Oil Spill may be worse than Exxon Valdez

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As I Twittered early this morning, the BP Gulf oil spill now has the potential to become larger than the catastrophic Exxon Valdez spill of 1989, which spilled 10.8 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound, devastating the Alaskan fishing industry and state’s economy.

The Exxon Valdez spill resulted in an estimated $5 to 7 billion dollars (in 1989 dollars) of damage over a two-year period (shore clean-up below).

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The fire-caused break and leak of BP’s oil well is blasting a now-estimated 210,000 gallons a day (5,000 barrels) into the Gulf deep under 5,000 feet of water. An attempted controlled burn of the oil is occurring before the oil is forecast to hit the wetlands and beaches of the Gulf Coast tonight or tomorrow.

A BP spokesperson said on the McNeil News Hour this afternoon that the UK corporation will be sending two ships to drill nearby relief wells. The wells will take up to 90 days to get in place, meaning 18,900,000 gallons of oil may spill in the meantime–almost twice the amount of oil spilled in the Exxon Valdez incident.

Look for the event to have major consequences on US energy and disaster-response policy, the Gulf fishing and tourism economies in up to five states (Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida), and wildlife. The economies of New Orleans; Biloxi, MS; Mobile, AL; and Pensacola, FL, and Panama City, FL, are the communities most vulnerable to the spill.

Oil prices and the debate about a potential coming 2014-2015 energy crunch may also flare up with this tragic event. Already, 11 lives of workers were lost on the offshore rig when it blew up.

Drilling for oil under such enormous and biologically sensitive areas like the Gulf Coast is a reality that is occurring to meet the demands of the current global economy.

Without new sources of renewable energy, better planning and comprehensive clean energy policy and clean tech job creation, the Gulf and many of our nation’s (and our planet’s) waters, our coastal communities, and marine and shore animal-bird populations will be at severe risk, as easy-to-drill oil becomes less and less available.

In the meantime, there will be an acute need to drill even deeper, in more sensitive places and to drill almost everywhere, until we diminish our global addiction to oil.

Warren Karlenzig is president
of Common Current, an
internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is
author
of
How Green
is Your
City? The SustainLane US City Rankings
and a Fellow at the Post
Carbon
Institute
.  
   

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Climate Techno-optimist Vinod Khosla’s California Dreaming

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Legendary technologist and venture capitalist Vinod Khosla spoke last night about how his funded companies will soon enable cars and coal to be a big part of the climate change solution, instead of the major part of the climate problem.

All that pesky advice for people “trying to be green,” even expert energy and technology forecasts, will be made unnecessary or erroneous once Khosla and his Khosla Ventures posse reinvent the world’s energy and transportation technologies.

He took potshots at everything from small business “eco-bikinis” to corporate greenwashing, such as Shell”s advertising of “sustainable tar sands.” “Environmentalists are spending too much time on things that don’t matter,” he told the San Francisco Commonwealth Club audience.

Such bravado would be particularly annoying were it coming from someone without as much commitment–in the form of $1.3 billion and many years of effort–as Khosla.

Khosla highlighted four portfolio companies in his presentation, which focused on, “inventing the future, not predicting it….Who would have imagined Twitter two years ago?”

“We need to get rid of fossil oil, which is 70 percent of the climate problem,” he said. Khosla’s goal as a venture backer is to fund companies that are “90 percent likely to fail,” as they have the best chance of leapfrogging current technologies, leading to the demise of monopolies such as Big Oil. He called these disruptive types of companies or ideas, “Black Swans.”

He said smaller companies in the $7 to 70 million range that are taking the big potential high-return risks should be the highest priorities for funding, whether from his own funds ($1 billion large VC fund; $300 million “science experiment” fund) or another source. Khosla credited the US Department of Energy’s year-old ARPA-E program with “doing a great job” in terms of the funding it has provided for smaller, innovative clean tech companies.

Khosla Venture’s current flock of Black Swans include:

  • Calera: Trying to turn the climate change pollutant C02 from coal emissions–along with other hazardous emissions including mercury–into an energy and cement feedstock. “It will be able to reduce the carbon footprint twice as much as solar,” Khosla predicted.
  • Kior: The start-up is aiming at turning wood waste such as wood chips into oil.
  • Ecomotors: Attempting to produce non-hybrid engines that are 50-100 percent more efficient, aimed at cutting world oil consumption in half.
  • Soraa: Engineering circuitry that may use ten times less electricity for lighting.

Khosla said his investments all share the goal of being available at “relevant cost, relevant scale and relevant adoption.” With some current green technologies, he said, “the average person in India could not even turn on the light.”

Regarding the growth of India, Khosla’s homeland, he said Indian car ownership is forecast to increase 5000 percent in 30-40 years (what, trusting a forecast?) and that to meet this demand, “biofuels are probably the right solution.”

He proposed using the 1 billion acres of abandoned agricultural land worldwide to produce biofuel crops such as miscanthus that will replace or improve that degraded soil, and also suggested using cropland for biofuels in the winter that is not being utilized year-round for food crops.

Overall, Khosla and his funded companies are pushing the envelope with some intriguing new ways of addressing our climate and resource crises.

These companies are based in The Bay Area’s Silicon Valley and in Southern California, as well as in more traditional centers of energy (Kior is based in Houston), and transportation (Ecomotors is in the Detroit area). The design innovation and the hundreds or thousands of green jobs they are producing will be critical in transforming our industrial economy.

Khosla suffers from the myopic view, however, that technology alone can triumph without the need for new behaviors, planning, policies and systemic approaches (though he did credit California’s Global Climate Change law AB 32 with encouraging innovation on the order of “creating 10 more Googles because of it”).

Such thinking about the absolute superiority of “progress”–cars, electricity, chemicals, engineered food–has in the past presented us with so many of the dilemmas that we now face.

Global climate change, along with massive resource and species depletion, demands that we not risk betting everything on the hope of techno-fixes, no matter how enticing these partial solutions may be to someone breathing the rarefied air of California’s Silicon Valley.

Warren Karlenzig is president
of Common Current, an
internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is author
of
How Green is Your
City? The SustainLane US City Rankings
and a Fellow at the Post Carbon
Institute

 

 

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Peak Oil in Four Years? Mobility and Economic Vulnerabilities

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Last week, a report was put out by a Kuwaiti research institution (chart above) forecasting global peak oil production by 2014. This follows a report last month by a broad-based British industry group that also predicted a global “oil crunch,” or shortage of supply, by the same period.

Very few metro regions, cities or businesses are prepared for the impact of these potential global issues on their economies or finances, operating budgets and mobility.

I asked Richard Heinberg, author of numerous books about peak oil and other peaking resources (freshwater, fisheries, soil, etc.), if he agreed with the British industry report, which was partially backed by Richard Branson and the Virgin Group. Heinberg said that it appeared credible, and added that having a billionaire transportation industry CEO assert that we better get ready should make people at least take more notice.

Cities, households and the economy will be impacted, as will industries. Some industries will be hurt (agriculture, retail, petrochemicals) and some sectors could be positively impacted (smart growth planners, alternative transportation providers, “smart city” technology providers, alternative fuel producers, mixed-use and infill developers)

Whether it’s bonafide peaking of global oil supplies, or a short- to medium-term “oil crunch,” the initial result will be the same. Rapidly rising gas prices and price instability should become evident by 2013, or even earlier if there are any supply shocks because of natural disasters (hurricanes in Gulf), political events, war and terrorists acts.

So let’s assume that these two reports, Heinberg, and the CEOs of companies such as Total and Shell oil have been correct–we will be facing at least a temporary oil crunch that drives prices up to or near levels reached in 2008 when oil hit $147 a barrel. What will likely happen and how can regions, cities and business in particular prepare?

Mobility Choices

The most obvious area of impact of rising oil prices is transportation and mobility. During the gas price rises of 2006-2008, U.S. citizens turned to public transportation in record numbers. Light rail ridership was the biggest winner, as was an old and reliable form of gas-free transportation, the bicycle. The biggest losers: SUVs (RIP Hummer) and personal automotive use. Across the nation, people substantially reduced their driving for the first time in decades, particularly in metro areas that had other mobility options.

One of the smartest steps communities can take to prepare for oil price and supply volatility is to maintain public transit service levels. It is especially ill-advised to cut public transit systems to fund highway or automotive-based initiatives: a transit district in suburban San Francisco, for instance, is cutting public transit service to help pay for a $75 million road improvement project.

Getting light rail funded and built by 2014 or 2015 is not likely in areas without pending efforts, so metro areas should also investigate other means of mobility investments, including:

  • Bus Rapid Transit systems or routes
  • Pedestrian-cycling infrastructure
  • Multi-modal transportation hubs
  • Car-sharing programs for city employees, businesses and residents
  • Designated carpooling stops and incentives
  • Technologies enabling transit use, car-sharing and car pooling  

Alternative Transportation

The need for higher-mileage vehicles is a given, with climate change concerns and resource constraints. Hybrids are one solution, as are electric vehicles or plug-in hybrids. One consideration for using electricity to power vehicles, however, is that it puts more demand on grid energy. In large parts of the country primarily using coal to make power (Eastern, Southeastern and upper Plains states) this causes more coal to be burned, exacerbating regional air pollution, global climate change, and coal mining’s nasty environmental impacts.

In terms of automobiles or light trucks, the ideal transportation technology is photo-voltaic charged plug-in hybrids. After up-front investments are completed, these vehicles can perform low carbon and pollutant-reduced service over many years, with minimal relative fuel costs.

Biofuels are a promising solution if they are not competing for food supplies, which is the challenge of using corn-based ethanol, for instance. Celluosic biofuels from crop or forest waste products are at least five years off in terms of mass production. Hydrogen fuel cell R&D has been de-emphasized by the current US Department of Energy administration, so don’t expect any big advances in that technology in this country during the next decade. 

Real Estate

The biggest winners during 2006-2008 were mixed-used developments near transit, with walkable shopping, jobs, entertainment, and other services. Apartments and townhouses are likely to fare much better than single-family houses unless the houses are in walkable communities served by transit and local amenities. Biggest losers: Exurban sprawl, where car dependency can be near 100% in some communities for jobs, shopping, school, entertainment and socializing. The higher gas prices go, the more isolating and bankrupting this type of living becomes: and the less anyone else will care to pay for it.

Hardest hit exurban areas are in sprawled inland Southern California, Florida and greater Phoenix. Said the March 17 New York Times of Phoenix: “The worst-off of these projects were built in marginal locations on the
outskirts of the metropolitan area, and stand completely empty months
and even years after completion.”

“We’ve got some see-through shopping centers,” said David Wetta, senior
vice president and managing director in the Phoenix office of the real
estate brokerage Marcus & Millichap.

The Economy

Jobs will need to have access to public transportation, car sharing and walkable or bikeable shopping, versus the isolated exurban corporate office park. Employers or regions that cannot offer these “table stakes” might as well get out of the game, or be prepared to pay ultra high prices or extra costs, whether they are trying to attract employees, companies or industries.

Reducing long-term fuel operating costs in government vehicle fleets can be accomplished with electric, natural-gas powered flex-fueled vehicles, and alternative fuels such as biodiesel, which became more economical than oil-based fuels in certain markets during 2006-2008.

Planning

Alachua County, Florida, is the first county in the nation to begin formally assessing how long range land use and transportation planning can be optimized to address peaking oil. A handful of US cities, including Denver, Oakland and Portland, Oregon have launched peak oil task forces. My colleague at the Post Carbon Institute, Daniel Lerch, has written Post Carbon Cities, the first primer for communities on preparing for peaking oil, and that should be first on any list for recommended reading for government officials.

“Since World War II, our energy ‘normal’ has been a cheap and stable supply of oil, and we built our economies, cities and suburbs on that assumption.” said Lerch. “That era ended in 2008, and the ‘new ‘normal’ is an increasingly expensive and volatile supply of oil. Those cities that recognize this and adjust their planning, infrastructure, and revenue assumptions accordingly are the ones that will succeed in the 21st century.”
 
Technology

A variety of information and communications technology advances are being deployed or tested that will be invaluable during the next oil crunch: examples include hand-held transit system alerts and dedicated websites for car-sharing, carpooling, and for group walking or biking to school (safety in numbers). Even Twitter is being used for tweets when people need to, say, share a cab to the city from an airport.

In 2008, when oil reached its historic high, Walkscore began to be used by people who were considering buying a home, renting an apartment, getting a new job or traveling in a different city. Now Walkscore has introduced maps of whole neighborhoods so people know which locations have what types of walkable destinations surrounding them on a district-wide basis.

It’s a brave new world out there when it comes to problems that will result from peaking oil. We can either continue to live in complete denial, or we can start the process of adaptation to the post-oil economy.

Warren Karlenzig is president
of Common Current, an
internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is author
of
How Green is Your
City? The SustainLane US City Rankings
and a Fellow at the Post Carbon
Institute
.

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Prius Freeway Chase: An OJ Moment for Hybrids?

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Just watched a video of the new runaway Prius episode in Southern California from last night. The scene and its aftermath reminded me of the OJ Simpson Ford Bronco chase that was televised live after the former football star was accused in 1994 of murdering his wife and another man.

With the Runaway Prius, according to the news reports, the car accelerated by itself to 90 miles an hour and wouldn’t stop, until a California Highway Patrol (CHP) car gave the driver instructions from a loudspeaker and then got in front of the car, helping brake it to a stop.

“I was on the brakes pretty healthy, it wasn’t stopping or doing
anything, it just kept speeding up,” said the driver, James Sikes. The panicked driver called 911, and as a responding CHP pulled alongside him, he said, “I was standing on the brake pedal
looking at him.”

The power of such a cultural meme, happening on a greater LA freeway, starring CHPs as supporting cast, has all the memorable and dramatic emotional ingredients that can do even greater damage to Toyota, its Prius hybrid, and possibly even the alternative transportation movement.

Toyota has recalled eight and half million vehicles worldwide and six million in the US, because of unexpected acceleration, lack of braking and other safety issues. Other Toyota models are included, including non-hybrids.

In the Prius, though, we have perhaps the most known mass consumer market item that screams “green” to newbies as well as sustainability technology experts. Just a few months ago in picking the top 10 stories of the past decade in sustainability, I chose the rise of the Toyota Prius (from 2001 onward) as the green icon of the era, largely because Hollywood types such as Leonardo DiCaprio adopted the Prius as their leading eco-chic indicator.  

From the OJ chase, one lasting impression was that 24-cable news became a major media
force that day
, as CNN scored big audiences and even bigger mindshare
in its constant coverage of OJ’s cruising white Bronco, which remained as a small
live inset while the network covered other news. I also recall that was the first instance I had ever heard of the word “cell phone”–they were actually called “cellular” or mobile phones before that–which OJ was talking on with the media, his mother and the police.

What will we collectively remember from the Runaway Prius event? That those newfangled green technologies are inferior to good old, safe 100% internal combustion engines? That Japanese cars are good on gas mileage, but unreliable, or worse, may have potentially fatal defects?

Only time, the whims of the general public and the marketing savvy of Toyota and its auto industry competitors already having or introducing new (Honda, GM, Nissan, Ford) hybrid models will tell. (Update: As of Tuesday night, Toyota placed a video ad claiming that it was “Committed to the Right Fix” directly before the NBC news video of the Runaway Toyota, which demonstrates a well-targeted and timely response)

OJ was eventually acquitted in a trial, but his Bronco chase firmed up
the beliefs of many that he was guilty of murder, as charged. The federal government announced late
Tuesday
that they will be investigating Monday night’s Runaway Prius incident. 

For those who want to see more fuel-efficient and innovative transportation in this country, they have to hope that others will not categorically see things as James Sikes put it, “I will never drive that car again, period.”

***UPDATE March 15, 2010

Toyota Disputes Sikes

Maybe more to the story?

***UPDATE March 17, 2010

CHP Supports Sikes

There are three sides to every story!

Warren Karlenzig is president
of Common Current, an
internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is author
of
How Green is Your
City? The SustainLane US City Rankings
and a Fellow at the Post Carbon
Institute
.

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Preparing for 2014-15 “Oil Crunch” Forecast by UK Industry Group

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A new report by a United Kingdom industry taskforce predicts steep oil price rises and gasoline supply shortages by 2014-2015, which will put the global economy at similar risk to the 2007-2008 rapid rise in oil prices that helped trigger the Great Recession.

“The time period would be 2014-2015 when the oil market would be starting to experience rapidly rising prices and tightening oil supplies…It is notable that the CEO of Total, Christophe de Margerie, is already warning of such an outcome in the 2014/15 period,” says the report, “Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil & Energy Security,” funded by Virgin Group, Arup Engineering, Foster and Partners, and Scottish and Southern Engineering.

What can cities, businesses and individuals do to prepare for such energy price volatility, buy hybrids? Actually, the report asserts, “there is real danger that the focus on technological advances in cars is making consumers and government complacent.”

More urgent steps need to be taken by policymakers in particular to avert this impending crisis:

  • Support greater planning and funding for public transit, including taxation to benefit public transit and allocate road space based on most fuel efficient modes (i.e., congestion pricing).
  • Support planning for less energy-intensive forms of development (less sprawl, more transit-oriented housing, retail and businesses).
  • Transition to more energy-efficient transportation fleets or vehicles.
  • Coordinate policy mechanisms and organizational practices to create a behavioral shift from private car use to other more sustainable forms of mobility, including public transit, car sharing, cycling and walking.
  • Encourage, enable and practice smart green city tactics: telecommuting, video conferencing and public work centers, such as those being piloted in Amsterdam with Cisco.

At the state and national government level, preparations for another “oil crunch” similar or worse than 2008 and 1980 should include: 

  • Ending subsidies for oil in order to reduce economic dependence on oil-based industries.
  • Transition agriculture and food production from operations highly dependent on the use of oil-based products such as diesel fuel, fertilizers and crop treatments, while encouraging bio-regional food production from urban foodsheds for nearby population centers. 
  • Planning and support for high-speed rail networks (though this would be a longer-term preparation for post-carbon transportation era beyond 2020)

Daniel Lerch of the Post Carbon Institute authored a guidebook for cities and local government on how to prepare for an oil crisis. I have also written a study looking at US oil crisis readiness in the largest 50 US cities, “Major US City Post-Oil Preparedness Ranking” (second publication from top).

Whether, it is called “peaking oil” or an “oil crunch,” many experts
see total global oil production reaching a plateau of around 91-92 million
barrels a day by 2012-2014 unless, as the report says, “some unforeseen
giant, and easily accessible, finds are reported very soon.”

With fast-growing demand for oil in developing economies such as China
(which overtook the US in 2009 for total automobile sales), India and
the Middle East, developed nations in North America and Europe need to consider wholescale industrial and societal shifts.

The United State and Canada in particular should start reducing oil dependency now in preparation for oil price volatility and possible supply disruptions that would force such shifts without warning, with dire consequences for the economy, nationally and locally. Many cities (New York, Toronto, Vancouver, Washington, D.C.) are already somewhat prepared to make this shift because of infrastructure for public transit and other oil-free mobility options.

The world is heavily dependent on 120 oil fields that account for 50
percent of world production, and contain two-thirds of remaining
reserves of fields in production. New discoveries of oil fields off
Brazil’s coast, under the Arctic and elsewhere, will not be enough to replenish the
“drawdown” that is occurring. Besides, many of these fields take investments
that require oil to be priced over $100 or $120 a barrel, so they will not be
producing for a number of years after such investments are made: in other words, far beyond 2015.

“The challenge is that if oil prices reach the levels necessary to justify these high-cost investments, economic growth may be imperiled,” says the Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security.

Another so-called energy “ace in the hole,” oil sands deposits in
Canada, are not a viable option. Oil sands produce at least three times
the amount of atmospheric carbon over conventional oil when they are
processed and used, which would exacerbate global climate change
significantly, while also fouling the region’s water supply.

What is being raised by this report is that the era of cheap oil is over, and that the consequences will be ugly, unless we start preparing for this profound change.

“Don’t let the oil crunch catch us out in the way that the credit crunch did,” said Virgin CEO Richard Branson and other corporate executives in the introduction to the report

Warren Karlenzig is president
of Common Current, an
internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is
author
of
How Green
is Your
City? The SustainLane US City Rankings
and a Fellow at the Post
Carbon
Institute
.

    

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Richard Branson Invites Select Cities to Carbon War Room

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With the 2010 Winter Olympic Games as the setting, Virgin Airlines CEO Richard Branson, has invited cities including Vancouver to join a public-private consortium against global climate change. The idea is to use Branson’s Carbon War Room to rally cities as a vehicle for financing and capacity building, maybe a Keiretsu among Vancouver, San Francisco, Copenhagen, Chicago, London and Portland with whoever else walks down the tarmac from a corporate jet.

Sir Richard lauded Vancouver for reducing carbon emissions to 1990 levels, which it accomplished while increasing population 30 percent. According to the Vancouver Sun, Jose Maria Figueres, chairman of the Carbon War Room and former president of Costa Rica, the group is trying to, “create a new blueprint for the
creation of jobs, driving economies and greener cities around the
world.”

The Carbon War Room wants to harness the power of entrepreneurs to implement market-driven solutions to climate change. The war, according to their website, operates on “seven fields of battle”: electricity, transport, built environment, industry, land use, emerging economies and carbon management.

Branson also mentioned the depletion of oil in a speech, and the need to switch to alternative fuels. A new report funded by Virgin Airlines predicted shortages of oil in the global market by 2015, a prediction made by a former Shell oil CEO and reported here previously.

It’s not clear how the Carbon War Room will work with governments, whether it’s cities or other government entities. An example of a project or even a potential project would make the whole thing more real.

Vancouver under Mayor Gregor Robertson vowed in October to become the world’s greenest city by reducing its environmental footprint by a factor of four. Thanks to oodles of regional small-scale hydroelectric power and admirable city and transit planning, Vancouver has the lowest per-capita carbon emissions of any North American city.

South of the border Seattle, has pledged carbon neutrality by 2030, but apparently Seattle did not get the invitation, nor did sustainability focused burgs such as New York, Amsterdam or Toronto attend. Also conspicuously absent were Asian city reps. The mayor of Rio de Janeiro did attend a panel with Branson and other mayors earlier in the week.

I couldn’t find an explanation about how the Carbon War Room differs from or complements such efforts as the Clinton Climate Initiative’s C40 group. The C40 approach is working on all inhabited continents with some of the world’s largest cities, in a very similar vein: financing a $5 billion deal in 2007 on energy retrofitting older city buildings of New York, Chicago, Mexico City, Berlin, and Tokyo, for instance.

Most recently C40 cities announced in Copenhagen the creation of a C40 electric vehicle network as part of one of the few COP-15 “wins,” the Climate Summit for Mayors

Anyone active in the green economy is already seeing many alliances taking shape, a few which have employed savvy marketing and visible leadership. Winning green city public-private partnerships, however, will also draw upon compelling business cases and urban performance analytics while clearly putting forth their value proposition.

Richard Branson versus Bill Clinton, now there’s a match that could rival the Olympics. Could a more effective approach besides individual competition be a relay or other team event, perhaps?

Warren Karlenzig is president
of Common Current, an
internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is
author
of
How Green
is Your
City? The SustainLane US City Rankings
and a Fellow at the Post
Carbon
Institute
.   

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Urban Form, Behavior Energy Modeling in China: Sim City for Real?

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One of the great challenges in urban planning and green building has been material life cycle energy use–how steel, concrete and wood products are produced and transported. Add to that the decisions people make once construction is finished, and you can rightly conclude that development standards have only scratched the veneer of total energy and sustainability impacts.

In addition to material climate and resource burdens, there are myriad consequences on life-cycle energy use that arise from commuting and transit choices, food and product consumption, and building heating or cooling.

Scientists at the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) have devised a tool that may soon provide governments and urban planners ways with which to model complete material, building and residents’ anticipated energy use.

After a proof of concept was applied to a Jinan, China, housing development, LBNL has integrated building life-cycle assessment (LCA) and urban form agent-based modeling tools to capture embodied, operational and behavioral aspects of urban form energy use and emissions.

With hundreds of new cities being planned or built in China, Indonesia and India, new tools such as LBNL’s will be critical in managing and reducing the energy, climate and environmental impacts of this unprecedented urban growth era.

Adding 1.1 billion people to new or growing Asian cities will produce more than half of the world’s increase in global climate change-causing greenhouse gases by 2027, according to the Asian Development Bank.

I met last week in the green hills of Berkeley with David Fridley, Nate Aden and Yining Qin at LBNL’s China Energy Group offices. The team demoed their new urban form and behavior energy analysis tool, describing how they based its performance on a variety of existing approaches in urban form-related analysis and life-cycle materials analysis.

The innovative aspect to the group’s project is that they combined these existing cutting-edge approaches with an extensive survey of 230 residental households in the Lu Jing Superblock.
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The researchers examined where Lu Jing Superblock (built in 2008) residents worked and went to school, how they commuted, where they shopped, what kinds of appliances they owned and how they used them, and even how much meat and what kind of products they ate.

The result was perhaps the closest-yet attempt at modeling and thus being able to forecast the complete energy needs of a segment of urban population. This allows an integrated assessment of required energy supply and expected impacts far beyond a single structure, energy type or industry.

It’s like Sim City, but for addressing real planning, energy, and environmental challenges, which is something I’ve always wanted to see.

Simulations ran through the four seasons, showing cumulative energy use based on household and individual appliance and transportation use, showing cars or buses shuttling between supermarkets, offices, schools and the Lu Jing Superblock.

Total energy use and types of energy used were continually graphed, and the final results showed a breakdown between how much energy would be used by the buildings for power, cooling and heating,  as well as for transportation, food and other areas.

The group sees the tool being used by policymakers trying to prioritize energy and climate regulations in land use, transportation, planning and energy. Urban planners are another obvious group of potential end users.

One planning issue unresolved for future iterations of the tool would be how water use and supply could be added to the analytical capabilities. Or perhaps LBNL’s energy tool can be combined with a software-based supply analysis and use forecasting tool for water. Water life-cycle analysis is an especially relevant issue when planning development in areas of India and Northern China that are facing climate-related drought and water supply shortages.

Still, the LBNL effort is significant in synthesizing existing tools and approaches on urban energy use into a single model that can help guide our world as we move into what is increasingly becoming the century of urbanization.

Warren Karlenzig is president
of Common Current, an
internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is
author
of
How Green
is Your
City? The SustainLane US City Rankings
and a Fellow at the Post
Carbon
Institute
.  

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