Why Nantes? Europe’s Green Capitol 2013

March 12, 2013

To those who say Ecocities are impossible, that a green economy will fail, and that citizens will never support or get involved in Eco-principles on a large scale, I give you Nantes.

Nantes: The Venice of France

Following in the footsteps of Stockholm, Hamburg and Vitoria-Gasteiz, Nantes Métropole is the European Union’s Green Capital for 2013. The European Commission launched the Green Capital project in 2008 to recognize and reward cities’ efforts to increase sustainability and improve quality of life. Addressing these issues is a pressing concern for European cities as three in four European citizens currently live in urban areas and that number is expected to grow to four in five by 2050.

This year will bring many exciting events to Nantes including ten local or national conferences and 11 European or international conferences, not least of which is the International Ecocity World Summit this September 25-27th.

Few outside of France may have ever heard of Nantes–it is well worth paying attention to.

Nante’s story mirrors that of many industrial cities in Europe and the United States. After the closure of the city’s main economic source–the shipyards–in the 1980s, city leaders were faced with a struggling economy, civic stagnation and abandoned, decaying industrial sites. But instead of trying to recreate failed systems and lingering in the industrial past, Nantes took a unique leap of faith and decided to invest in sustainable infrastructure, culture and quality of life. No mean feat for the 1980s.

Planners carefully redeveloped the shipyards into green public space and focused on highlighting the city’s history (dating to Pre-Roman times), fostering culture and community development, and connected the city via high speed rail to Paris. Nantes’ planning framework promotes urban density, solidarity, and equal access to green living amenities for citizens of all income levels. The result: in 2004, Time Magazine named Nantes the most livable place in all Europe.

A few numbers from Nantes:

  • 57m2 of green space per person
  • 15% of residents use public transportation daily
  • Everyone lives within 300m of a green space in the city
  • 80% of the Nantes/Sant-Nazaire metro area is natural and farmland space
  • Only 11% of household waste goes to landfills

Nantes works hard to encourage dense urban development to accommodate its growing population rather than sprawling into surrounding green areas. In addition many riverbanks, wetlands and green spaces have been restored to support a thriving wildlife population.

Nante’s city governance also attempts to break with a long history of top-down city planning that has often been patronizing and alienating. City leaders name civic pride and involvement a top priority for the city, and their policies reflect this. Vigorous public outreach campaigns involve citizens with the planning of their neighborhoods and the government also holds household workshops on carbon footprint reduction and sustainability.

Of course it is all a work in progress; still, Nantes is a consummate example of the Ecocity principles in action and we are so excited to come together for the 2013 World Summit in such a remarkable city!

Join us


Keep the EV Batteries, But Lose the Car

November 5, 2009

The concept of a high-density ecocity that caters to people and not cars actually necessitates large-scale renewable energy “power plants” such as large solar and wind farms.  These would require power to be transported from remote locations where solar and wind power are generated to urban homes in a central metropolis – via the smart grid.  The reason for this is that in such a high-density “ecocity,” there simply is not the rooftop space per capita to mount enough solar panels to meet everyone’s needs.  Thus, the idea of renewable power generated remotely and “piped in” via smart grid is pivotal to the functionality of such a city.  While it is true that transmission losses do occur when power is piped in, the heat energy that “bleeds” from the exterior walls of dwellings in wintertime is perhaps an even greater consideration.  Thus, the efficiency gains by many shared walls in city dwellings may trump the efficiency losses of transporting power from a solar or wind farm (via smart grid) to a household in the city.

According to the Houston Chron, the momentum for a smart grid that can handle solar and wind power has been building over the last year. Two Houston companies recently landed nearly $220 million in federal stimulus funds to bolster “smart grid” projects aimed at improving power system reliability and helping consumers use less electricity. Nearly 100 such projects nationwide will split $3.4 billion in grants from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.  Federal grants will be matched with industry funding for a total investment of more than $8 billion. The government estimates the projects will create tens of thousands of jobs and reduce overall power use.

The burgeoning solar industry is on the up as well.  According to Environmental Leader, California utility Pacific Gas & Electric has announced it will buy 500 megawatts of solar power from Nextera and Abengoa Solar. This adds to other solar deals by PG&E recently, for a total of 830 MW, according to a press release.  In Florida, the DeSoto and Space Coast Next Generation Solar Energy Centers has been completed, and will provide 25 megawatts of solar, or enough to power about 3,000 homes.  It is said to be the largest in the U.S. to date, at 90,000 panels. The list of solar projects is long and optimism for this clean technology is high.

A new report recently cited by Environmental Leader indicates that many states across the U.S. could become more self-reliant by producing renewable energy within their borders.  According to a recently updated report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, at least 30 U.S. states could satisfy 100% of their electricity needs from in-state renewable energy based on the assumption that there is sufficient distributed storage or distributed generation capable of generating on-demand, and at least 40 states could supply half their electricity with domestic renewable resources.  The key implication in the report, however, is that electric car batteries will serve to store the generated electricity until it is needed.

The current vision for the smart grid seems to assume reliance on electric car batteries to store electricity. Thus, the mainstream smart grid idea does not yet align with the ideals of an ecocity that is truly sustainable.  The truth is batteries do not require a 3,000-pound mobile vehicle to do the work of storing electricity.  While electric vehicles (EV’s) may be seen as a free energy storage tool (an “anyway expense”), this alone is not a good reason to continue pursuing car-centric cities.   Such cities offer air pollution, urban sprawl, urban runoff, farmland and habitat destruction, sedentary lifestyles that propagate obesity, and myriad other problems that can be abated when cities are designed for people instead of cars.

Research and development for EV’s may be bringing us the tools we need to create a mode of storage for our solar and wind-derived power.  This is a handy tool for the coming smart grid, but let’s leave the cars behind.

Author:
Stacey Meinzen
www.ClimateActionPlans.com


Water, Power, Planning and Carbon

October 5, 2009

Recent disputes over water use in deserts that are well suited for solar thermal power plants have illustrated the need for a holistic approach to urban needs. Solar thermal plants use cheaper technology than photovoltaics (solar panels), but require substantial water because mirrors heat a liquid to create steam that drives an electricity-generating turbine. Similar to a fossil fuel power plant, the steam must be condensed back to water and cooled for reuse.  Typically this happens in a cooling tower and requires constant replenishment of water as the excess heat and water evaporates.  Alternatively, dry cooling can be used, but requires fans and heat exchangers and is much more expensive.

The American Southwest is currently the site of plans for dozens of multibillion-dollar solar power plants on thousands of acres of desert.  In California, solar developers have already been forced to switch to less water-intensive technologies when local officials have refused to give up water. Furthermore, some large solar projects are currently tangled in conflicts with state regulators over water consumption.

Considering the effects of power generation on the ability to provide water for a community will be crucial as water becomes even scarcer and renewable power projects burgeon to replace fossil fuel production.

Using low-carbon technologies that are not water-intensive combined with smart city planning and sound water use policies will help cities to avoid water disputes among stakeholders.  Cities around the world have already implemented rainwater harvesting policies to help address water shortages by simply catching and using the rainwater that is currently diverted into storm drains – and ultimately, into the ocean.  Moreover, California implemented a new policy at the beginning of 2009 to allow the installation or alteration of a clothes washer greywater system to be exempt from a construction permit that was previously required.  Greywater systems allow a household to irrigate a landscape with recycled water.

Employing green rooftops and community gardens in dense cities and maintaining substantial surrounding open space is a strategy for water conservation as well because the less paved or impermeable surfaces exist, the less urban runoff occurs and the more ground water can be recharged. Furthermore, water use intensity is greatly affected by population density.  According to the Sierra Club’s Challenge to Sprawl, three households per residential acre (typical suburban sprawl) on average equates to 1,032 gallons of water used per household per day.  Conversely, 100 households per residential acre on average equates to 192 gallons of water used per household per day

Such policies will relieve pressure when citizens take advantage of them to conserve and they mean greater efficiency in the use of resources. Policies that force vital human services (such as power production and delivery of water) to compete for the same resources are unlikely to succeed.  Moreover, the monetary and environmental cost of water projects like desalinization is substantially higher than simply allowing citizens to catch rainwater or irrigate with recycled water.  Thus, tax payer dollars are better spent when policies support sound urban design and resource conservation.

Several city planning and policy experts will be addressing the issue of water use in cities at the upcoming EcoCity World Summit in Istanbul this December. Presenters will include Richard Register of EcoCity Builders, Walter Hood (urbanist, landscape architect), Ken Yeang (bioclimatic design), David Hall (New Vista Ecocity), the World Bank Eco2Cities program, Global Footprint Network, Janet Larsen of Earth Policy Institute (representing Lester Brown’s Plan B), and Brent Toderian, head of City Planning for City of Vancouver, Canada and author of the EcoDensity Initiative.

Author:
Stacey Meinzen
www.ClimateActionPlans.com


Worldchanging reports on renewables

August 6, 2008

Mapping the World’s Renewable Energy Potential

by Sarah Kuck

http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/008318.html

As renewable energy technologies become more competitive, investing in them is becoming a more viable venture. Yet, uncertainties about cost and ROI are still keeping some investors at bay.

Wind blows, rain falls and the sun shines, but differently at different times and locations, making wind, hydroelectric and solar power dependent upon weather and climate systems. A new Northwest-based energy efficiency company, 3TIER, is using their science skills and computer smarts to remove some of that guesswork.

Over 90 percent of the renewable energies used for electricity generation are weather-driven; in other words, they are completely dependent on the weather/climate system for their fuel. So while these sources of renewable energy have the capability to liberate us from our dependence on fossil fuels, they introduce another complicating dependency: the weather. This dependency affects all aspects of weather-driven renewable energy projects: from proper placement to ongoing operation and integration.

solar_image_us.jpg
This map of the United States shows the amount of available solar power, ranging from from 4 (blue) to 5.5 (red) kWh/m/day.

The 3TIER team uses their technology-assisted powers of analysis to calculate the weather and climate and its impacts on renewable energy. The group customizes their forecasts with data from each client’s site to help them save money and optimize power. They take multiple readings from the site, for an extended period of time, and combine the reading with weather and climate knowledge for that region to tell wind farmers, for example, an estimate of how much energy they’ll be generating, and at what time.

The group recently finished helping oilman turned renewable energy propent T. Boone Pickens illustrate his national plan to help propel the U.S. energy economy with wind. Using wind maps from 3TIER, the Pickens Plan explains how the U.S. can use wind power to meet more than 20 percent of its electricity demand within 10 years. (View a video about the plan here).

3TIER is currently working on a project called REmapping the World, which combines their prediction technology and analysis with Google maps to assess solar and wind energy potential from locations around the world. So far, they have mapped North America, but they plan to map the renewable energy potential of the entire world by 2010.

worldwindposter.png

Take a FirstLook at the project’s “Find Wind Fast” function. Here clients from renewable energy project operators to developers, financiers to marketers, can select the height of a proposed turbine and its location to get an estimated read on how much wind power is in that area. For more exact details, clients can order custom reports that provide information like monthly windspeed and power capacity, hourly windspeed and power distribution and more.

3TIER%20first%20look%20site.png

But you don’t need to be one of their clients to play around with the maps, and it is pretty fun to look at the potential from afar as well as to click around and see how much specific potential lies where.

Potential just happens to be the perfect word to describe this project, this company and the renewable energy movement. Being able to more accurately estimate how much we can depend on renewable energy systems will only aid in their much needed proliferation, and hopefully, forecasting where the wind will blow will only become more valuable with time.

Image credits: The 3TIER Group


High tech to low, world’s green technology are many

July 2, 2008

This article in CNN Technology speaks about low and high tech solutions for reducing reliance on fossil fuels from using simple building materials such as straw and clay to installing solar panels on roofs. 

Sieben Linden, the village in eastern Germany, mixes high- and low-tech approaches. Some of its roughly 100 residents live in homes built with little more than clay, wood and straw.  Straw bales coated with clay are put inside the homes’ walls. The insulation reduces the need for powered heating and cooling, making the houses much more energy efficient than homes made with standard building materials, according to village resident Martin Schlegel.

“The energy you save by [using straw] is sufficient to heat this house 12 years, compared to a house built with normal modern materials,” he said.  Those who worry about the straw easily catching fire should think again, Schlegel said. He said that because the bales are tightly packed, they don’t ignite quickly.

“[Burning] a sheet of paper — it is very easy. But try to light a telephone book,” he said, comparing the bales to the book.  Straw-bale construction was used in Nebraska in the 19th century. The villagers of Sieben Linden take a more technological approach, fitting their homes with solar panels.


“Nothing More Important” By Richard Register

June 26, 2008

The following is a short essay written by Richard Register as the published introduction to the companion book for the “Theory and Model of International Ecological City” subconference of the “20078 China International Architecture Design & Scene Planning Exhibition and Forum on Urban Planning of Senior Government Officials” in Langfang, Hebei Province, China, June 19 and 20, 2008. The book, called “The Living Land,” was published by the Shanghai International Investment Company which is building five “ecocity” projects including Dongtan, near Shanghai, and Wanzhuang, about 80 miles east of Beijing near Langfang.

There may be one or two things as important for humanity’s future, but nothing is more important than ecocities.

If human beings are stressing planet Earth to the breaking point, and we are, it is because of our vast numbers and our enormous rates of consumption of resources and production of wastes in the process. This stands as something broadly accepted in a world of climate change, the coming end of cheap energy and collapsing species diversity on a global scale.

But what is most often missed is the design and layout of our built environment of cities, towns and villages. Could we build cities that actually enrich soils, promote biodiversity and stabilize climate while creating a more beautiful human environment than ever seen before and one harmonious with the natural world as well? That’s the promise of ecocities and in China some of the most important efforts in exploring cities are underway in places such as Wanzhuang Ecocity Project in Langfang. There we see the strategy of “leading by government, operating by market” which means that there needs to be a design of the incentives to assist and enable the design of the physical thing itself, the physical city as an ecocity.

First, just how important are cities? We have been hearing for some years now that “this year more than half the people in the world will be living in cities.” The figures keep shifting because the data gathered by the United Nations simply accepts and uses the various nations’ wide ranging definitions of what constitutes cities. But what is important to notice is that probably 90% or more of us – almost all of us – live in either cities, towns or villages and at all those scales our built community can be either designed upon the foundation of ecological understanding or without it. In other words, ecocity design relates to practically all scales of development and, if it were applied across those scales would be a solution of sufficient power to preserve and restore the health of the whole planet.

Second, how well recognized is the fact that ecocity design holds this enormous potential for health and happy solutions to crucial problems? Practically not at all! We are dealing with something almost a complete secret when the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Bali in December, 2007 fails to mention the largest things human being create when debating solutions to global heating. Not a word was said about city form or urban design. Certainly some of the world’s best scientists and most conscientious citizens and politicians were doing their best in all the ways they normally go about their work. But somehow they all missed the connection between the design, layout, planning and building of the largest creations of our species – cities – and their impacts on climate. If one kind of city puts out massive quantities of CO2, but a city built in a very different, ecologically informed way would put out one tenth as much, that is enormously important information. That building a different kind of city has this potential for good is simply an insight that is currently so new as to be almost unheard of. People have gotten used to the idea that an ecologically healthy city is an oxymoron, a self-contradiction. The fact that cities do pollute has completely obscured the fact that they can pollute much less, very much less by design – and perhaps the “waste” products of that better design could actually be used for benefit instead of cast off as damage to land, life and society. We have simply not been paying attention to building the best we possibly could.

Third, why haven’t we been moving much more quickly toward ecocities? I’ve been wondering why something that sounds so good – cities designed on the measure of the person, rather than the machine, cities designed to leave room for nature in all its glory, cities to enrich soil as is done in China in a number of other countries in an older kind of agriculture that recycles organics thoroughly, cities conserving energy so well that only a modest flow of energy from the sun or wind could power the whole thing – have not been developed right along with all the other clever humans inventions. For more than forty years I’ve been working on ecological city design, and there have been others in the field too, but practically nothing until very recently has been built, and then on a small scale, as just a building here or there or a small part of city.

Lately we have been recognizing healthy “ecological” patterns in the essence of a much older way of building cities, as we see in the model of old European cities, Nepalese large towns, and traditional villages of compact design in China and around the world defining streets and bringing the full variety of mutual services close together. Why haven’t we earlier extracted the basic principles and techniques from the many pieces that seem to indicate where we should be going? Why has only recently Curitiba, Brazil assembled enough pieces of good layout and design that people are beginning to bring the picture into focus? It would seem strange that Dongtan, now said to be the “first ecocity” could actually be the first or something close to a first when we could have been building right for decades or even centuries. Maybe most important, is there something in the way we are building cities that makes it very difficult to actually progress toward cities good enough to be a positive ecological presence on Earth, a built environment in harmony with the natural environment?

I think there is an answer to this puzzle and it is that we have not been looking at things in their true proportion and we haven’t been exercising imagination fully. We stop thinking halfway to the answer.
Regarding proportionality, for example, the car is a key player in shaping contemporary cities – and disastrously. There is good theoretical basis for seeing the automobile as intrinsically extraordinarily damaging to urban health in simply noticing that the average car is approximately 30 times as heavy as the human body, ten times as fast and about 60 times as big in volume. Designing for something that overbearing in cities has been a mistake few are willing to face. Attempts at making cities healthier come up against desires for speed and bridging distances that have only been possible in an age of very cheap energy and machines that muscle their way across town while completely redesigning it. That’s one big problem in the way.

Another is a notion exemplifying lack of imagination and unwillingness to think through options more thoroughly. That problem exists even in many of the best of European towns and taught in architecture and city planning classes and that notion is that “good urbanism” doesn’t have nature in it. Why not? Who says? In what form and design? Why the lack of imagination here? This idea, embodied in, for example, the compact “walking streets” of old Europe and Asia and the squares and plazas with no plants at all and only pigeons for wildlife, or parks with 100% grass and non-native plants is an idea that has been around for so long it is taken as some sort of rule without thinking through how a much better relationship to nature could be even better urbanism, enriching urban life even more. It’s time to wake up – before nature strikes back for our lack of attention to her.

Another notion is “human scale” in cities – meaning small and often tagged to a four or five story height limit – though many people in China and larger cities everywhere take the notion much more realistically. The benefits of compact, three-dimensional form with real diversity of facilities and services means people can walk and take bicycles and transit very easily, saving enormous amounts of energy, land, time, material investment and money. There is a core of truth to the notion of human scale as small scale but it exists in a dynamic with the larger scale, which is a human product too, and which can be designed very differently than we see generally expressed now. For example, the vital pedestrian city could be one with many taller buildings with terraces linked by bridges, with large sheltered interior passageways on the scale of cathedral interiors, with sunny public space arranged around small waterways and native plants attracting native birds to high places.

I’ve seen people move small steps in the right direction and stop, satisfied that they have arrived. They, for example, might recycle better and buy an energy saving automobile, but they still live a long way from work and their friends and drive anyway. I’ve seen them freeze up the city, opposing any new “density” in already existing neighborhoods or resist adding diversity of services and jobs to a neighborhood, clinging to the segregating single uses of zoning that helped the car scatter the city of car dependent and cheap energy dependent distances. But in projects now being planned in China, such as Dongtan and Wanzhuang, the notion of “access by proximity” – being close to a wide variety of what you need in the city is finally taken seriously and will be the world model for our fast approaching future when cheap energy is gone forever.
But even there, what is missing is going for the full spectrum ecocity now. We need to be thorough. We need to see all the parts connected and understand that to have a better car actually makes a worse city because it perpetuates the same anti-ecocity form with all its excesses. It is time for imagination to explore the whole notion in its fullness. Only then can we get beyond the compromises and the habits of stopping way short of… cities that actually enrich soils, promote biodiversity and stabilize climate while creating a more beautiful human environment than ever seen before and one harmonious with the natural world as well.


Clean energy mega grid proposed

June 19, 2008

DESERTEC: A Club of Rome initiative to build a super clean energy power grid

The Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation (TREC) is an initiative campaigning for the transmission of clean power from deserts throughout Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. The DESERTEC Concept was founded in 2003 by The Club of Rome, the Hamburg Climate Protection Foundation and the National Energy Research Center of Jordan, and is being researched in cooperation with the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

The DESERTEC Concept of TREC is to boost the generation of electricity and desalinated water by solar thermal power plants and wind turbines in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and to transmit the clean electrical power via High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) transmission lines throughout those areas and as from 2020 (with overall just 10-15% transmission losses) to Europe.