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Renewable energy can provide 50% to 100% of the energy needs of a low-carbon city



This Energy Sector plan for a low-carbon compact city will have the following goals.

  • Electrification of buildings, transportation, and all other sectors where possible
  • 50% of remaining new city's energy needs from newly built renewables
  • And zero-emission by 2030-2040 given new energy technologies

Category of the action

Reducing emissions from electric power sector.

What actions do you propose?

To provide 50% of the electrical power to 25,000 new inhabitants each year about 250 mwh/day (megawatts) of new renewable power generation will need to be built.  The exact energy mix to obtain this 50% from renewables will be dependent on geographic and other factors, but possibilities include:

  • Solar – With sun availability at five hours a day, 50,000kwh of solar panels will be required to be added each year.   At 20 watts per square foot, 2,500,000 square feet of solar panels would need to be installed annually.   With 700 square feet of new construction per new resident and five-story buildings, 3,500,000 square feet of roof area can be made available for the 2,500,000 square feet of solar panels without requiring additional land.
  • Wind – A new city would have to find locations outside the city for wind farms or partner with utilities for construction of new wind farms.  But less expensive than solar and has the benefit of generating energy 24hrs a day, as long as the wind is blowing. 
  • Concentrated Solar - Similar to wind in that it would be more economical and generate power more consistently, but would have to be located outside a new city.
  • Hydro or Nuclear – Although some of the best renewable energy sources, construction of new dams or nuclear power plants currently has too many challenges to be part planning a new city.   However existing hydro, nuclear, or renewables from utilities may be part of the remaining 50% of energy required.
  • Geothermal - Availability depends on geography and has technical and other issues.  But should be considered where possible or as part of overall energy mix.
  • Other Renewables - There are other renewables that can be considered in the energy mix, but unlikely to be a major contributor to overall energy needs of today.  
  • Hybrid Energy Mix – Final renewable energy mix will depend on location of a city and other factors.

Who will take these actions?

This proposal does not attempt to tell energy professionals the final energy-mix of a low carbon city.  Achievable planning goals require obtaining 50% initially and 100% by 2035 of newly built renewable energy financed by the city.   This proposal assumes the latest practical ‘all-of-the-above’ renewable sources will be evaluated by energy professionals as part of overall engineering a low-carbon compact city. 

Where will these actions be taken?

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

What are other key benefits?

Environmental Benefits: Direct reduction of fossil-fueled emissions with the construction of new renewable generating capacity.

Social Benefits: Health and other benefits of reduced carbon emissions.  Improved resiliency of city with locally generated power not reliant on fossil fuels.

Economic Benefits: Jobs and other economic benefits of locally generated power.

What are the proposal’s costs?

With solar and wind renewable energy coming closer to cost parity with traditionally generated power the capital to build new renewable capacity is easily financed in the private capital market.  Overall energy cost per capita for low-carbon city should not be much different than from today’s traditional fossil-fueled energy sources.   Because new cities will be built over a generation they will cause little immediate disruption to existing utilities or energy sector business models. 


Time line

This plan to build new cities will take a generation, or more.    By increasing each new city’s population by 25,000 annually, it will take a city 10 years to obtain a population of 250,000, 20 years for 500,000 and 40 years for 1,000,000 inhabitants.   This plan is most likely to be executed over the project’s lifetime by those currently in their early 20s who will most likely be most impacted by the disruptions from climate change. 

Related proposals

There does not seem to be any publicly known project to build a larger low-carbon compact city from the ground-up in the United States.   Most larger-scale projects are traditional development requiring cars for transportation, or eco-village transportation hub projects as bedroom communities to larger cities with high-density multi-family buildings, mixed-use limited to higher-rent corporate chains, and an absolute minimum of greenspace, parks, large public spaces, schools, or the desired walkable amenities of a larger city or resort community.