Published On: Fri, Mar 9th, 2018

Good News for Renewable Energy: 101 Cities Sourced at Least 70% of Their Electricity from Renewable Sources in 2017

2018 hasn’t got off to a good start for renewable energy and climate change advocates: President Trump’s tariff increase on imported solar panels and the surge of arctic air that hit Europe end-February were bleak reminders that climate change is stronger than the voice of the skeptics and not every great power is willing to fight against it. But, there are reasons to be optimistic too. As indicated by the non-profit researcher CDP, more than 100 cities are now powered mostly by renewable energy, whereas in 2015 only 42 were in this situation. CDP data shows that 101 cities of 570 get at least 70% of their power from renewable energy sources and 43 cities of those analyzed are 100% powered by green energy. Their map reveals cities from all over the globe slowly shifting from fossil fuels and joining the fight against climate change by harnessing solar, hydrothermal and wind power.  

photo/ StockSnap

The list of cities powered almost entirely by renewable energy includes names that have been strong advocates of the environment for years, like Oslo and Reykjavik, as well as new names, like Burlington, Nairobi and Brasília. This is clear evidence that renewables are no longer a disparate trend followed by a select few visionaries, but a mass-scale phenomenon that anyone can join and that can benefit both small and large economies.

Using specific geography to harness renewable energy

Not every country uses renewable energy in the same way. Depending on their geographical position, climate, resources and infrastructure, countries can develop their own long-term strategy to harness renewable energy. For example, the city of Reykjavik has an abundance of geothermal energy sources, which they used to develop a robust electrical and heat network. Having reached its goal of sourcing all its energy from renewable sources, Reykjavik now plans to get rid of fossil fuel vehicles by 2040.

The biggest (and most pleasant) surprise comes from Latin American cities – 30 of the 43 cities powered entirely by renewable energy are in Latin America, which invested a total of $183 million in this sector in the past six months. Although Europe and Africa made biggest investments, they only account for 20% of the 101 cities powered almost entirely by renewable energy.

UK is making some bold commitments as well – at present, 84 cities pledged to become 100% renewable by 2050, although at present no British town or city is on the CDP renewables map.

One small city to take inspiration from is Basel, in Switzerland, which now generates half of its warm water supply from renewable sources and allocates a considerable budget to carbon reduction. These positive changes were made possible by legislative measures, but also by the overwhelmingly positive public support.

Although Donald Trump withdrew the US from the Paris Accord, the US is still on the map with several cities taking their energy from renewable sources. Supported by American Power and Gas, independent energy companies and non-profit organizations, 10% of the energy used in the US is renewable. In a recent article that appeared in Forbes, the President of American Power and Gas, Jim Bridgeforth estimated that 80% of US energy consumption comes from industrial sectors using crude sources of energy making the transition on a large scale difficult at best.

With that said, the biggest impact comes from the wind power sector, which has grown by 2337% in the past five years and continues to grow, the only 100% renewable city in the US is Burlington, Vermont. They achieved energy independence after decades of environmental efforts and now has some of the cheapest electricity prices. It’s a great example of how a small community can achieve its energy goals if it has the support of local businesses and municipal governance. The cities of San Diego, Rochester, San Francisco and Grand Rapids have announced their goals of becoming 100% renewable in the next 20 years.

As proven time and time again through case studies and economic analysis, renewable energy does not hinder economic development. Moreover, it is not exclusive to industrialized Western cities, quite the contrary. In the past years, developing countries have made more efforts to reduce their carbon footprint than rich countries and have achieved incredible results. Apart from China, which has been involved in renewable energy projects for quite some time now, we can also see praisable activity from Bangladesh, which is the largest market for residential solar panels in the world. Africa spent nearly $240 million on renewable energy projects and the cities of Harare, Dar Es Salaam and Mazabuka get 5% of their electricity from solar power. Kananga, in the DRC, gets 30% of their electricity from solar, which not only reduce electricity prices, but also attracts investors.  

What triggered the change in mentality?

In addition to the 101 cities that get almost all of their energy from renewable sources, 400 more declared that they are taking measures to become fossil fuel free by 2050. But what is the reason behind this long-awaited shift in mentality? Part of it is due to the intense awareness work carried out through the Paris Agreement, which made it clear that cities generate more than 70% of carbon emissions and without large scale efforts, environmental protection would not be possible. Then, there were the pioneering cities that lead by example. It can be easy to dismiss renewable energy projects for fear that they might be expensive or halt economic growth, but the communities that weren’t afraid to innovate showed that these myths are unfounded. The small city of Burlington, Vermont, in the US is just one example that showed the transformative power of sustained renewable energy efforts. In spite of what coal and gas giants have to say, the economic and environmental benefits of renewable energy speak for themselves and, as prices drop all over the world, the world is slowly embracing the change.

Author: Cynthia Madison

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