There’s a new club that has a growing membership around the world – it’s the 100-RE club that has cities, regions and districts racing to 100% renewable energy. Over two days last week, Climate Access attended and presented at the first ever Renewable Cities Global Learning Forum – a conference designed to bring cities together to talk over the practicalities of joining the 100-RE Club.
Many cities and regions have different reasons for committing to being 100% renewable, but as the forum progressed, there were a few standout themes.
The Rhein-Hunsrück County in Central Western Germany doesn’t have any flashy businesses that attract investment or resources that could be exploited to create an industry. County leaders in the region saw opportunity in the renewable energy industry initially as a cost-saving measure. The cost of fossil fuel energy in the County had increased by over 200% and local residents were feeling the pinch on household budgets.
Initial efforts focused on energy efficiency, enabling local residents to save $3 million over five years and reduce their energy consumption by 25%. As these efforts expanded, residents saw a boom in local renewable energy jobs, an increase in the local tax base and an overall strengthening of the local economy. As the representative at the session said, it’s about keeping the County’s money local, to benefit the region itself.
Conservation values and heritage
When Greensburg, Kansas was flattened by a tornado in 2007, the city decided to make sustainability the cornerstone of everything they did, including rebuilding efforts. For Mayor Bob Dixson, this had little to do with environmentalism, greenhouse gases or climate change. It was about community values.
In the giant tent set up by FEMA for people to shelter in as the rebuild began, local residents and leaders began building their vision for what kind of community they wanted to create. They wanted to rebuild in a way that recognized the town’s architectural and agricultural heritage and emphasized the community’s values of conservation, living within your means and being good stewards of the land, as generations of farmers before them had.
The good news was that all of these aspirations (often associated with conservative values) aligned with rebuilding sustainably. Greensburg has even made the business case to local industries that renewable energy is a winning bet.
Innovation and art
Another clear theme in the conference was that we already have the technology to make the transition to 100% renewable energy. Where we’ve failed collectively is making it cool for non-tech geeks. As Tesla clearly showed when their several thousand-dollar battery wall sold out in three days, there is a great need for fun, cool, different and interesting ways of creating (and promoting) renewable energy.
An excellent example is Solar Oasis in Barcelona and how they worked with a local community to create amenities along with art. When a proposal to install a recycling station was met with resistance by local residents, the city’s Solar Oasis project asked what the community wanted instead. The compromise they arrived at put the recycling station in the basement, a bocce court and park on the ground floor and solar panels above the playground area to create shade during the day and lighting at night. The best thing about the solar panels was they were designed and installed by an artist, so are both functional and pretty.
A consistent message from speakers across countries and sectors was how ownership can empower people and promote buy-in. One of the key strengths of Germany’s Energiewende (energy transition) has been community-based ownership that allows people to share in the benefits of renewable energy.
People can point to the local wind turbine or the solar panels on the roof of a local school and say, “That’s where our power comes from. We did that.” People take great community and civic pride in knowing the source of their power and having contributed to it. This is true in cities as well as rural areas; when people in Copenhagen were given the opportunity to invest in a wind turbine that was going to be constructed, shares sold out rapidly and even had a waitlist. Ownership and sharing in the benefits can make the difference between a windmill being seen as a blight on the landscape or a beautiful new innovation.
The biggest thing I took away from the two days of the forum was how mainstream renewable energy is now. The International Energy Agency has estimated that the tipping point for renewable energy likely happened in 2012, so the question is no longer if the world will transition to renewable energy but when. However a city or community pursues their membership in the 100-RE Club, there are benefits to be had for all along the way.
image via Amy Huva