Tag Archives: energy

Win-Win for Wind Energy and Wildlife Conservation

Wind energy offers the potential to reduce carbon emissions while increasing energy independence and bolstering economic development. I am a huge proponent of harnessing wind to power our lives but this form of energy development has a larger land footprint per Gigawatt (GW) than most other forms of energy production, making appropriate siting and mitigation particularly important (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Renewable energy reduces our carbon footprint but human disturbance from poorly placed developments has unintended consequences for birds, bats and other wildlife. Photo credit Joe Kiesecker with The Nature Conservancy.

Wildlife species requiring large and intact habitats and those that avoid tall structures are particularly at risk from wind development. Developing energy on disturbed lands rather than placing new developments within large and intact habitats would reduce cumulative impacts to wildlife, a major tenet of our new book Energy Development and Wildlife Conservation in Western North America.

As outlined by the Administration’s report ‘20% Wind Energy by 2030’, the Department of Energy (DoE) estimates it will take 241 GW of terrestrial based wind development on approximately 5 million hectares (12.3 million acres) to reach 20% electricity production by 2030.

In a paper published this week in the scientific journal PLoS One The Nature Conservancy and I (and 5 others) estimate there are ~7,700 GW of potential wind energy available across the U.S., with ~3,500 GW on disturbed lands; plenty of wind potential within disturbed lands to meet our national goal.

Implementing a disturbance-focused development strategy would avert development of ~2.3 million hectares (5.7 million acres) of undisturbed lands while generating the same amount of energy as development based solely on maximizing wind potential.

New wind development has comparatively low wildlife impacts if sited in disturbed areas, and a disturbance-based development strategy is largely compatible with current land uses. Given turbine spacing needs, wind farms typically use only 2-4% of an area, making it compatible with agricultural production on tilled lands where few wildlife values remain.

Moreover, compensation for development increases profitability of disturbed lands that balance agricultural and oil and gas fields with wind development. For example, farmers receive $4-6K per turbine per year on land in corn production that yields an annual profit of <$1K per hectare.

Given the nationwide surplus in wind energy, it is conceivable that states unable to meet goals on disturbed lands could import electricity from states where there is a surplus of disturbance based wind energy (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Available wind-generated Gigawatts (GW) in each state as a percentage of the DoE goal that can be met on disturbed land. Bubbles indicate where goals can (blue) and cannot (red) be met on disturbed lands. Bubble area indicates total GW of wind potential available in the state (Range 0.37 GW in TN to 902 GW in MT). Inset shows potential GW wind production for the entire U.S. and potential on disturbed lands relative to the DoE 20% projection (modified from Kiesecker et al. 2011 PLoS One paper).

A number of states have a significant surplus of wind potential on disturbed lands where additional development would not likely cause significant wildlife losses.

Joe Kiesecker, the primary author on the PLoS One paper and Lead Scientist for The Nature Conservancy notes the importance of mitigating for climate change. “As a climate change mitigation strategy we need to ensure that renewable energies do not result in habitat loss similar to the effects that climate change will likely have. By prioritizing development on disturbed lands we can ensure that we get the benefits of renewable energy while maintaining biodiversity that is critical to human well being”.

Using science to help site wind developments presents a win-win solution for securing our Nation’s energy independence while safeguarding its wildlife heritage.

Readers can learn more about how proper wind siting can conserve wildlife in their state by visiting The Nature Conservancy’s Development by Design website.

David Naugle is a professor in the Wildlife Biology Program at the University of Montana and a leader in wildlife conservation in the West.  He is author of Energy Development and Wildlife Conservation in Western North America. Follow Dave’s new book and related work on Facebook.


About David E. Naugle

David Naugle is Associate Professor and Applied Landscape Ecologist in the Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana, Missoula, where he teaches courses in landscape ecology and wildlife habitat management. Dave's primary applied research interests are in understanding relationships between organisms and their habitats in a landscape context. Using the newest GIS and remote sensing technologies, he and his students quantify the importance of local and landscape attributes influencing habitat use of grassland and wetland birds in prairie and sagebrush ecosystems.

Dams on the Wild Nujiang

The central government’s seven-year moratorium on dam building in the Nujiang (“Angry River”) watershed is soon to be lifted and China’s last wild river will be wild no more. Last week, the Chinese National Energy Administration announced that hydropower development was now ready to move forward on the Nu.

The river that brought me to Yunnan six years ago is no ordinary river: It is big, wild, and, because of its incredibly steep drop off the southeastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau, features the most raucous rapids that I have ever seen. The Nujiang also flows through China’s richest treasure trove of biological and cultural diversity; more endemic plants and animals along with many ethnic nationality groups are crammed into this watershed than any other place in the country. Whether the native peoples and wild species survive the coming onslaught of mega hydropower development is an open question.

Why is the central government lifting the dam moratorium now? At the risk of simplifying a complex issue, here are some numbers to ponder. Today, China burns more coal than the U.S., Japan, and the European Union combined, and the country’s use of coal is set to grow for at least another 20 years. As a result into the foreseeable future, China will remain the worlds’ largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

The central government wants to do everything it can to limit China’s carbon footprint and hydropower from dams must be part of the solution. By 2020, Beijing is committed to getting 15 percent of national energy from non-fossil fuel sources including hydro, nuclear, wind, solar, and others. If China is to get close to this goal, it will need to add 140 Gigawatts (GW) of new hydropower to the system. At full development, the Nu can produce about 21 GW of this total; for comparison, China’s Three Gorges Dam—the largest in the world—contributes some 18 GW.

What these figures show is that even with the dams on the Nujiang, China’s hydropower goal still requires numerous dams on other rivers all across China that will need to generate electricity equivalent to another six Three Gorges dams. Few sites on any Chinese river are going to escape the engineers’ eye even though the country already has more dams than any nation in the world. In fact, it is hard to imagine any river anywhere in China, including those in still-undeveloped Tibet that over the next decades will remain free-flowing for any appreciable length. But in losing its rivers, China will be gaining a partial solution to the staggering load of carbon that it is releasing into Earths’ atmosphere.

The question is: Will all this energy development be enough to slow and eventually stop the growth of Chinas’ carbon emissions? The answer is, no one knows. One can say for sure that without dams on the Nujiang, monster nuclear power plants, and world leadership in new forms of green energy production, China doesn’t stand a chance to gain control of its emissions.

But the cost to the country’s species, ecosystems, and rural people will be high. As long as the international community continues to drag its collective feet on controlling carbon emissions and climate change, rivers like the Nujiang everywhere on the planet will be at risk.


About Edward R. Grumbine

R. Edward Grumbine teaches environmental studies at Prescott College and directed the Sierra Institute, University of California Extension, Santa Cruz, for more than a decade.

Load Shedding or Load Sharing?

During a trip last week to Nepal to attend a workshop on climate change adaptation strategies across the Himalaya, I experienced darkness within darkness for several hours every night. I am not talking about visiting one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world, though poverty and political dysfunction are part of the darkness I mean to describe. The dim conditions I am referring to are both figurative and literal; each night Nepal undergoes “load shedding,” the governments preferred euphemism for what I have always known as a power outage.

Nepal cannot generate sufficient electricity to meet its needs, so for some indeterminate period each evening, the lights go out as if some master switch has been turned off. In the Nepali countryside where 60 percent of the people don’t have power to begin with, life goes on. In a small city like Bhaktapur, a World Heritage site whose narrow, automobile-free mud brick passageways can appear medieval, the effect is not so dramatic—unless you happen to be in the midst of eating dinner. In Kathmandu, a city of almost a million people with (mostly) modern infrastructure and activities, however, load shedding can disrupt the lives of locals and foreigners alike. Many businesses and wealthy Nepalis depend on private generators for backup electricity. But losing power on a daily basis is no recipe for running a country well.

Blackouts are not Nepal’s only problem. The country places 144 out of 153 nations on the United Nations’s Human Development Index. The average Nepali earns about $100 USD a month, almost half of all children below the age of 15 labor in the workforce, and some 30 percent of the people living in Kathmandu are not connected to a sanitation system. The city has the second worst air pollution in Asia. There was more than one night when I was out in the hazy streets dodging cars, motorbikes, and porters humping impossibly heavy loads of freight while the stench of garbage filled the air and cows lolled atop heaps of discarded plastic and rubbish. Every person I talked to—from NGO directors to hotel owners to small farmers—had nothing good to say about their government’s capacity to solve problems.

My climate adaptation conference ran parallel with a bilateral meeting between Nepalese government officials, business leaders, and the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce. The topic was how to stimulate Chinese investment in Nepal hydropower, tourism, and other economic sectors. If China can share the load of investing in these industries, load shedding might become a distant memory. As Chinese companies pour concrete for dams and turn river valleys into reservoirs, Nepal could leave the ranks of less developed countries behind.

Like every question surrounding hydropower dams in the Himalaya, however, there are problems with this scenario. It’s not that Nepal lacks hydropower sites; the country has only developed about 600 megawatts (MW) out of a potential 26,000MW. Not enough power is being generated today to satisfy peak demand resulting in load shedding. The Nepal Electric Authority estimates that in-country demand will grow to 1,788MW by 2020. Chinese companies are already constructing or about to build 11 dams that will add some 1,200MW to the system, making load shedding a thing of the past.

But will all this new power be fed into the grid for Nepalis? The answer is no; signed contracts already slate most of the new electricity to be sold to India. Chinese investors and Nepalese business interests will benefit and this kind of load sharing will likely result in more private sector profits than reductions in load shedding. And this cost/benefit analysis does not begin to address the host of environmental and social impacts of dam building.

The two meetings in Kathmandu last week did share one common theme: climate change. As my group of scientists and NGO staff struggled to devise a research agenda to meet the uncertainties of the future climate across a region that is warming faster than the global average, the investors and officials exploring new joint ventures were using historical river flow data to judge the profitability of hydropower for their bottom lines. But climate change already altered what future flows will look like from the giant rivers streaming off the world’s highest mountains.

Unless Chinese and Nepali officials revise their flow forecasts to accommodate the future climate, their attempts to share the load of growing Nepal out of poverty will probably result in higher levels of load shedding on the still-dim streets of Kathmandu.


About Edward R. Grumbine

R. Edward Grumbine teaches environmental studies at Prescott College and directed the Sierra Institute, University of California Extension, Santa Cruz, for more than a decade.

The Spirits of the Dead Meet Big Hydropower

This is the next post in a year-long series written by Ed Grumbine, professor of environmental studies at Prescott College and author of Where the Dragon Meets the Angry River.

You don’t need hydroelectric dams, coal-fired power plants, or even solar-cells and wind farms to produce energy for some of the most important tasks that humans engage in. Honoring gods and spirits only requires a bit of paper money, small items of discarded clothing, incense, and a match.

Walking home from work through my Kunming neighborhood a few nights ago at dusk, I smelled smoke. This wasn’t diesel exhaust of air pollution; this was a live fire smell. I turned a corner and was confronted with an ageless tableau—on the sidewalk up the street were lots of people feeding small open fires. The low flames licked up into the sky as the smoke disappeared into thin air. Incense added its sweet perfume to the mix. Family groups fed paper money and worn-out bits of clothing into the flames and didn’t seem to notice a foreigner passing by. I must have walked by 50 fires before reaching my apartment.

Later, I learned that the fires were made to honor the ghosts of dead ancestors and family members, part of an ancient pattern that persists in today’s high-velocity China despite all the new glass-faced high rises and burgeoning numbers of sleek black automobiles. If these fires were the only energy that modern China demanded, then Yunnan’s three great rivers, the Nujiang, the Lancang (Mekong), and the Yangsi might remain free-flowing forever.

But China requires more energy than cheap paper and butane lighters can ever provide. And the fastest-growing country in the history of the world has already made two key commitments to its citizens to provide a middling standard of living, and to the international community to reduce the world’s largest carbon footprint.

A week after I witnessed the sidewalk fires, Zhang Guobao, China’s National Energy Administration director announced that the country plans to boost its hydro-power capacity by 90 percent over the next ten years. The goal is to double to 15 percent the amount of non-fossil fuel energy in China’s energy mix, and also to make good on China’s pledge to cut its carbon intensity by 40-45 percent over the same period. This carbon emissions reduction goal simply cannot be met without ramping up hydro power (as well as all other forms of renewable energy).

What will happen to China’s rivers, ecosystems, and local peoples living within the footprint of the dams and reservoirs? My book, Where the Dragon Meets the Angry River, is my best effort to grapple with these questions. A mere four months after publication, China is about to change the rules of the hydro power game forever. The rivers of Yunnan and Tibet hold the majority of China’s undeveloped hydro megawatts and government officials are about to throw one trillion yuan ($147 billion US) at dam construction over the next half decade(that’s over 10 percent of the entire amount of money spent by the U.S. on its recession-busting fiscal stimulus package—spent on dam construction only).

Five years from now in August, the citizens of Kunming will still be lighting ritual fires to honor their ancestors. By 2020, Yunnan’s rivers may join the list of ghosts to be propitiated.


About Edward R. Grumbine

R. Edward Grumbine teaches environmental studies at Prescott College and directed the Sierra Institute, University of California Extension, Santa Cruz, for more than a decade.

On the Energy Front, State-censored Chinese Media Trumps U.S. Media

This post is the first in a year-long series by Ed Grumbine, professor of environmental studies at Prescott College and author of Where the Dragon Meets the Angry River.

Only five days into a one year stay in China, I’ve already noticed that the Chinese and U.S. media don’t report the news the same way. What amazed me is that Chinese state-run papers describe China’s economic growth and energy consumption more accurately than the U.S. press.

The past two years have been big years for China’s global position in economics and energy. In 2009, China replaced the U.S. as the largest auto market in the world, and surpassed Germany as the largest exporter of trade goods. Just a few weeks ago, China passed Japan in overall GDP to gain the No. 2 spot behind the U.S. (Japan had held this position since 1968).

In the first six months of 2010, China emitted more greenhouse gases than have ever been measured in a six month period and burned through more total energy than the U.S. (China debates this statistic, but the trend is clear). Almost without exception, the U.S. media portrayed these events as “threats.” The Wall Street Journal labeled China “the world’s most voracious energy consumer” accusing China of “… seeking resource and energy leverage…” in a “global scramble for (fossil fuel) resources.” The New York Times suggests that if China did not meet domestic energy efficiency targets, this “would be a big setback for international efforts to limit (carbon) emissions.” (The NY Times failed to mention that the U.S. doesn’t even have such targets.)

What distinguishes Chinese media accounts from U.S. stories is China’s emphasis on per capita data. Due to the fact that 20 percent of all people on Earth live here, at some point, China will likely surpass all countries in virtually every category of economics and energy use. The only meaningful way to compare nations is through per capita data, and this is what is missing from American reporting.

The Chinese media is quick to point out that China, despite its record-breaking behavior, is still a low-middle income nation according to United Nations definitions. China passed Japan in overall GDP, but each Japanese citizen pulls in ten times more income than the average Chinese. In terms of its human development status, China doesn’t even rank in the top 50 percent of all countries. The Wall Street Journal’s characterization of China as “the world’s most voracious energy consumer” is false; each U.S. citizen consumes about five times more energy that their Chinese counterparts.

What is behind the American media inaccurate portrayals of China? I see two biases at work here. The first bias is symbolic. America is so used to being No. 1 that we find it difficult to accept any position other than ‘leader.’ The second bias is more insidious. There are many U.S. politicians and policy makers who view the world as a zero sum game. If China is rising, everyone else must be falling. Competition—not cooperation—is the hallmark of these “realists, as if China was the new Russia.”

On the street here in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province, I see economics and energy embodied all around me. The sheer number of people in the street can be overwhelming. It seems as if there are new buildings rising up on every urban block, and vehicles spew out exhaust while the number of bicycles declines steeply. So far, however, my advice is to take U.S. media reports about China with a hefty dose of soy sauce.


About Edward R. Grumbine

R. Edward Grumbine teaches environmental studies at Prescott College and directed the Sierra Institute, University of California Extension, Santa Cruz, for more than a decade.

The U.S.-China three legged race

This post was excerpted a post written for Grist by Terry Tamminen is the former secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency and is now a policy adviser and author. His latest book is Lives Per Gallon: The True Cost of our Oil Addiction.

In the past few weeks, how many of us have seen (or participated in) that summer staple, the three-legged race? Two people stand side by side, each placing one leg into a gunny sack, then trying to coordinate movements to stay upright while running to a picnic table at the finish line. Visualize the U.S. and China similarly tethered together, but each trying to beat the other to a prize more valuable than hot dogs and potato salad — economic dominance in the 21st century.

The two superpowers are clearly joined at the hip economically, because so much of China’s production is shipped to U.S. consumers. Although each nation may have one leg apiece this common sack, make no mistake, they are competing to get ahead in at least one crucial area — to be the most energy-efficient, because energy resources enable economic growth and using those resources efficiently drives higher profits, employment, and tax revenues.

Click here to read Tamminen’s full article.


About Edward R. Grumbine

R. Edward Grumbine teaches environmental studies at Prescott College and directed the Sierra Institute, University of California Extension, Santa Cruz, for more than a decade.

Island Press authors in the field: March 23, 2010.

On the Huffington Post, Public Produce author Darrin Nordahl calls for changes in food policy:

[T]he rising cost of nutritious food–which is linked to rising energy prices, the weakening dollar, crop failure from more frequent weather aberrations, and produce recalls due to increased instances of pathogen outbreaks–has lead to severe implications for the most fundamental of human necessities: our ability to eat adequately, safely, and nutritiously at an affordable cost.

In San Francisco, a staggering 150,000 people–20% of the city’s population–forego food in order to pay their bills. The San Francisco Food Bank estimates the situation is direr for kids and the elderly of this high-rent city: 1 in 4 children and 1 in 4 seniors do not have sufficient food to meet their daily nutritional needs.

Lives Per Gallon author Terry Tamminen prepares his eulogy for coal power:

In 2009, nearly 15,000 megawatts of proposed coal fired power plants were canceled. To put that in perspective, that would represent about a third of all electricity generating capacity of a state the size of California. This is not a consequence of a slow economy alone – - eight years ago, 36,000 megawatts of new coal plants were on the drawing boards and a mere 13% of those were actually built. If coal is dying as a source of US power generation, what’s the cause and what will replace it as we power up the reviving American economy?

Water expert Peter Gleick spent World Water Day in Soweto:

[L]ike urban slums throughout the developing world, there is almost a complete lack of piped safe water and no formal sanitation. As the pictures below show, raw sewage and garbage flow through the streets and drainage ditches. I’ve traveled a lot. I’ve seen some of the poorest parts of the world, but even for me, what I saw today was a shocking reminder of the wretched conditions that literally billions of people face. It was perhaps no coincidence that the first commercial business you see on the way into Kibera is a coffin maker, nor that many of his coffins are for children.

Don’t Be Such a Scientist author Randy Olson interviews Ed Begley, Jr.:

EB: I think our [celebrities'] duty is the following: If you have had the types of experiences I’ve had, and what I mean is, I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of groups where we have met with Nobel laureates organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists. We’ve sat at breakfasts, at lunches, at dinners, at meetings, in Hollywood, out of Hollywood, where people with Ph.D. after their name have talked to us about climate change, plastics in the ocean, air pollution, ground pollution, groundwater contamination, on and on. We’ve heard from people that are quite knowledgeable, who have been published in good peer-reviewed scientific reputable journals.

Peter Fox-Penner, Smart Power author, argues for utilities that sell energy services:

The first wave of deregulation in the power industry was oversold, with its promoters promising a rate cutting bonanza when modest improvements were more likely, said Fox-Penner.

The move to address climate change carries with it a desire by government to plan out the energy future and while room exists for that, it has to be done carefully and planning should rely more on market forces.

Smart meters mean customers will see the real-time cost of power and that will lead to a more competitive energy services sector.

We are all from Wise County

Want to get really angry about health care and global warming? Not the ginned-up rage of the Obama-was-really-born-in-Kenya crowd, but an anger that fires you up to take action in the name of justice? Anger like the rage felt by so many white Northerners and Southerners in 1963 when they saw Birmingham’s fire hoses turned on patriotic African-Americans, a rage so profound that they too joined the civil rights revolution?

Well I invite you, in a brief audio and video tour, to bear witness to what’s happening in Wise County, Virginia. This Appalachian region, only a few hundred miles from the policy fog in Washington DC, clarifies what the health care/climate policy fight is all about. And if you’re not angry enough to take action after hearing these voices and seeing these images, blame yourself when DC-powerbrokers like Don Blankenship (more on him later) once again have their day.

Let’s start with what’s good about Wise County: its hard-working families. Taking a look at this community calendar, you’ll see all that is right with rural American communities and their urban counterparts. From January to December, the citizens of Wise County celebrate the legacy of Dr. King (January 19), perform plays (March 17), honor our country and its veterans (July 4 and October 8 ) and get involved in all of those glorious community, spiritual and volunteering activities that capture the essence of the American experience. In Wise County, it’s not hard to find the best of ourselves.

But one item on the same calendar reveals what is not right: the July 24 – 26 “Remote Area Medical Health Fair” at the local fairgrounds. Sound innocuous? Well take ten minutes to listen to this recent report from NPR on this event, hosted in Wise County, that served 2,700 ‘tired and desperate’ people from 17 different states. In the words of NPR, it was “a Third World scene with an American setting.” It’s heartbreaking: entire families waiting in line overnight to get just some of the basic health care that they cannot afford. Hear about the young boy with a battered nose and an oozing ear; the single mom with a gallbladder so enlarged it’s about to kill her; and the many patients getting all of their teeth pulled. That’s right – for over 20 years, while DC politicians have been promising a better health care system, your fellow Americans in and around Wise County have been suffering. Angry yet?

And take a guess what industry dominates this part of Appalachia. No surprise, it’s coal. Like in so many parts of the country, excessive reliance on coal means high levels of poverty – the kind of poverty that creates the need for this health ‘fair.’ A recent study out of West Virginia University puts it clearly: “Coal-mining economies are not strong economies. [Coalfield communities] are weaker than the rest of the state, weaker than the rest of the region, and weaker than the rest of the nation.” There’s no doubt that the 1000s of employees of the (increasingly capital-intensive) coal industry are hard-working, admirable people; the problem is that in the 21st Century, coal helps them at the expense of others.

The second part of coal’s legacy in this area is mountain top removal. Take this extraordinary virtual flyover of Wise County to view its devastation. The human effects of this destruction are captured in the words of Wise County’s Kathy Selvage. Listen to her speak about the ‘terrible injustice‘ created by coal, literally in her backyard. And memo to the ‘birther’ crowd: if you think that the fight against mountain top removal is some godless liberal conspiracy, see this testimony from Kathy: “It was my Mother’s custom to have her early morning Bible reading on her front porch. [Because of mountaintop removal,] she was forced to move inside because she could no longer stand the noise, dust, and smell that was invading her ‘Morning with the Lord.’”

In Wise County, poverty, environmental destruction and powerlessness come together, and the result – despite the resilience of hard-working Americans who call it home – is sick families, destroyed mountains, a dysfunctional economy and at least one good lady who finds it harder to pray.
Now there certainly are winners in all of this: take Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Coal, a modern version of Daniel-Day Lewis’s ruthless oilman in There Will Be Blood. It’s hard to know where to start with this guy:

And he seems to be a coward to boot. When James Hansen accepted Blankenship’s challenge to debate global warming, the Massey CEO suddenly backed off.

So climate warriors, let’s get angry: about inexcusable poverty, the destruction wrought by coal, and the lobby-laden system that helps Blankenship thrive while too many of the good people of Wise County suffer.

And if you are angry, what are you going to do about it? Will you be willing to get arrested standing up to Massey Coal, like Jim Hansen? Lead civil disobedience against Dominion Power, right there in Wise County? Or at least, show up to your elected officials’ town meetings and speak loudly and clearly in support of health care and climate change legislation? With some hard work, maybe we can reveal Blankenship and his ilk for what they are: the Bull Connors of the dirty-energy age. There’s no time to waste.


About Jonathan Isham

Jonathan Isham Jr. is Professor of Economics at Middlebury College, where he teaches classes in environmental economics, environmental policy, introductory microeconomics, social capital, and global climate change. Since early 2005, he has spoken widely throughout the nation about building the new climate movement.  Isham serves on advisory boards for Focus the Nation, Climate Counts, and the Vermont Governor’s Commission on Climate Change. He was the co-recipient, representing Middlebury College, of the 2005 Clean Air–Cool Planet Climate Champion Award for advancing campus solutions to global warming. In January of 2006, he was featured on National Public Radio’s Radio Open Source program “Global Warming Is Not an ‘Environmental Problem.’” In January of 2007, he was trained in Nashville, Tennessee, as a member of Al Gore’s Climate Project.  He has published articles in Economic Development and Cultural Change, Journal of African Economies, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, Quarterly Journal of Economics, Rural Sociology, Social Science Quarterly, Society and Natural Resources, Southern Economic Journal, Vermont Law Review, and World Bank Economic Review. He was the coeditor of Social Capital, Development, and the Environment (Edward Elgar, 2002) and has coauthored chapters in books published by Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, and New England University Press.  He holds an AB in social anthropology from Harvard University, an MA in international studies from Johns Hopkins University, and a PhD in economics from the University of Maryland.

Peter Newman: The Eco-Efficient City

Cities and regions will move from linear to circular or closed-looped systems, where substantial amounts of their energy and material needs are provided from waste streams. Eco-efficient cities will reduce their ecological footprint by reducing wastes and reducing resource requirements.

The fifth city model is the Eco-Efficient City (read about the first city model, the Renewable Energy City; the second city model, the Carbon Neutral City; the third city model, the Distributed City; and the fourth city model, the Photosynhetic City.

A more integrated notion of energy and water as outlined above also entails seeing cities as complex metabolic systems (not unlike a human body) with flows and cycles and where, ideally the things that have traditionally been viewed as negative outputs (e.g. solid waste, wastewater) are re-envisioned as productive inputs to satisfy other urban needs, including energy. The sustainability movement has been advocating for some time for this shift away from the current view of cities as linear resource-extracting machines. This is often described as the eco-efficiency agenda.

The eco-efficiency agenda has been taken up by the United Nations and the World Business Council on Sustainable Development, with a high target for industrialized countries of a 10-fold reduction in consumption of resources by 2040, along with rapid transfers of knowledge and technology to developing countries. While this eco-efficiency agenda is a huge challenge, it is important to remember that throughout the Industrial Revolution of the past 200 years, human productivity has increased by 20 000 per cent. The next wave of innovation has a lot of potential to create the kind of eco-efficiency gains that are required.

The urban eco-efficiency agenda includes William McDonough’s ‘cradle to cradle’ concept for the design of all new products, and new systems like industrial ecology where industries share resources and wastes like an ecosystem. Good examples exist in Kalundborg, Germany and Kwinana, Australia.

The view of cities as a complex set of metabolic flows might also help to guide cities dealing with those situations (especially in the shorter term) where considerable reliance on resources and energy from other regions and parts of the world still occurs.  Policies can include sustainable sourcing agreements, region-to-region trade agreements, urban procurement systems based on green certification systems, among others.  Embracing a metabolic view of cities and metropolitan areas takes global governance in some interesting and potentially very useful directions.

This new paradigm of sustainable urban metabolism (seeing them as complex systems of metabolic flows), will require profound changes in the way cities and metropolitan regions are conceptualized as well as in the ways we plan and manage them.  New forms of cooperation and collaboration between municipal agencies, and various urban actors and stakeholder groups will be required, for instance municipal departments will need to formulate and implement integrated resource flow strategies.  New organizational and governance structures will likely be necessary as well as new planning tools and methods, for example cities that map the resource flows of their city and region, will need to see how these new data can be part of a comprehensive plan for integrating the green and brown agendas.

Toronto has a trash-to-can program, which allows them to capture methane from waste to generate electricity. This not only reuses waste and provides an inexpensive energy source, but captures a significant amount of methane that would otherwise be released in the air. Before it reached capacity in its operation, it is estimated that the Keele Valley Landfill generated three to four million dollars annually, and provided enough power for approximately 24,000 homes (Clinton Climate Initiative best practices, www.c40cities.org/bestpractices/watse/toronto_organic.jsp).

One extremely powerful example of how this eco-efficiency view can manifest in a new approach to urban design and building can be seen in the new dense urban neighborhood of Hammarby Sjöstad, in Stockholm.  Here, from the beginning of the planning of this new district, an effort was made to think holistically, to understand the inputs, outputs and resources that would be required and that would result.  For instance, about 1000 flats in Hammarby Sjöstad are equipped with biogas stoves that utilize biogas extracted from wastewater generated in the community.  Biogas also provides fuel for buses that serve the area.  Organic waste from the community is returned to the neighborhood in the form of district heating and cooling. There are many other important energy features in the design as well, most importantly perhaps is the close proximity to central Stockholm and the installation (from the beginning) of a high-frequency light rail system that makes it truly possible to live without a private automobile (there are also 30 car-sharing cars in the neighborhood).  While not a perfect example, it represents a new and valuable way to see cities, and requires a degree of interdisciplinary and inter-sectoral collaboration in the planning system that is unusual in most cities.

Eco-efficiency does not have to involve just new technology it can also be introduced into cities through intensive use of man-power as in Cairo’s famous Zabaleen recycling system (Box 6). There are many other examples of how cities across the third world have integrated waste management into local industries, buildings and food production.

What do you think? Leave us a comment.


Peter NewmanPeter Newman is Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University in Perth, Australia. He is the co-author of Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems, Green Urbanism Down Under, and Resilient Cities: Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change.


About Peter Newman

Peter Newman is a renowned Australian academic and planner who invented the term ‘automobile dependence’ to describe how we have created cities where we have to drive everywhere. For 30 years since he attended Stanford University during the first oil crisis, he has been warning cities about preparing for peak oil. Peter’s book with Jeff Kenworthy, Sustainability and Cities: Overcoming Automobile Dependence was launched in the White House in 1999.  Newman is the Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia, where he is best known for his work in reviving and extending the city’s rail system. From 2001-2003, Newman directed the production of WA’s Sustainability Strategy in the Department of the Premier and Cabinet. It was the first state sustainability strategy in the world. From 2004-2005, he was a Sustainability Commissioner in Sydney, advising the government on planning issues. From 2006-2007, he was a Fulbright Senior Scholar at the University of Virginia Charlottesville and he returned there in early 2008 as Harry Porter Visiting Professor. His new book with Tim Betaley and Heather Boyer in late 2008 will be Resilient Cities: Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change.

Peter Newman: The Distributed City

The seven key innovations of resilient cities are set as city models (being detailed over the next several weeks here at “Eco-Compass”). While no one city has shown innovation in all seven areas, some are quite advanced in one or two. The challenge for urban planners will be to apply all of these city characteristics together, to generate a sense of hope through a combination of new technology, city design and community-based innovation, which together will create the Resilient City.

The third city model is the Distributed City (read about the first city model, the Renewable Energy City and the second city model, the Carbon Neutral City).

Cities will shift from large centralized power and water systems to small-scale and neighborhood-based systems, including expanding the notion of “green infrastructure”. The distributed use of power and water in a city can enable a city to reduce its ecological footprint as power and water can be more efficiently provided using the benefits of electronic control systems, and, particularly through water sensitive urban design, a city can improve its green character.

Most power and water systems for cities over the past 100 years have become bigger and more centralized. Now the new forms of power and water are smaller scale but often they are still fitted into cities as though they were large. The movement that tries to see how these new technologies can be fitted into cities and decentralized across grids, is called distributed power and distributed water systems.

The distributed water system approach is called Water Sensitive Urban Design and includes how to use the complete water cycle, from rain and local water sources like groundwater, to feed into the system and then to recycle grey water locally and black water regionally, to ensure that there are significant reductions in water used. This system can enable the green agenda to become central to the infrastructure management of a city as stormwater recycling can involve swales and artificial wetlands that can become important habitat in the city, grey water recycling can similarly be used to green parks and gardens, and regional black water recycling can be tied into regional ecosystems. All these systems will require ‘smart’ control systems to fit them into a city grid and also will require new skills by town planners who are used to water management being a centralized function rather than being a local planning issue.

In global cities, the traditional engineering approach to power has been that the most effective and efficient way of providing energy is through larger centralized production facilities, and extensive distribution systems that transport energy relatively long distances. This is wasteful because of line losses but also because large base load power systems cannot be turned on and off easily so there is considerable power shedding when the load does not meet the need.  However renewable, low-carbon cities mostly involve a more decentralized energy production system, where production is more on a neighborhood scale and both line losses and power shedding can be avoided.  Whether a wind turbine, small biomass CHP plant, or a rooftop photovoltaic system, renewable energy is produced closer to where it is consumed, and indeed often directly by those who consume it.  This distributed generation offers a number of benefits including energy savings given the ability to better control the power production, lower vulnerability and greater resilience in the face of natural and human-caused disaster (including terrorist attacks). Clever integration of these small systems into a grid can be achieved with new technology control systems that balance the whole system in its demand and supply from a range of sources as they rise and fall and link it to storage, especially vehicle batteries through vehicle-to-grid or V2G technology. Small-scale energy systems are being developed to make more resilient cities in the future.

The same approach can be applied to water systems where there are now many cities that are able to demonstrate small scale local water systems that are very effective. The many developing cities that already have distributed water supplies from community bores and small scale sewage treatment, can look to a number of cases where these have been made safe and effective without being turned into expensive centralized systems. In Malang, East Java a small scale community sewage system was fitted into a squatter village to provide sanitation for 500 families.

Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, has a major system of wastewater reuse involving vegetables, rice, as well as fish in low lying Tranh Tri district which lies to the south of the city. Produce from the reuse system provides a significant part of the diet of the city’s people (Ho, 2002). Wastewater and stormwater are discharged untreated to four small rivers which play a dual role: drainage of wastewater from the city; and wastewater supply for reuse in agriculture and aquaculture. Conventional wastewater treatment plants have been constructed but lie idle due to lack of budget for operational and maintenance costs. About one-third of the city is sewered but its pipes are directed to these small rivers. The wastewater is 75-80% domestic and 20-25% industrial.

The system for treatment has largely been developed by the district farmers and local community over the past 30 years. Before 1960 the treatment area was a sparsely populated swamp where rice was grown but with low yields and frequent flooding. Aquaculture began to develop in the early 1960s with the construction of an extensive irrigation and drainage system to facilitate rice cultivation. Farmers began to stock seed of wild fish collected from the river in rice fields as they perceived the benefits of wastewater-fed aquaculture. Following the formation of cooperatives in 1967, land use stabilized into vegetable cultivation on higher land, rice/fish cultivation on medium level land, and year-round pond fish culture on deeper land adjacent to the main irrigation and drainage canals. Wastewater-fed aquaculture became the major occupation of 6 cooperatives with easy access to wastewater and a minor occupation of 10 others out of the total of 25 district communes.

The use of waste in a food production system must always be sympathetic to public health. Traditionally wastewater has been gathered around cities and re-used only after sufficient time has elapsed for human contaminants to be naturally removed. Excess wastes were flushed into the rivers but only if the value in those wastes was mostly removed for agriculture. The use of the bioregion for waste treatment was feasible as the capacity for it to treat was not exceeded. As cities have grown, the increase in waste has far outstripped natural capacities. Cities everywhere have to find ways of treating waste as well as re-using it. Approaches that can use new technology to totally remove waste are now feasible but a distributed approach would try to use waste as much as possible in the bioregion for agricultural production as in the East Calcutta Wetlands project.

Often public health authorities have tried to ban all use of waste for agriculture which just means that water and waste are not used efficiently or ecologically. Human health is the sole focus in this approach but it is generally not sustainable to continue like this as there is not enough water and organic fertilizer to enable bioregional agriculture to proceed ecologically. The city then tends to extract water and produce food in largely unsustainable ways. Thus approaches to water and waste will require new technologies and management systems that integrate public health and environmental engineering with ecologically sound planning (Ho, 2003).

Distributed power and water needs community support. In Toronto a possible model has been developed similar to those above in developing cities, when communities began forming ‘buying-cooperatives’ in which they pooled their buying power to negotiate special reduced prices from local photovoltaic (PV) companies that had offered an incentive to buy solar PV. The first co-op was the Riverdale Initiative for Solar Energy, or RISE, when 75 residents joined together to purchase rooftop PV systems, resulting in about a 15 percent savings in their purchase cost.  This then spread across the city. The Toronto (and Ontario province) example suggests the merits of combining bottom-up neighborhood approaches with top-down incentives and encouragement. This support for small-scale distributed production—offered through what are commonly referred to as Standard Offer Contracts (SOCs, often referred to as “feed-in tariffs” in Europe), has been extremely successful in Europe where they are now common.  The same can be done with new technologies for water and waste such as rain water tanks and grey water recycling as part of any urban approvals.

One other model can be seen in the redevelopment of the Western Harbor in Malmö , Sweden. Here the goal was to achieve distributed power and water systems from local sources.  This urban district now has 100% renewable power and an innovative storm water management system that recycles water into green courtyards and green rooftops along with the solar panels (City of Malmo, 2005). The project involves local government in the management and demonstrates that a clear plan helps to drive innovations in distributed systems.

Distributed infrastructure is beginning to be demonstrated in cities across the globe. Utilities will need to develop models with city planners of how they can do local energy and water planning with community-based approaches and local management.

What do you think? Leave us a comment.


Peter NewmanPeter Newman is Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University in Perth, Australia. He is the co-author of Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems, Green Urbanism Down Under, and Resilient Cities: Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change.


About Peter Newman

Peter Newman is a renowned Australian academic and planner who invented the term ‘automobile dependence’ to describe how we have created cities where we have to drive everywhere. For 30 years since he attended Stanford University during the first oil crisis, he has been warning cities about preparing for peak oil. Peter’s book with Jeff Kenworthy, Sustainability and Cities: Overcoming Automobile Dependence was launched in the White House in 1999.  Newman is the Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia, where he is best known for his work in reviving and extending the city’s rail system. From 2001-2003, Newman directed the production of WA’s Sustainability Strategy in the Department of the Premier and Cabinet. It was the first state sustainability strategy in the world. From 2004-2005, he was a Sustainability Commissioner in Sydney, advising the government on planning issues. From 2006-2007, he was a Fulbright Senior Scholar at the University of Virginia Charlottesville and he returned there in early 2008 as Harry Porter Visiting Professor. His new book with Tim Betaley and Heather Boyer in late 2008 will be Resilient Cities: Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change.