Analysis & Synthesis - Low Carbon City

While initially hesitant in committing to renewable energy, many of the world’s biggest chain stores have become leading examples of any company’s potential to change its energy approach. As the number of individual solar electric systems currently installed in the U.S. reaches 24,000, nonresidential systems contributed a total of 3,600 new installations in the first half of 2012 alone. Utilities naturally continue to lead the charge in their overall number of installations; however, the future development of the solar industry and the potential for widespread adoption relies on the contribution of actors outside of the traditional utility market.

Green products and sustainability has become a major focus of advertising for most major retailers. As of late, however, major retail chains have also begun to see the benefits in transitioning to renewable energy in their operations. Such corporate giants as Walmart, Costco, and Ikea are leading this charge among the world’s major retailers. These retailers are contributing to the growth of the solar industry in their enthusiastic installation of solar energy systems at their retail outlets, with the flat roofs of the ‘big box’ stores serving as ideal sites for installing a large array of solar panels.

This trend among major chain retailers has only recently begun to gather steam as a result of the once prohibitively high costs of solar installations. However, recent years have seen the decline of these prices at an encouraging pace, which has consequently helped encourage big chain retailers to explore the cost-cutting potential of renewable energy. This trend towards commercial installations is also apparent in the European solar market, where recent industry surveys suggest that commercial installations will continue to drive the market for the foreseeable future.

In the European market, which is considerably more advanced than that of the United States boasting a total installed production capacity of 51,680 MW in 2011 as compared to the US’s 2012 figure of 5,161 MW and German (24,678 MW in 2011) and Italian (12,574 MW in 2011) installations alone amounting to well over 30,000 MW, commercial rooftop installations represent a very large share (well over 60% of installations in the UK, the Netherlands, Austria, and Belgium). The overwhelming prevalence of commercial installations in these European markets is a strong indication of the private sector’s significance in driving the transition towards renewable energy in the future.

While the private sector is undoubtedly a major contributor to the growth of the solar industry, the impact of public policy and guidance cannot be discounted. Industry analysts continue to note the significance of energy subsidy policies; such as those instituted by several European countries in response to the EU’s renewable energy targets for 2020. As such it is imperative that these two forces continue to work in conjunction with each other in building up the solar industries across the world in order to, one day, reach the shared goal of replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy altogether.

Source: NY Times article

Read more: Solar Energy Industries Association report on commercial adoption

Solar Energy Industries Association solar industry overview for the second quarter of 2012

European Photovoltaic Industry Association’s market overview and outlook report

Industry analyst comments on the significance of EU energy policy at EUobserver.com

Several Chinese cities are spearheading a slowly building movement among the country’s decision makers which could serve as a significant step towards achieving the ambitious national emissions targets for the coming years.  The Chinese government has set a goal of reducing CO2 intensity levels, including energy consumption and industrial activity accounting for all the savings accrued through reductions made in processes and energy consumption, by 40-45%, from 2005 levels, by the year 2020, with an additional intermediate target set out in the 12th 5 year plan of 17% by 2015.

According to recent estimates by the International Energy Agency (IEA) China has managed to reduce this level by 15% since 2005.  However, the IEA’s assessment also revealed that a majority of those reductions came between 2005 and 2008, in the last three years Chinese emissions have remained relatively stable. While the state government has acknowledged the need to make these reductions and taken numerous steps to establish supportive programs and new legislative efforts, reaching the country’s targeted reductions by 2020 will require significant, municipal and local level action regarding many of the policies and approaches proposed by the country’s ministries in coming years.

As such, the recent programs initiated by municipal level governments serve as far more promising signs of actual progress than earlier state policies, such as efforts to close down inefficient factories and power plants and directing ever increasing amounts of money towards energy conservation and emission reductions. Among these recent developments are a series of new measures initiated by the Guangzhou municipal government aimed at halving the number of cars on its streets. The municipal government of Guangzhou, China’s third-largest city, has introduced a system of license plate auctions and lotteries which has been described as among the most restrictive move yet made by a Chinese city in pursuit of these reductions targets. In introducing these restrictive policies, which place long-term environmental issues ahead of short-term economic growth in a strikingly overt fashion, the major metropolis sets a bold example for China’s other heavy polluters and smaller municipalities to follow. Alongside these most recent efforts to cut down on the amount of private vehicles on its streets, the city has also taken an important step towards encouraging mass-commuting in its construction of a subway system.

Among those cities also making strides towards reducing transport-sector emissions, albeit not in as drastic a fashion as Guangzhou, are Nanjing and Hangzhou, which have put in place new policies requiring cleaner gas and diesel vehicles, or Xi’an and Urumqi which have both moved to ban cars built prior to the introduction of stricter emissions legislation in 2005.  These vehicle targeted efforts are joined by those in cities such as Dongguan, Shenzhen, Wuxi, Suzhou, and Beijing, all of which have taken some steps towards shutting down factories causing heavy pollution.

These recent programs are the first true signs of budding potential among China’s cities to make any realistic progress towards reaching the goals set out by a state government which, ultimately, has little effect on the practical measures required to reach those goals.

Source: NY Times article on new legislation

Read more: NY Times article on rising emissions in 2011

Reuters article on rising emissions in 2011

Assessment of China’s targets from Climate Action Tracker

IEA assessment of China’s success until now

The Second Low Carbon City Develop World Forum, organized by the World Alliance for Low Carbon Cities, took place in Beijing 14-15th of May. Hanken’s Eco-Urban Living research team, Dr. Timo Vuori and PhD students Olga Novikova and Veronika Bashtovaya took part in this meeting. They had various conversations with the participants and took detailed notes throughout the event. Now, two weeks after the event, the researchers have taken a moment to reflect on the meeting and share some thoughts with us.

PhD students Olga Novikova and Veronika Bashtovaya at the Forum

PhD students Olga Novikova and Veronika Bashtovaya at the Forum

The most central aspect of the meeting was, from our point of view, the vast enthusiasm of various organizations and actors from many countries. Several actors are actively trying to make sense of what the low-carbon world of tomorrow will look like and what their role in this world will be. This active sensemaking process was visible in the various presentations that discussed different ways of making greener business for tomorrow. Examples ranged from applications for calculating the most efficient combinations of various means of transportation (Gomi’s presentation from Japan) to development legislation (Chinese authorities) and technical innovation (e.g., Kone).

In addition to serving as evidence of continuous sensemaking, the presentations are also a means for sensegiving. The forms of future low-carbon ecosystems are still uncertain and actors are naturally trying to shape the developments. From a research point of view it was interesting to see the immediate responses to these influencing attempts. It seems that a delicate balance of positive enthusiasm and cold analytical realism is needed for making an impact – and that the optimal balance between the two can vary from one target of influence to another one. Only the accumulation of further empirical evidence over time will show which forms of sensemaking and sensegiving turn out to be the most effective.

We’ll be posting more material from the Second Low Carbon City Development World Forum in the coming weeks here on the website. Remember to follow us on Twitter (@EUL_Finland) and Like us on Facebook (facebook.com/ecourbanliving) to stay up-to-date with the latest developments in Eco Urban Living!

Activities in the electric vehicle demonstration project, established on April 23rd, 2011, centered in Shanghai’s Jiading district have been slowly building up steam over the course of the past ten months. The district welcomed the first members of its EV fleet back in May of 2011, a group of eight area residents who became Shanghai’s first private owners of pure EVs. In the months following the founding of the Jiading electric vehicle district, a number of major international companies have dedicated their support to the pilot program.

Contributions include GM’s delivery of Chevrolet Volt’s to serve as pilot vehicles for area residents and fleet owners, such as car rental giant Hertz, providing a fleet of vehicles for use in the demonstration. Companies outside of vehicle manufacturers and providers have also displayed an interest in helping to develop the districts EV support infrastructure, with GE installing charging stations and providing upgrades to the electrical grid.

Then in January, 2012, authorities announced the continued, active expansion of demonstration activities. Plans for the coming year include: expanding the number of installed charging stations to 2000; incentivizing private EV purchases; building up public interest for participating in demonstration activities; exploring potential business models, in leasing and sales markets; and reaching the target fleet size of 1000 electric vehicles. Additionally, stakeholders announced the addition of 30 fully electric buses into the district’s public transit system.

While the demonstration project was rumored to have experienced some minor setbacks last summer, the participation of a number of internationally proven companies invested in EV development, coupled with the continued commitment of local officials are a strong indication of the future project’s promising future potential.

Read more: Post on the formation of the demonstration zone at eco-urbanliving.com

Liberation Daily article on first EV owners

GM press release regarding Volt

Environment News Service report on GE & Hertz

Electric Vehicle Authority post on GE & Hertz

Report on 2012 plans

Report on coming activities (In Chinese)

 

A proposal, published in the journal of Science, makes the case for exploring means of countering climate change other than simple carbon reduction. In the proposal, an international team of researchers argue the value of directing some of the attention currently focused on achieving strict CO2 reduction targets towards the reduction of other greenhouse gases. The researchers, representing a variety of global warming related fields including: climate modeling, atmospheric chemistry, economics, agriculture and public health, posit that providing people with an easier and less costly alternative to forgoing the use of traditional fuel-powered vehicles could lead to far stronger commitment.

The proposal sets out to address the inherent dilemma in combating climate change, namely the difficulty of actually ensuring widespread public adherence to new restriction policies. Policies which, while widely supported in theory, are too often deemed draconian by citizens reluctant to abandon present practices. The researchers argue that this reluctance can be sufficiently countered by addressing two key concerns: cost and rewards. The researchers argue that not only do economic concerns outweigh ethical or environmental concerns on the level of individuals but they also ultimately trump such less crucial concerns at the highest levels of government as well. Secondly, the researchers argue that unless citizens are provided with clear, immediate benefits or improvements to their quality of life, the vague promises of a more sustainable and ecologically sound planet in the far-off future will not be sufficient to convince a majority of the public.

With these two concerns first and foremost in their minds, the researchers propose a reappraisal of the targets of our combined reduction efforts. They suggest that instead of focusing solely on reducing CO2 emissions our efforts would prove far more efficient if we were to widen the scope of these efforts. The proposal offers a list of 14 measures for more efficiently reducing climate change arguing that implementation of these measures would be far less resource heavy and produce much quicker results.  The specific measures proposed by the researchers include: switching to cleaner diesel engines and cook-stoves; replacing traditional kilns and coke ovens, use of which continues to be wide-spread across Africa and the Middle East; and capturing methane gases released by decomposing waste and oil wells. Through rapid and wide-spread implementation of these strategies, the researchers estimate that global warming would be reduced by 1 degree Fahrenheit; roughly a third of the warming projected in no action is taken and significantly more significant than the projected impact of current CO2 reduction measures.

Furthermore, the researchers claim that the effects of their approach would yield far more immediate results due to the drastic improvement in air quality, a fact which they predict would lead to anywhere between 700,000 and 4.7 million fewer premature deaths a year. These measures are also claimed to be far more economically feasible for the developing world, providing a full return on investment over the course of five to ten years.

This suggested new approach has already garnered significant praise from such world-leading experts and Ted Nordhaus, of the Breakthrough Institute, and reaffirms the need for continuing research into climate change mitigation. However, there is an element of risk attached to such arguments as those made by this team of researchers. In offering his praise of the researchers’ proposals Chris Field, Stanford University climate scientist and leader of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, did, however, voice his concern regarding the possible effects of these results on the attitudes of policy makers. These risks lie in the potentially counterproductive confusion which such news may engender in the public as well as among policy makers, confusion which could easily lead to a growing sense of apathy and defeatism as well as a weakening of current CO2 reduction measures. Thus, while it is imperative that we remain vigilant in pursuing the most efficient solutions to our grand societal challenges, we must also be wary of research which encourages the wholesale rejection of prevailing methods and models so as to not sow the seeds of hopelessness among the public.

Source: More details regarding the proposal an enviroevaluation.org

Read more:
NY Times article on the historical context 
The study in full