Where are New Green Cities and How Can They Curb Asian Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

Masdar Headquarters, Masdar City, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

In my previous post, I highlighted how growing Asian urbanization is expected to contribute more than half of the world’s growth in greenhouse gases over the next 20 years. Now I will review what’s being attempted in Asian cities and elsewhere in order to positively alter that disturbing forecast.

The US and other Western nations are by no means immune from culpability in global climate change, since the US and Europe have contributed most of the existing excess greenhouse gases (GHGs) in our global climate over the last 100 years.


Because of that history, the onus is upon more developed parts of world, including North America, Europe and parts of Asia, to help plan and develop models for new cities in Asia. These models need to take into account climate change, local culture, the latest IT and communications technologies, and more.

New cities or districts must not be only be low- or zero-carbon, they must also address climate change adaptation, which in practical terms means designing for water and food security and natural disaster risk management.

What are the best global models that Asia should draw upon? Masdar, in the United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi), is one good model, though its small expected total population (50,000) and unique design can’t scale up to Asian-sized growth requirements.     

Masdar is piloting scores of new designs and technologies that reduce energy use, particularly in passive energy reduction (cooling and solar) and PV solar. Masdar also reduces water use with information system-linked leak-detecting sensors and by recycling dew. This desert-located site even recycles ambient moisture in the indoor air, which includes evaporated human sweat. 

Besides the techno-wizardry, Masdar offers economic sustainability, through a viable financing “eco-system”: it has created a tax free-foreign enterprise zone that has drawn in support from General Electric, Credit Suisse and the United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism.

South Korea’s Songdo International Business District is planned to reduce energy use 30 percent in every building through the use of double building skins combined with sophisticated information technology and communications control systems. Songdo is on a scale to which China can relate, with 60,000 residents and 300,000 workers expected by completion in 2015.

Songdo rises in South Korea (New York Times photo)

Some Chinese green new city false starts (so far) have included Dongtan and Qingdao Eco-Blocks, both of which were approved or studied by the national and local governments but have so far failed to be greenlighted.

While Dongtan was to be on a scale of 20,000 inhabitants to begin and was mainly to be powered by renewable energy, it had plans of increasing to 500,000 by 2030. That still wasn’t necessarily big enough for the needs of China, which may add 800 million or more people to its cities over the next 30-40 years, many of them in new cities or new city zones of 500,000 to 5 million. Because of local corruption, ground for Dongtan was never broken despite ambitious plans and international project participation from ARUP Engineering.

Qingdao Eco-Blocks, with 2,000 to 100,000 housing units and mixed-use, transit-oriented development, meanwhile, did have modular applicability to Chinese new city development. The Eco-Blocks project, though, did not get slated into Phase 1 of the city’s development pipeline, according to Harrison Fraker, retired professor from UC Berkeley’s Institute of the Environment. While at Berkeley, Fraker and the Institute helped devise the plan for the resource (water, waste, energy) “self-sufficient” city.

It seems the Eco-Blocks were too complex at their present stage of planning to fit into China’s massive national new city construction mechanism, which is constrained by the need for speed. The Eco-Blocks are now being considered as a prototype for NASA Ames research, Fraker said.


The immediate fate of Tianjin Eco-City has greater potential in China. A Chinese and Singaporean cooperative has been holding design competitions for a large section of Tianjin, the third largest municipality in China, which has an overall population of more than 8 million.     
Besides cultivating financing, the Tianjin Eco-City is attempting to develop sophisticated software that can model the use of materials, energy, water, land, transportation and other resources, in addition to carbon and waste outputs.

Other noteworthy green community models beyond Asia include the Kalundborg (Denmark) Eco-Industrial Park; Hammarby, Sweden; and Kronsberg, Germany.

Hammarby, Sweden

Kronsberg, a community of 6,600 near Hanover, addresses the critical element of local food with greenhouses using renewable energy, which can offer a large-supply of nutrition requiring less carbon than the transport-heavy global food model.

Combined with the myriad waste re-use and energy generation
opportunities that can come with sustainable organic agriculture and
food processing, the food element has been a significant missing
element in most “eco-cities.”

Kronsberg reduced its greenhouse gases by 45 percent compared to average new construction.This was accomplished through the use of advanced building insulation in concert with district heating systems, which use waste heat from municipal processes to warm water that is piped throughout the community for everyone’s use. The suburban area cut overall per capita CO2 by an estimated 60 percent through
transit oriented development including major bicycle infrastructure.

Reducing the life-cycle impacts of construction and infrastructure materials is another area not being well addressed by current eco-city planning and design–no large-scale pilot projects exist that precisely measure and manage life-cycle material impacts.

If new cities can combine integrated planning for better carbon management, regional food systems, life cycle material impacts, water scarcity and biological/ cultural diversity, they will be much better prepared to host the world’s new majority that is headed their way. 


New Climate Change Legislation Passed


The US House passed the first climate change legislation in the history of the nation, by a narrow margin. Whatever the pitfalls of the new legislation, the nation is now on its way to being part of the solution to climate change.

Despite opposition rhetoric claiming the move will be will be a “job-killer”, the United States can now join other leading groups of nations (The European Union) and nations (China, Japan, Australia, Korea) in developing a clean energy economy.

From cleaner electricity, building design and transportation to the development of new cities, the US can again innovate. And these new jobs cannot be exported as much of this new work can only be done in the United States.

Yes, some jobs will be lost in dirty oil, gas and coal production. Many more jobs, however, will be created as the world for the first time purposefully shifts its transportation and electricity/ building energy sources at the same time.  


Impact of Financial Meltdown on CleanTech: Is K Street the New Wall Street?

With the Stimulus money starting to go out the door and financial credit markets still frozen from the economic meltdown, Washington DC’s funding seems to be the only thing keeping the cleantech project sector afloat.

So said Michael Eckhart, president of the American Council for Renewable Energy during a conference call earlier this week.

“The generic financing situation is impacting our sector,” Eckhart said to a few hundred listening in on a conference call, which was aimed at reviewing the first 120 days of Stimulus performance.

Eckhert said in the wind and solar markets that a majority of financing has been pulled, largely by European banks, with wind financing down 75 percent from 2008, which he called a “great year”. He also mentioned that the AIG and Lehman Brothers’ struggles and Lehman’s subsequent disappearance decelerated clean energy tax equity investments.

The year 2009 is almost like starting over, he inferred. “That’s how urgent this has become.”

“We have to create a new model,” he said of the vacuum in clean energy financing. In terms of Stimulus funding, he proposed the US government continue its efforts in getting liquidity going through grants and loans (“70 percent of the Stimulus for clean energy will be spent by June 2010”), and then phase it out as private equity returns to what he characterized as a fast-growing market.

World markets for wind and solar are looking stronger than ever, Ekhart said, with China and Italy now starting to add to the already strong demand in Japan, Germany and California.  


Time for a new Mother of All Demos: Channeling the Stimulus, ARPA-E and Energy Frontier Research Centers

Things are almost happening too fast in the realm of the US clean energy and energy efficiency, as a new landscape for the green economy is taking shape.

Looking like the early days of the Internet…

Doug Engelbart in 1968, transmitted live in sound and vision, via a predecessor to ARPANET

Stimulus funding is now flowing out the US Department of Energy (DOE) door, according to Matt Rogers, Senior Advisor on Expediting Funding for the DOE, $3.2 billion out of $32.7 billion in checks have been written; $17.6 billion in applications are open for solicitations.

The action never stops:

DOE announced Friday ARPA-E; think of it as the energy innovation equivalent of the Department of Defense’s DARPA. DARPA, founded in 1958, provided ARPANET, the communication and software backbone that became the Internet.

Graduating student Marc Andreessen took the Mosaic web browser technology out of a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign lab–one of the major ARPANET nodes (and my alma mater). Andreessen went to the Bay Area in 1993 and commercialized the code as Netscape Navigator in 1994, and the modern Internet was realized.

ARPA-E is an “advanced research projects agency,” accepting cutting edge energy ideas May 12 through June 2. They are looking for white papers with solicitations in the range of one half to ten million dollars and they have $400 million to give out in their first round.

Another announcement from the White House last week: $777 million is being made available over five years in new funding for the creation of the DOE’s Energy Frontier Research Centers at Arizona State, Stanford, Berkeley, MIT, national DOE laboratories and dozens of other locations, including one public facility–a GE global research lab in Niskayuna, New York.

Will this lab become the next XeroxParc and provide the energy equivalents of the computer mouse, hypertext and Graphical User Interface?

I’m still waiting for the Smart Grid version of the famous Mother of All Demos. (You Tube video of Doug Engelbart starring in Dec. 1968 demo)


Stimulus Impact on Growth of Renewables: EIA Releases Special Forecasts

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) released last week a special report forecasting the impact of the Stimulus (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) on the renewable energy industry.

This is the first time the EIA has issued its energy forecast report in April–normally the reports go out as end-of-the-year summaries.

The report’s data were organized according to two scenarios:  one, based on the impacts of the federal Stimulus across energy production, consumption and greenhouse gas emissions; the comparative summary was modeled on a scenario examining similar areas as if the Stimulus didn’t happen.

The biggest renewables winner under the $787 billion Stimulus appears to be the wind energy sector, which will be more than doubled compared to a no-Stimulus scenario, with 286 billion kilowatt hours of production forecast by 2012, compared to 86 billion kilowatt hours of production forecast under no Stimulus.

Other sectors, including PV solar and geothermal energy are forecast to experience significant gains from the Stimulus, on the order of 15-16 percent growth by 2012 to 2013.

The US Department of Energy under the Stimulus is providing $42 billion in grants for renewables and energy efficiency, along with more than $130 billion in tax credits and loans.

Overall residential and commercial energy consumption, along with energy-related carbon emissions are forecast to be slightly improved under the Stimulus.

The Stimulus is expected to reduce home heating use by 1.7 percent and cooling by 3.4 percent by the end of the forecast period (2030), saving consumers $64-98 a year on their energy bills. 


City Clean Tech Incubation: How Does Toledo Beat Austin?

Great article in The American Progressive this week from Northeastern University’s Joan Fitzgerald on how Toledo, Ohio, has become a mecca for clean tech development, particularly thin-film solar.
Holy Toledo!

Fitzgerald compares Toledo, with its 6,000 solar management, research or manufacturing jobs; 15 research or manufacturing locations; and public-private research collaboration (the University of Toledo–who knew?) with Austin.

You know, Austin, with its forward-thinking 30% by 2020 city renewable portfolio standard. Austin, home of the Clean Energy Incubator that is run in conjunction with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the University of Texas. Austin Energy, the municipally owned utility that opens up its grid for testing to start-ups and early-stage clean tech companies in solar (HelioVolt) and energy storage.

Turns out Austin has produced and retained, by Fitzgerald’s estimates, a few hundred jobs in research and manufacturing and a few thousand in design and construction. Not bad, but worth all the tax incentives and fuss?

The secret sauce for Toldeo was the presence of extensive glass manufacturing facilities and associated know-how (Owens-Corning), a key solar array component.

The state of Ohio also has been boosting renewable energy R&D and job training through an Advanced Energy Job Stimulus Fund. Combine that with an effective privately funded regional growth partnership, and you have the right stuff to retool rustbelt facilities and workers for the 21st century. Upon that setting grew the nation’s largest and most cost-competitive thin-film solar manufacturer First Solar, along with Xunlight and Solargystics.

The story of Toledo’s clean tech industry goes far beyond the shores of Lake Erie into Asia, Europe and other global locations, where Toledo-based companies are setting up manufacturing and distribution operations to supplement US production.

So now when you think of global clean tech incubation centers, think of Austin, along with the Silicon Valley, Boston, Denver, and Southern California. And then dream of what can be done for the economy of our nation’s metro regions based on, yes, The Toledo Model.


DOE Releases Stimulus Funding Requests for City Energy Efficiency Grants

Hot from DC: The US Department of Energy (DOE) announced today that it is releasing funding for city energy efficiency under the Stimulus package.

A total of $3.2 billion in block grants will start to go out by summer to help local government make their businesses and residents more energy efficient through building retrofits, land use, public education and technology implementation.

Mind you, that’s only about 10% of the total $33 billion DOE funding that will go out through the Stimulus, to say nothing of about $130 billion that the DOE will provide in no-interest or low-interest energy-related loans.

Under the block grant formula, cities (above 35,000) and counties, which will be eligible for $1.9 billion of the $3.2 billion in this funding. They have a deadline of June 25 to apply in order to get their share of the Stimulus grants, which are allocated on the basis of population and energy usage.

State and tribes will get $770 million from the Honeypot, while a future chunk of $455 million will go out for competitive bid amongst other local government projects that get the on the road (path?) to energy independence.  

The DOE will be looking for strategic plans, programs and approaches demonstrating overall energy savings, job creation/ job retention, and carbon emission reductions.

Examples of Big Winners
: Los Angeles ($37 million) and LA County ($15 million). Green Flow heard that Los Angeles city officials met privately in Washington DC with Energy Secretary Steven Chu a few weeks back to discuss their plans for using the money.