Carbon Reduction Know-How

This article is part of The Road through Paris, a series leading up to the COP21 international climate talks in December. It is also the third in an eight-week blog series from New Energy Cities detailing the state of the low-carbon city movement.

In the early days of climate action, urban plans to reduce carbon frequently suffered from the laundry list syndrome: outlining catalogs of potential strategies without any evidence of how those actions would add up to meeting long-term carbon reduction goals. Since then, cities and counties are becoming increasingly sophisticated about figuring out how to achieve their goals, and are developing clean energy transition plans to do it.

The first step is to map out—and show stakeholders—how potential actions can collectively meet an overall carbon reduction goal:

  • In 2013, Santa Monica, CA (pop. 92,000) produced a 15x15 Climate Action Plan—15 action items to make a 15% reduction below 1990 levels by 2015—that outlined a simple, clear checklist of climate actions for the city to take that would collectively meet the community-wide reduction goal. City staff focused the plan on short-term strategies that would help the community limit anticipated growth in emissions and get on a path to deeper reductions in 2030 and 2050.
  • In 2014, the King County-Cities Climate Collaboration (pop. 1,500,000) commissioned a carbon wedge analysis from Climate Solutions’ New Energy Cities program to depict what it would take for King County to cut carbon in half by 2030 (50x30). This analysis formed the basis of the K4C’s joint county-city climate commitments, which are specific, time-based pathways that add up to the 50x30 goal—including a target of sourcing 90% of its electricity countywide from renewables by 2030.

Next, a community needs to plan its transition to clean energy, with specific partners and projects:

  • In 2010, Bristol, UK (pop. 442,500) developed a Climate Change and Energy Security Framework “to translate carbon targets into energy efficiency and renewables targets for 2020 and 2050,” which earned Bristol the European Union Green Capital award in 2015. In July 2015, Bristol approved a proposal for the city to expand its energy service company community-wide to residents and businesses—a groundbreaking move in the U.K., where private utilities provide the lion’s share of energy. City control over the energy service has enabled Bristol to operate its own 2.5-MW wind farm on city land; install rooftop solar on over 30 schools; and establish district heating networks. The city further plans to generate 1 GW of solar by 2020 through purchase agreements with community organizations that operate in municipal buildings.
  • In response to Mayor Gavin Newsom’s 2010 call for 100% renewable energy, San Francisco (pop. 837,000) convened a Renewable Energy Task Force of expert staff and citizens for a year and a half to study in-depth what it would take for the city to achieve that goal. The city’s Renewable Energy Program Manager and the C40 Climate Leadership Group Director of City Programs co-led the task force, with a diverse group of utility and clean energy experts, environmental and community advocates, and labor, with philanthropic support from the Sidney E. Frank Foundation. The task force found that, in addition to energy efficiency and local renewable installations, San Francisco needed community choice aggregation—a local program to purchase power outside of the typical private utility—to meet its clean energy goal. (The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission now runs that program, CleanPowerSF.)
  • In 2013, Sydney, Australia’s (pop. 4,300,000) Chief Development Officer of Energy and Climate Change Allan Jones developed the city’s Decentralized Energy Master Plan for Renewable Energy, one of five interconnected blueprints for infrastructure planning with a target year of 2030. Jones aims to use 100% renewable energy for power, heating, and cooling, with conventional renewables providing 30% of the city’s electricity, and the other 70% coming from biomass-based combined heat, power, and cooling. Notably, the city’s plan found that renewable gas available from within 250 kilometers (155 miles) of the city limits could replace 100% of the natural gas used to supply the city’s planned network, producing virtually carbon-free energy.

Jones commented, “It’s important to start off with a 100% renewable energy policy to discipline you, to force you, to work out what components of the different sorts of renewable energy… to do the correct calculations… and you cannot do that with a random selection of solar, wind, or other technologies. They have to work together.”

Jurisdictions new to carbon reduction and clean energy don’t have to reinvent the wheel. In 2014, Innovation Network for Communities (IN4C) produced The Road to 2050: 80x50 Strategy Maps for Carbon-Neutral Cities, a report that summarizes the most common carbon reduction strategies of U.S. communities committed to 80% reduction by 2050 (80x50), and recommends how to structure the strategies over time. IN4C will soon release a similar roadmap document for cities to achieve carbon neutrality.

With early leaders and partner organizations to show the way, urban officials and their staff are figuring out to achieve low-carbon energy goals.

Author Bio

Elizabeth Willmott

former New Energy Cities Program Manager, Climate Solutions

Elizabeth served Climate Solutions as program manager for the New Energy Cities program, working with cities to help them meet their carbon reduction goals through innovative programs and policies. She most recently authored The Urban Clean Energy Revolution, a detailed compendium of urban climate solutions worldwide (also published in segments as the Low-Carbon Cities blog series), and Breaking Down Barriers to Deep Energy Efficiency in King County, a briefing paper on how to overcome obstacles to deep home energy efficiency. She also co-authored Powering the New Energy Future from the Ground Up, a July 2012 report on small and medium-sized cities around the U.S. that are demonstrating leadership in local clean energy innovation.

Elizabeth knows and loves local government. As lead author of the World Bank’s 2011 climate change adaptation guide for cities in developing countries, co-author of King County’s 2007 adaptation guidebook with ICLEI and the University of Washington, climate change aide to former King County Executive Ron Sims, and project manager of the first King County Climate Plan in 2007, Elizabeth brings a deep and wide background in community climate planning to the New Energy Cities team.

The program’s focus on "carbon math" also bears Elizabeth’s signature. She first found religion in Excel spreadsheets as the Recovery Act performance and accountability lead for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, overseeing the results of $13.6 billion in grants to cities and communities around the U.S.  Today her data-driven approach is most obvious in New Energy Cities’ energy maps and carbon wedge graphics.

Outside of work Elizabeth leaves ample time for gardening, biking, and movie-watching with her husband Andy. She holds a double degree in biology and Chinese language from Williams College and a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard Kennedy School.

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