Figuring out how much clean energy your city or town uses isn’t always easy.
Percentages and projections are frequently thrown around while sustainability-touting legislators talk a good game. But the reality of a city’s dependance on renewable energy — solar, wind, hydropower and geothermal included — is often exaggerated or misunderstood. Cities that loudly trumpet their "greenness" sometimes aren’t so green at all. It can be hard to know.
Complete with a nifty interactive map, a new analysis published by CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project) details which cities are walking the talk when it comes to the full — or almost full — adaptation of renewable energy.
The London-based nonprofit, zeroing in on 570 global cities, concluded that more than 100 are pulling at least 70 percent of their energy from renewable sources. Forty can claim to be 100 percent powered by renewable energy. In 2015, only 40 cities used more than 70 percent clean energy, according to CDP, which makes for a 150 percent increase. This dramatic bump goes to show that our cities — as always — are acting as trailblazers for a more sustainable future.
This is particularly true in the United States. The sitting presidential administration has embraced a mostly regressive view of renewable energy as various environmental protections and climate goals are being dismantled, disregarded or outright abandoned. In turn, progressive mayors have emerged as sustainable saviors of sorts, eager and enthusiastic to pick up the slack for a sidelined federal government.
Burlington paves the way
Perched on the shores on Lake Champlain, Burlington, Vermont, has made big waves in the renewable energy market. (Photo: Jay8085/flickr)
Some American cities that pull 70 percent or more of their power from renewable sources have been plugging away at their goals since well before noted wind turbine hater Donald Trump was named commander-in-chief. Take, for example, the beautiful, lively and previously coal-powered city of Burlington, Vermont (pop: 42,000), which achieved 100 percent renewable energy in 2014.
“Burlington, Vermont is proud to have been the first city in the United States to source 100 percent of our power from renewable generation," Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger says in a CDP press statement. “Through our diverse mix of biomass, hydro, wind, and solar, we have seen firsthand that renewable energy boosts our local economy and creates a healthier place to work, live, and raise a family. We encourage other cities around the globe to follow our innovative path as we all work toward a more sustainable energy future.”
Other clean energy-embracing U.S. burgs identified by the CDP as “Renewable Energy Cities” include Seattle, Eugene, Oregon and Aspen, Colorado. (To the north, the Canadian cities of Vancouver, North Vancouver, Winnipeg, Montreal and Port George, British Columbia all make the cut.)
While the list of American cities that use a majority renewable energy is brief, this doesn’t mean that a multitude of other American cities aren’t already on their way. The CDP mentions 58 cities and towns — some quite large like Atlanta and San Diego — that have committed to transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy in the coming years.
As CDP writes, “much of the drive behind city climate action and reporting comes from the 7,000+ mayors signed up to The Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy who have pledged to act on climate change.”
Omitted from the CDP’s analysis are a few smaller American towns that lean entirely on renewables including Rock Port, Missouri (100 percent wind), Greensburg, Kansas (wind, solar, geothermal) and Kodiak, Alaska (wind and hydro).
African, Latin American cities dominate
The Ecuadorian capital of Quito once relied heavily on fossil-fuels. Now, most of its energy comes from hydropower. (Photo: golo/flickr)
Outside of North America, many of the cities completely or almost completely run by renewable energy aren’t all that surprising: Auckland and Wellington, New Zealand; the Nordic capitals of Oslo, Stockholm and Reykjavik; and the Swiss cities of Zurich, Lausanne and Basel, which is powered almost entirely from hydropower generated by the city’s own energy supply company. Italian and Portuguese cities appear a couple of times. And although no British cities or towns are among the places recognized by CDP, the organization notes that 80 cities and towns across the U.K. recently pledged to make a full switch to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. This includes Manchester, Glasgow, Birmingham and 16 boroughs of London.
What really stands out on the list is the presence of Latin American and African cities. Countries ranging from Kenya to Colombia to Cameroon to Chile are all represented. In fact, Brazil, Latin America’s leader in the renewable energy market, makes up a chunk of the list with a total of 44 cities using mostly or entirely renewable energy. (Renewable energy accounts for over 85 percent of electricity produced in Brazil, with hydroelectricity making up a bulk of that figure.)
Inje, a sparsely populated county located in Gangwon Province, South Korea, is the sole Asian city identified by CDP. (There's also only one Australian city on the list: Hobart, which isn't even on the Australian continent but in the island state of Tasmania.)
Per CDP data, a total of 275 global cities are now using hydropower, 189 are tapping into wind power and 184 have embraced solar photovoltaic panels. Sixty-five cities harness geothermal energy while 164 generate clean energy using biomass.
Says Kyra Appleby, director of the Cities program for CDP: “Cities are responsible for 70 percent of energy-related C02 emissions and there is immense potential for them to lead on building a sustainable economy. Reassuringly, our data shows much commitment and ambition. Cities not only want to shift to renewable energy but, most importantly — they can."