Cities Worldwide Should Follow Los Angeles’ Example of ‘Coal-free Electricity’

  • Published on July 4th, 2009

Los Angeles’ Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has announced that his city will not buy electricity produced in coal fired fired power plants from 2020 instead the city will switch to cleaner energy sources to fulfill its power demands.

[social_buttons]

California has no coal-fired power plants and Los Angeles will stop buying coal generated power that it buys from other states. The 40 percent power that comes from coal-fired power plants will be taken from power plants running on cleaner sources like natural gas, nuclear energy and hydro power. This is in addition to the city’s energy efficiency plans under which it seeks to reduce energy consumption by 1 percent every year for the next ten years.

Los Angeles has set a great example for the big cities which are busy economic centers with huge energy demands. Energy consumption in rapidly growing cities of the developing countries is growing at astronomical rates. Usually the simple solution is to produce more energy, set up coal-fired power plants since coal is easily available and cheap. However, long term solutions to this energy problem are often overlooked. Countries eying faster economic growth must explore such alternatives and work to develop them as they hold the key to the problem of not just energy consumption but rising carbon emissions and climate change as well.

Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency is the solution of all the environmental problems our world is facing today. Cities should study the energy use patterns and then work plans to cut energy use of non essential entities. Public lighting facilities can be improved to reduce load on the grid. Replacing conventional street lights with new efficient ones and switching to solar panels to power them are some of the simple solutions.

Power demand for heating purposes can be reduced by energy efficient architecture. Use of double glazed windows in all new buildings being built should be made mandatory. Double glazed windows will keep away the solar heat while allowing light to enter into the buildings thus reducing cooling as well as lighting costs.

Urban heat island phenomenon increases the temperature of the cities significantly. During day time the buildings at as thermal mass and absorb the infrared radiation of the sun, as the day progresses the buildings start emitting this stored energy and thus cities are much more hotter than the neighboring areas and therefore the power demand for cooling purposes increases. This phenomenon can be dealt with by having gardens on the rooftops of buildings. Green roofs will have a net cooling effect as evapotranspiration will reduce the temperatures in and around the building. Aesthetic beauty, ecosystems for urban wildlife, storm water management and rainwater harvesting are the other major advantages of having a green roof.

Cleaner & Renewable Energy

Reducing dependence on the power plants is one of the most efficient ways to reduce their carbon emission output. Tax incentives and subsidies for home owners and businesses for installation of solar panels and solar heaters should be provided. Feed-in tariffs schemes should be employed which would promote the use of solar energy by giving profitable returns to the users.

And even though instantly switching to large scale renewable energy plants is not possible or economically feasible, cities should look to cleaner energy sources. Laws mandating power companies to increase power generation from renewable sources every year should be passed. This would, in the long term, mean a significant reduction in carbon emissions without burdening the consumers with increased costs.

Investing in renewable energy would require billions of dollars since an economic parity has not been achieved yet and burdening common people with added costs in this time of economic slowdown would be highly unpopular. But we also need to reduce our greenhouse gas emission output therefore we must start with the simplest and the cheapest solutions available.

Reducing energy use and mitigating effects of carbon emissions by increasing green cover, even in cities, are the basic steps we can implement. An increase in green cover would not only bring down the ambient temperatures but would also mean increased rainfall within the city as well as neighboring (possibly agricultural) areas.

We have seen developed countries dodging the issue of promising monetary help to the developing countries to make transition to cleaner energy systems. Without this financial help the next climate treaty, which could include stricter and much needed emission cuts, would fail.

Thus it is important that the developed countries work out plans to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions so that, one, they could meet the emission reduction targets and, second, free up funds which could be used for assisting developing countries acquire cleaner energy systems. The developing countries must look to emulate these schemes with technical assistance from the developed countries and financial help through the adaptation fund and carbon trading.

Photos: Erland Howden and 416style (Creative Commons)

About the Author

currently works as Head-News & Data at Climate Connect Limited, a market research and analytics firm in the renewable energy and carbon markets domain. He earned his Master’s in Technology degree from The Energy & Resources Institute in Renewable Energy Engineering and Management. He also has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering. Mridul has a keen interest in renewable energy sector in India and emerging carbon markets like China and Australia.

6 comments

  • Hi Mridul,

    Point numbers do not match up.

    1. No coal power from 2020 means plans and commitments from today – a 10 year lead time is not mcuh in utility planning – I did read that CA only uses 389 mW of coal power at present. Politicians have habit of saying things which people want to hear but that may well be impossible or impractical. I don’t know about the mayor of LA but the guy up in San Francisco is great at it. His wave power project is something that comes to mind. The wifi bus stops are cute and convenient but are they the best use of public funds?

    2. Conservation and energy efficiency is very important and will help greatly as well as being good common sense. Less increase in power requirements is generally positive thing on many fronts.

    3. The roof of a building is the hottest part but the entire mass of the building is what counts – one giant trombe wall in many cases. If the space below the roof is properly insulated and ventilated that heat should never enter the building anyway. In 35 deg C (95F) temps the underside of the roof of my home is cool to the touch – the result of R40 insulation, radiant barrier and light colored cement tile roof. To reject heat a white roof helps greatly.

    I saw the link you gave but it is basically an industry document. Rain water harvesting is OK some places that have the occasional rain. Portland OR (where I lived for many years has two seasons – 6 months of constant rain and 6 months with only an occasional thunder storm. Same where I live now – 6 and 6 – not too much benefit of rain harvesting. A saturated soil on a roof won’t hold any more water – it is about the same as a metal roof for runoff.

    4. CA has some of the more progressive rate structures. Most places still have a flat and normally low rate. I believe there should be both time of day and amount factors in the bill. Use more & pay more – OK.

    5. Gradual, sustained change is always easier – both for the utility and the consumer.

    6. The new sun power sources are being located (have to be generally) in water poor areas. The CSP & parabolic trough plants being brought up are all using cooling towers as far as I can tell. The water consumption is approximately 2.5 to 3 liters per kW. The things are water hogs. Dry cooling systems are more expensive (higher capital cost) so the plants do not want to use them but water consumption can come down by 85 to 90%. What is being built is a solution of today and a problem of tomorrow.

    6. Green roofs for an all concrete structure are one thing – many of the buildings in the US use a metal truss roof – retrofits would be hard and new buildings designed for the additional roof load far more expensive. To me many of the study numbers are rather optimistic.

    7. I have been is steel storage yards where the temperature at 0600 hours is sweltering although the outside temperature was quite comfortable. Not too many square meters of direct sun exposure but the steel plates made a great heat sink. The entire building is like that to a lesser extent.

    Enjoyed the exchange and have a good Monday,
    Russ

  • @ russ

    1. No new coal – The plan set by LA does not call for closure of coal plants today or next year, it calls for no power from coal from the year 2020. Economic conditions would hopefully be better by then. Developing counties cannot afford to give up coal as its abundant and cheap so they can tap the climate funds to transform their energy systems.

    2. Ok if you have problem with ALL I would say ALMOST ALL environmental problems. But the emissions, whether from industries or homes, can be reduced if we use our resources efficiently.

    3. Green roof costs in USA is $15-20 per square foot. You forgot to this of the money it would safe by reducing the temperatures in and around the building, the cooling costs would come down significantly as the surrounding air is cooled by 3-11 degree Celsius – http://is.gd/1otL1

    4. There will be increase in power costs no one can stop that. Simplest solution – energy efficiency, making people responsible for there consumption rates. I agree though that feed-in tariff systems should be reformed in order to maintain a balance of economics.

    5. Targets should be set up like 1 or 2 percent increase in energy from renewable sources every year. A law cannot ask utilities to just go and buy power from clean sources it will obviously give them some targets and numbers.

    6. I believe if the utilities increase their power share coming from clean sources dramatically in a short period of time the energy cost would increase significantly in a short period of time meaning more economic burden which would feel even greater. Moving one small step a time would be a better strategy. Consumers will have to pay more no matter what. They’ll have to pay more as utilities spend more on curbing carbon emissions so why no pay more to increase clean energy production.

    7. See the link in no. 3.

    9. LA has plans to reduce energy consumption by 1 percent every year I guess that would save a significant amount of money then add other cities to the plan and the money saved in 10 years would be quite large. See http://is.gd/1oulZ – Report: Efficiency and Renewables can Save US $200B Annually.

    10. I agree carbon tax is the simplest method but I don’t see an agreement on carbon tax in the next climate treaty. UN has made it clear that CDM would stay at least for next 10 years so we would have to work with it only.

    13. Green roofs is one of the biggest solutions to the phenomenon, other architectural solutions will also help. see http://is.gd/1ouF4 and http://is.gd/1ouGe

    14. Green roofs as urban wildlife ecosystems, read this – http://is.gd/1otjp

  • I believe that one of the problems facing the world today is that the often outrageous claims of various environmental groups destory their credibility and also that of more responsible parties who are trying to do something. For the general public, in the event of confusion, the normal course of action is to do nothing.

    I also believe that to be effective articles need to be factual and either be reported news or an editorial – not seemingly a mix of the two. A writers bias can destroy the credibility of a perfectly good article very easily.

    My notes are below each point – sorry for the mixed fonts but it is cut and paste:

    1. No new coal (pasted on picture)
    – fine if possible – with the present financial crisis which will be ongoing until tax laws are changed, where will the money come from – must have sounded like a nice thing to say at some dinner to the mayor

    2. Energy efficiency is the solution of ALL the environmental problems our world is facing today
    – really – it would be nice and it is necessary but the answer to all – no way?

    3. Rainwater harvesting are the other major advantages of having a green roof
    – bit of a stretch – will also increase construction costs on most buildings not to mention wood houses are not designed for it

    4. Feed-in tariffs schemes should be employed which would promote the use of solar energy by giving profitable returns to the users.
    – FIT’s just set a new price on power – I am not against it but it should be called what it is – a power cost increase

    5. Laws mandating power companies to increase power generation from renewable sources every year should be passed.
    – many localities/states are doing that but to do it blindly and without a good plan is economic suicide.

    6. This would, in the long term, mean a significant reduction in carbon emissions without burdening the consumers with increased costs.
    – this is totally untrue

    7. An increase in green cover would not only bring down the ambient temperatures but would also mean increased rainfall within the city as well as neighboring (possibly agricultural) areas.
    – any science behind this or wishful thinking? Everything helps but the overall concrete mass of the building far exceeds any roof affect

    8. We have seen developed countries dodging the issue of promising monetary help to the developing countries to make transition to cleaner energy systems. Without this financial help the next climate treaty, which could include stricter and much needed emission cuts, would fail.
    – not to mention a lot of poor politicians in those countries will not have as much money to steal

    9. Thus it is important that the developed countries work out plans to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions so that, one, they could meet the emission reduction targets and, second, free up funds which could be used for assisting developing countries acquire cleaner energy systems
    – any funds freed up by these schemes are in the not too near future – you are looking at a 20 to 50 year frame – minimum

    10. The developing countries must look to emulate these schemes with technical assistance from the developed countries and financial help through the adaptation fund and carbon trading.
    – A carbon tax I am for but I have personally seen carbon trading at work in the 3rd world

    11. However, long term solutions to this energy problem are often overlooked
    – agreed but I really don’t see this editorial helping

    12. Countries eying faster economic growth must explore such alternatives and work to develop them as they hold the key to the problem of not just energy consumption but rising carbon emissions and climate change as well.
    – OK

    13. Urban heat island phenomenon increases the temperature of the cities significantly. This phenomenon can be dealt with by having gardens on the rooftops of buildings.
    – some of the problem can – yes but the overwhelming part – no

    14. Green roofs – ecosystems for urban wildlife
    – really? maybe more pigeons

  • The Mayor of LA is one of many amateurs out there who predict things that just can't happen. The notion that a City the size of LA can replace the 44 % of its power needs that are now supplied by coal in 11 years is pure fantasy. And, even if that could be accomplished, are LA residents going to be happy with the inevitable skyrocketing costs for energy? The simple truth is that you cannot switch to sources such as wind power because wind is an unreliable, costly alternative. These are the same people who don't even think a large hydroelectric project is renewable energy. Now, how does anyone expect someone like that to understand the complexities and problems that solar, wind, and other less dependable and costly alternatives will bring to the duty to provide its citizens with energy so vital to the economy, safety, and just plain every day life of LA.

Comments are closed.

    Shares