Rethinking cities #4: Madeleine looks for cities powered by renewable energy

We like cities with clean air.

It’s lovely to see the sights of the cities of the world without having to suffer air pollution or worrying about one’s health.

Our hearts leap when we arrive in a city and the first thing we can feel is the clean air.  Especially for us folks at Madeleine who love walking around, who like to take the measure of a city’s shape and to observe the contours and colours of its neighbourhoods at close quarters.

Well, we just learned some useful numbers about cities around the world and their use of renewable energy from the Carbon Disclosure Project (“CDP”), whose database includes more than 600 cities: 100 cities are already using over 70% renewable energy, it tells us. 

Of course using renewable energy doesn’t mean the cars and buses don’t emit greenhouse gases.  They do.

However, cities that take clean energy seriously usually also strive to have clean air!

CDP also tells us that 55% of the world’s population live in urban areas, 80% of global GDP is generated in cities, and 2/3 of the world’s energy is consumed by cities.  So, making cities clean is a fruitful way of fighting climate change!

What else can the inveterate traveller or travelista tell from these data?

  1. Cities that use renewable energy is a diverse bunch: there is Basel in Switzerland, which has its own energy supply company and uses mostly hydro with ~10% from wind, Reykjavík in Iceland where geothermal and hydro-power are powering much of the city. There’s also Nairobi in Kenya, where electricity comes mostly from hydro and geothermal, with the country having a strong track record of supporting the development of its geothermal resources, as it tried to catch up with electrification.
  2. Most of these cities have achieved this by making use of its resources. Kenya is known to have over 10,000MW of geothermal potential and was indeed the first African country to tap geothermal power, for example.  Its capital, Nairobi, is indeed able to depend on geothermal and hydro for much of its electricity, although the country’s electrification rate is still low at 70% despite making significant progress in the last 20 years.
  3. These cities have also used policy to achieve a high use of renewable energy.  Basel, for example, has strict regulations for new buildings and conversions, and imposes a levy and an incentive tax on electricity.  It also has the aspiration to become a 2,000-watt society, i.e. the idea of each citizen reducing their primary energy usage to no more than 2,000 watts (or 2 kWh per hour or 48 kWh per day) by the year 2050, without lowering their standard of living.

We dug in and found more data from the C40 initiative: more than 700 cities around the world in over 50 countries have now committed to halve their emissions by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.

We love arriving in a city and breathing in some fresh air filled with possibilities.