Can Cities Lead the Way to Carbon Neutrality?

It’s clear that the new federal government is not going to help us reach our greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. As I write this, president-elect Trump is assembling a team of the most heinous climate deniers to run some of the most influential seats in the world. This is truly a nightmare situation for our future on this planet.

But what is our plan B?

Many of the world’s largest and most populated cities understand the warnings. Many of these cities still plan to mobilize against climate change and drastically reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

So Bill, how does a city transition to carbon neutrality?

Let’s examine four of the main imperatives that constitutes a carbon neutral city!

1. Transportation: Modern cities recently have been dominated the private internal combustion engine. Retrofitting a car dependent city to truly have zero emissions is quite a challenge. In some cities like Boston, the streets were actually laid out not for cars but for people. The neighborhoods are crafted in such a way that encourages people to use public transportation, biking and walking to get around. In car dependent cities, city planners will need to invest in electric vehicle infrastructure and start planning for higher density and bus routes. Interconnection between cities should include high speed rail and other more sustainable options.

2. Energy Grid: The electricity flowing through a city could be considered its life blood. Without it, the city would be dark. But the grid does not need to be powered with 100% fossil fuel polluting technologies. Currently, there are many grid scale renewable energy options that are commercially viable. The biggest hurtle for energy grids is how to incorporate all this intermediate energy sources into a reliable energy grid. Check out my article on how to overcome energy grid hurtles to learn more.

3. Buildings: This goes hand and hand with the energy grid. My article linked above talks about energy efficiency as a way to make a 100% renewable energy grid viable. But the subject goes deeper than that. Currently most buildings have an internal fossil fuel heating system and fossil fuel DHW (domestic hot water) system within its walls. In order for a city to truly become carbon neutral, we will need to completely electrify all heating sources in buildings. Currently the technology for electric heat pump technology is rapidly improving in efficiency. These electric heating sources can be tied to the energy grid or powered by on-site renewable energy sources.

4. Waste: The often over looked aspect of a carbon neutral city takes the form of waste. Currently a sizable portion of a cities emissions take the shape of methane from waste facilities. The wasted plastic and other materials also cause emissions when fabricated. Cities should focus on prioritizing recycling and composting as alternatives to traditional trash collection. Proactive cities should encourage restaurants and businesses that take measures to reduce waste.

Bill Womeldorf is an energy efficiency designer in Boston, MA. He’s typically the one with the reusable water bottle in business meetings. When we all work together, he believes, it’s possible to solve the climate crisis. You can follow Bill on twitter @BillWomeldorf and read more about carbon neutral buildings on his blog.

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