Reaching 100 percent renewables takes political courage. California puts a price on carbon. Minneapolis facilitates private investment in community solar. Texas ends utility monopoly power with an open market.
In some regions, electric grids have increased capacity, become more reliable, much better at integrating distributed renewables, smarter and more resilient. In other places, serious investment is needed to reduce the risk of failure in storms and malfunctions that cause everything from wildfires to millions living for days in darkness. Microgrids are a growing part of the solution.
In California, millions of homes are all-electric and 819,337 have solar roofs. Electric heat pumps can accommodate all needs for water heating, air conditioning and heating. Starting in 2020, all new California homes will be required to be zero-energy, accomplished by being well insulated, very efficient, all electric, and having solar roofs. Zero-energy homes, government and commercial buildings will allow the major cities of San Diego, San Francisco, and even massive Los Angeles to meet city goals of using 100 percent renewables.
Chicago may cut its annual energy cost for street lighting by 60 percent. Millions more will be saved by not using expensive trucks and labor to patrol streets looking for burned-out bulbs. Using the internet of things (IoT), the light poles will include sensors and wireless communication and communicate when an LED light needs replacing. To improve safety, the light poles will be integrated with the city’s 311 system, which provides a portal for access to city services. In the future, street lighting may also be integrated into the 911 system.
Walkable suburbs transit-connected to cities can provide regions throughout America with more affordable housing. Safe walking, bike lanes, and innovative mobility services are transforming the last miles to downtowns are regional rail. Mixed-use development at greater than 30-foot elevation provides regional resilience to all coastal cities vulnerable to sea rise, flooding, and hundred year storms that now hit every year from New York to Miami, from New Orleans to Houston, and from San Diego to Seattle.
Sea rise and extreme climate are challenging urban planners to be regional planners; they confront civic leaders with the need to take a long view of time and see beyond city boundaries. We also see how global employers can lead in shifting jobs and relocating facilities.
The Olympic motto is three Latin words: citius, altius, fortius – faster, higher, stronger. With electric rail and buses, taller green buildings in thriving mixed use neighborhoods, and resiliency with distributed renewables, these three attributes will also be said of Los Angeles in ten years.
On June 1, 2017, President Trump withdrew the US from the Paris Accord, a non-binding climate agreement with 195 nations. Trump stated that the agreement blocked development of clean coal. That is not true. What is true is that the industry has promoted “clean coal” for one hundred years without delivering, costing US taxpayers tens of billions.
Trump said, “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”
Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto was quick to respond.
By combining intelligent storage, solar, and energy efficiency, schools may eventually save billions of dollars that can be put towards better classrooms, more teachers and aids, and better learning. Intelligent storage is helping schools with peak shaving, rate optimization, arbitrage, and demand response.
Smart and efficient buildings are having a big impact. In a typical school building, 30 percent of energy is for lighting. LED lighting uses only a fraction of the energy of older lights. Using the internet of things (IoT), lights can be automatically turned off when a network of low-cost sensors detects that a room is empty. Classrooms designed to make good use of natural light help students learn more, have fewer behavioral issues, and use less electricity. Studies have documented up to 26 percent test improvements in natural daylight environments.
Seattle is consistently near the top of any list of US cities for sustainability and for growth. Almost all electricity is from hydropower. Energy-efficient buildings anchor walkable mixed-use neighborhoods. As Seattle has become increasingly sustainable, it is doubling its economy while cutting carbon emissions in half.
Seattle is one of our nation’s most walkable cities with a walkscore of 73. During a recent visit, my wife and I walked 9 miles through the city, rewarded with views of ocean inlets, mountains, and thriving neighborhoods. We arrived and departed Seattle on Amtrak and got everywhere on foot and transit, except our Uber rides to and from the train station. Yet, with growth, reducing gridlocked commuting is a challenge.
In addition to meeting traditional electricity needs for homes and buildings, demand for electricity is growing with increased population, economic growth, water pumping, recycling and desalination, and millions traveling in electric cars, buses and rail. Although California has only 13 percent of the nation’s population, it has half the nation’s solar power, half the grid storage, and half the electric vehicles.
California is on track to use 50 percent renewables in 12 years. Today, California is coal free and nuke free, generating 40 percent of electricity from solar, wind, geothermal, and hydropower. Wind and solar power are being added, often for less than four cents per kilowatt-hour. Renewables, energy efficiency, energy storage, microgrids, and software are enablers of the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy.