vice President; and Democrats are in charge of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, the United States will rejoin the international community focused on climate action. Progressive action on climate will be legislated and, in some cases, mandated, both nationally and state-by-state.
The United States government is also poised to invest substantially in clean energy infrastructure, clean energy job development, environmental protections, and in many other significant sustainable climate, energy, environmental, and economic/job growth US sectors. For a complete list of the latest GCT recommended US climate priorities, including ambitious priorities such as carbon neutrality for the U.S. by 2050 – please see – Permanent ban on new coal mines and other sustainability priorities for the United States.
The Rest of The World
China looking to shut down older coal power plants is a very positive sign. Promising signs include the global increased development and use of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. Energy transition progress is also seen in substantial increases in electric vehicles in Northern European nations, Asia, and much of the both the developed and developing world. Europe has been leading the way on ambitious climate action for many years.
European nations are independently setting ambitious net zero goals of 2050 (or even sooner in a couple cases). The European Union passed legislation that also targets net zero GHG emissions by 2050,. Even before President Biden announced a net zero by 2050 target for the United States, China set a net zero target of 2060.
However, optimism, in the face of the undeniable math of GHG reduction targets, reality, and the true effort it will take to reach ambitious climate goals, such as carbon neutrality by 2050; clearly tells us more needs to be done.
Green City Times is a resource on sustainability, urban planning, renewable energy, sustainable mass transportation, energy efficiency and green building. Find facts on renewable energy including: hydroelectric (from dams, mills, waves, currents and tides), solar, wind, geothermal, biomass (and biofuel). Also get info. about everything from recycling to clean coal…Green City Times also features articles on the latest sustainability technology.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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…
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. 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.
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 analyticsto 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.
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).
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 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.
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. 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.
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.”
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 
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).
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. 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.
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. Smart meters change (decrease) the share of emissions created by buildings by allowing utilities and customers to generate and use energy more efficiently.
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.
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). 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.
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.
“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.”
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.
A 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.
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.
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.
Decoupling in eco-environmental terms can be defined as a striving for economic growth without creating corresponding environmental impacts. Nations, industries, and corporations, will still reach full potential and economic growth; and perhaps achieve even greater success, by following sustainable practices. Economic growth for companies can be achieved while simultaneously lowering a company’s carbon footprint, and striving for a sustainable environment.
There is no guarantee that any nation, industry, or corporation, will ever be completely “sustainable” from one year to the next, especially given the fact that all resources will continue to depreciate at least minimally. However, with the increased investment in, innovation of, and use of renewable energy, energy efficiency, other sustainability technologies (e.g. batteries for energy storage, electric vehicles), and decreased waste/ better waste management; the chance to achieve sustainability becomes more and more likely over time.
The economy depends on natural resources from land to water, metal to energy. There is a need to consider the depletion of these resources, and adjust investments; even with the need for increased gross domestic product (GDP) and profit. When the profit of the nation, industry, or corporation, is the greater consideration than the natural resources required for economic gain, there is very little likelihood of environmental sustainability.
It’s possible to have a vision of a company making a profit while maintaining environmental sustainability goals. In first-world countries, it’s possible to at least consider a minimal need for the growth of GDP. However, smaller third-world countries face a much larger need for GDP rise; increase in GDP that many developing countries still see as coupled with fossil fuel use. In looking at industrialized nations, historically, economic growth has been tied to increased use of fossil fuels for energy.
Eco-environmental decoupling, where economic growth occurs without an increase in environmental costs or demands, should be a common practice for all industries and corporations in the developed world today. Additionally, many developing nations across the world today have increased their financial status, even with the decoupling of some basic natural resources; such as oil.
Economic growth is beneficial and necessary for both industrialized and developing nations; as modernization (of 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; 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 energy, energy efficiencytechnologies, sustainable mass transit, electric 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.
The standard definition of divestment is a reduction of some kind of asset for financial, ethical, or political objectives. The global divestment movement, in eco-environmental terms, refers to companies pulling their assets and capital investments from fossil fuel companies.
Here are some major stories of the sustainability divestment movement from 2018, a year where the global divestment movement really picked up steam- cleantechnica.com/cleantechnica-divestment-year-in-review-2018 Here’s a quote from the above Cleantechnica article: “From school children to individuals, companies, and corporations, the global fossil fuel divestment movement has challenged the right of the fossil fuel industry to damage the environment. By divesting from fossil fuels, we are requiring polluters to take responsibility for their products…”
Even some oil majors, giant corporations leading the international oil & gas industry, like British Petroleum (BP), Royal Dutch Shell, and Total SA, are adopting company-wide carbon-neutrality targets. Are these oil giants taking carbon-neutrality seriously as a response to the global divestment movement? As a response to major emitting countries sitting net zero goals?
BP, Shell, and Total all have net zero targets of 2050, mirroringnet zero targets of the EU, the UK, and many European nations individually (and now the US president, President Biden, has also pledged the US will reach net zero emissions by 2050). In addition to BP &Shell, Total is a stand-out net-zero pledge in the field of oil majors embracing sustainable targets.-
“Like BP and Shell, Total promised zero out the emissions associated with its own business operations by switching to renewable energy and offsetting any remaining emissions. But Total has also gone a step further, vowing that all of its energy products used by customers in Europe will be carbon-neutral by 2050 — and that it will cut the emissions of products used worldwide by 60%.
It’s not clear yet how Total plans to radically clean up its business model, but it does have a head start: The company already has stakes in 3 gigawatts of renewable energy and plans to increase it to 25 gigawatts over the next five years.” FROM – grist.org/beacon/a-total-makeover
Also, major big oil/ big gas companies are divesting or just becoming “energy” companies – like Statoil >>> Equinor. As of the end of 2020, Equinor also pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050; in its ambition to re-brand itself as a “broad energy company”.
“The world is changing, and so is Statoil. The biggest transition our modern-day energy systems have ever seen is underway, and we aim to be at the forefront of this development. Our strategy remains firm. The name Equinor reflects ongoing changes and supports the always safe, high value and low carbon strategy we outlined last year,” said chair of the board, Jon Erik Reinhardsen. FROM – equinor.com/en/news/15mar2018
The European Investment Bank (EIB), the wold’s largest public investment bank, is also phasing-out its investments in fossil fuel companies. According to Rueters, “…the new policy [EIB to cease funding fossil fuel projects by end-2021] does not outright ban all fossil fuel projects, but makes most of them impossible under the new parameters: Under the new policy, energy projects applying for EIB funding will need to show they can produce one kilowatt hour of energy while emitting less than 250 grams of carbon dioxide, a move which bans traditional gas-burning power plants.Gas projects are still possible, but would have to be based on what the bank called ‘new technologies,’ such as carbon capture and storage, combining heat and power generation, or mixing in renewable gases with the fossil natural gas.”
Climate activists celebrated the  decision of the EIB to stop funding most oil and coal projects by 2021, part of a bid to be the world’s first “climate bank”…
In a statement following the news, Friends of the Earth Europe fossil free campaigner Colin Roche said the bank’s decision was a big one.
“Today’s decision is a significant victory for the climate movement,” said Roche. “Finally, the world’s largest public bank has bowed to public pressure and recognised that funding for all fossil fuels must end—and now all other banks, public and private must follow their lead.” FROM – ecowatch.com/european-investment-bank-fossil-fuels
For an up-to-date list of banks ranked on various divestment goals (divestment from coal, divestment from oil & gas. For example, PNB Paribas, a French international investment bank and the world’s 8th largest public investment bank, has only divested from coal; while some other banks on this chart have banned some coal and oil projects…not gas), please see>
Perhaps one of the biggest, most pleasant, surprises in the ESG/ divestment movement, came with BlackRock’s decision to begin divesting. BlackRock is the world’s largest asset manager, managing investments worth over $8 trillion. This announcement came in 2020 after a wave of divestment announcements from major banks, including EIB. In looking at BlackRock’s divestment announcement, the Washington Post posited this summary of the divestment movement by big banks in 2019-2020:
“BlackRock isn’t the only big financial institution that has halted its lending to fossil-fuel projects in recent years. A number of big banks have taken steps to reduce their exposure to fossil-fuel projects.