It's like having a blueprint to build a house, rather than just buying appliances, walls, and other parts. It is important to set out with a plan for what you want to end up with.

How Cities can reach 100% Renewable Energy.

Diane Moss | Renewables 100 Policy Institute


How does a city the size of Sydney, Australia achieve “100% Renewable Energy for Power, Heating, and Cooling by 2030”?

Here is a brief overview of what the City of Sydney’s representatives are reporting. The planned technology mix will be 30% solar and wind power, plus 70% trigeneration power and thermal energy from waste recovery. Sydney plans to use all local sources, in order to avoid the energy loss and vulnerability to storm damage that risked with remote thermal power stations and overhead grid transmission and distribution networks. The build out will will be mostly financed the private sector.

Only 18% of energy need can apparently be met with solar and wind power within the city boundaries, so the land just outside the city will be part of the plan.  Besides sun and wind, there is abundant organic waste in the surrounding region.

Both types of renewable gases (syngas and biogas) can be converted into a substitute for natural gas. This in turn can be injected into the existing gas grid to supply trigeneration (power, heating and cooling). Trigeneration is four times as efficient as generating electricity from waste only at remote locations where most of the energy generated is waste heat. Initially, the gas distribution system will use natural gas while it is getting up and running, but this will be replaced by renewable gas from various waste resources, as the project matures.

The city has a great deal of excellent information online, for example here and here.

Are they a lone wolf, or have other major cities set similar 100% renewable power targets?

The City of Sydney is part of a growing movement actually. Several major cities have set 100% renewable targets for power, and some have also done so for heating, cooling, and even transportation. Copenhagen, for example, is committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2025, 100% renewable power, heating, and cooling by 2035 and 100% renewable energy in all sectors by 2050, as part of Denmark’s parallel targets on a nationwide scale. Denmark has already reached 100% renewable power at especially windy times.

Scotland, another nation rich in wind resources, also has a goal to reach 100% renewable electricity by 2020. The City of Munich aims to power all its households with renewable sources by 2015. The City of Frankfurt is a part of the State of Hessen, which aims to achieve 100% renewable electricity and heating by 2050. These are some prominent examples in Europe.

Here in the U.S., the City of San Francisco has set a target to reach 100% power by 2020, and its neighbor San Jose aims to achieve this goal by 2022. Similar 100% renewable electricity targets have been set by Marin County and the City of Lancaster, and some smaller cities like Greensburg, KS and Palo Alto, CA are already meeting their power demand with renewable energy contracts and onsite projects.

Many other examples can be found on the Go 100% Renewable Energy Project at www.go100percent.org.

Can you share some details regarding how these other cities are going about it?

To start with, all the governing bodies in the locations mentioned above set official 100% renewable targets. This is an important starting point because it forces planners to focus on determining precisely what renewable resources are needed and available to meet the demand, the most efficient and economical ways to use these resources, and what support schemes will be required along the way. It’s like having a blueprint to build a house, rather than just buying appliances, walls, and other parts. It is important to set out with a plan for what you want to end up with.

The European cities mentioned are further leveraged by national laws that support renewable energy development - for example Germany has its Renewable Sources Act. American cities do not yet have the benefit of this kind of comprehensive national policy, but some have been resourceful at using what is available to move forward.

For example, Marin County has been successful at implementing a Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program, which allows the county to aggregate the buying power of its citizens to purchase power at bulk rates. Marin County is committed to using this mechanism to purchase larger and larger shares of renewable power with an aim to get to 100% by 2020. In the first years of the program, the county lacked the financial capacity to do this without a third party major energy corporation (in Marin’s case, Shell) acting as middle man and making the power purchases on behalf of the county. But soon, the Marin Energy Authority will have built up enough reserves to end the contract with Shell and purchase power directly for its customers. The City of San Francisco adopted a similar policy, although its CCA program is currently hamstrung by local politics, which hopefully will soon get resolved.

The City of Lancaster has passed landmark ordinances, such as being the first city in the nation to require all new homes to have a minimum amount of rooftop solar. The city has also partnered with private businesses on innovative projects, such as a net zero housing development with KB Homes.

The City of Greensburg similarly partnered with local private business to finance a wind farm, which helps cover local power demand and also allows the city to be an energy exporter to neighboring communities.  Other courses of action have included implementing energy efficient building and onsite renewable solutions, such as geothermal heating and rooftop solar.

Palo Alto has its own public utility, which has given the city added flexibility and agility to pursue a 100% renewable program. This year, the city will reach its goal with a mix of Renewable Energy Credits (RECs), local onsite projects, and power purchase agreements with local and regional solar and wind developers. By 2017, the RECs are expected to be phased out of the 100% renewable power mix.

A fundamental piece of wisdom about how cities can go about achieving 100% renewable energy was offered by Bertram Fleck, the leader of the District of Rhein-Hunsrueck in Germany, which has already exceeded 100% renewable power and aims also to cover its heating and transportation demand entirely by renewables by 2020. In Fleck’s presentation at the Pathways to 100% Renewable Energy conference last April, he said that there are two types of leaders: those who look for all the reasons to be afraid of advancing renewable energy and to put it off, and those who look for ways to get it done and figure out best practices as they go. He demonstrated that being the second kind of leader is best for reaching 100% renewable energy goals. 

Bob Dixson, Mayor of Greensburg, had these two tips at the conference. He said that vision without action is dreaming, and action without vision is just spending time. He also advised to not waste time on suboptimal people.

Had Jones offered any answers to the skeptics who say that renewable energy is all well and good but not affordable?

He actually mentioned in his talk at UCLA recently that the City of Sydney chose trigeneration from waste recovery in part because it will be more economical than natural gas. Because Australia is bearing huge impacts of climate change, from droughts to floods, I imagine the people of Sydney may also be primed to consider the massive, spiraling costs of inaction, which might help put the upfront capital costs of transitioning to renewables in perspective.

What about smaller cities and towns --- is the process any different than for major cities?

Smaller cities and towns, especially in rural areas, tend to have the advantage of more space and less energy demand, so often it is more feasible for them than it is for large cities to go 100% renewable with resources entirely from their geographic area. This is one big reason why the locations that have achieved 100% renewable goals first are smaller towns, rural districts, and small island nations.

Many small towns in rural areas have also struggled economically, as people and commerce have centered increasingly in large cities over the past decades. For these types of communities, renewable energy has proven to be a way to boost their local economies by saving on energy imports, attracting new industries and local jobs, making them cool for younger generations, and becoming tourist destinations.

Are there any state or provincial governments that are implementing similar plans, or do they only need to support their cities efforts to participate?

The closest to a state plan we have in the U.S. is in the state of Vermont, which has issued an official plan to achieve 90% renewable energy by 2050 – which is pretty impressive. In Europe, as mentioned, there are many state and provincial governments heading in this direction or that have achieved 100% renewable targets. In fact, local 100% renewable energy targets have begun to get so common in Germany, that over the past few years, more than one German colleague has reacted in surprise to me when they learn that such a trend is not yet old news in the U.S..

OK, I’m the mayor of a mid-sized city and want to get a plan in place. Where do I start?  Is there an agency or consultancy that I could contact to help me get going?

The first thing to do, as previously pointed out, is to set a 100% renewable target by an ambitious but feasible date and to build local government, business, and community support for this. The second basic step is to invest in creating a realistic, thoughtful plan that includes optimal technology mixes, costs and financing mechanisms, policies and regulations, benchmarks, and a plan for community involvement and education. This is critical work, and it helps to bring in outside expert consultants to work with local staff to offer experience, deep knowledge of best practices, broad connections in the 100% renewable cities field, and the skill set to successfully guide the process. The Renewables 100 Policy Institute has that capacity, and there may be others.

 

Diane Moss

Diane Moss is a Founder of the Renewables 100 Policy Institute and an independent energy policy consultant. She is a Wall Street Journal Expert Panelist on energy issues, and her writing on renewable energy policy has additionally been published by the Heinrich Boell Foundation, Today's Facility Manager, Cleantechnica, Huffington Post, among others. Ms. Moss was Nuclear Campaign Consultant to Friends of the Earth on the successful effort to shut down the San Onofre nuclear power plant after the discovery of faulty equipment. She has also served recently as U.S. Policy Advisor to World Future Council. 

 


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