Pictured above: A rendering of Masdar City, a “smart city” in the United Arab Emirates. By Forgemind ArchiMedia under a Creative Commons license from Flickr.com.
Yesterday the Premier of South Australia announced his ambition for Adelaide as a carbon neutral city and alluded to a green zone and electric vehicles – a bit light on detail. I have decided, therefore, to take you on a whirlwind tour of similarly ambitious cities and then pitch some ideas for making this announcement an economic boon for our city.
Masdar (pictured above) in the United Arab Emirates is famous for size of its ambition and probable expense. Estimated to cost $20billion, Masdar is currently being built and will run on renewable energy (mostly solar) to meet its goal of zero carbon, zero waste. As an aside, the tag ‘zero carbon’ suggests that it will generate all of its energy needs locally from renewable sources, as opposed to carbon neutral where the greenhouse emissions from a site can be offset by credits purchased elsewhere. This highly planned endeavour will showcase high tech, world renowned design and support specialised industries, universities and institutions for a low carbon future.
Wikipedia bills Dongtan, alongside Masdar as a zero carbon city and importantly, “The brief calls for integrated sustainable urban planning and design to create a city as close to carbon-neutral as possible within economic constraints.” This development will showcase what can be achieved when urban sustainability is designed into a city as it is built from scratch.
While the Premier was announcing ambition, Burlington in Vermont was announcing results. Yesterday it claimed to be the first reasonable sized city (popn 42,000) in the USA using 100% renewable energy. They have been chasing this strategy for well over a decade when the publicly owned utility first did its sums and concluded that renewable energy would provide the cheapest power and the most economic benefits over the long term. The city sources its power from locally sourced biomass (30%), wind and solar (20%) and hydro and also runs extensive energy efficiency programs.
Other International Examples
There are many more examples of climate smart, car free, sustainable etc. communities around the world – some built from scratch and some in transition and all with long term vision, and pursuit of social and economic benefits through a low carbon lens. As a minimum, I would recommend a look at Vauban Germany, Brighton UK, and Hammarby Sjostad in Sweden. Wikipedia has a longer list of carbon neutral pledges by countries and communities and interestingly Adelaide makes the cut in the Eco-cities entry.
But how does carbon neutral look in an Australian context?
The Sydney City Council takes a rigorous and transparent approach to measuring its emissions and buying carbon offsets in order to claim carbon neutrality. They used to buy GreenPower but have decided since 2008 to spend $2m per year on installing renewable energy generators on buildings instead. They also have an energy efficiency program and target. Sydney has been an advocate for moving toward more local and efficient generation with a masterplan and blueprint for decentralised energy by 2030.
Melbourne has been the most ambitious city in Australia to date with a goal to produce zero net emissions from the CBD and surrounding suburbs by 2020 – and a comprehensive plan to back it up. As the picture shows, this would still involve substantial purchase of carbon credits and the question needs to be asked about whether that investment is better spent in driving local changes.
Ideas for Adelaide
Adelaide needs to create a unique version of carbon neutral, in order to claim anything close to ‘world first’. This is not a worthy goal in itself but can generate significant benefits for the city if it is cast in terms of the economic and social benefits it can unlock.
My idea for a carbon neutral city is to create ten green ‘havens’, (or precincts or streets) – each of which showcases a different element of extreme low carbon living. Many of these could be part of developments already underway in the city centre and surrounding suburbs. Each haven would specialise and try to do its thing so well that there is R&D, learning and industry development involved and it would attract the residents and businesses that love its thing. Some examples:
- ENERGY: 100% renewable and owned by the energy users – A smart solar microgrid, using and managing locally owned solar power in conjunction with energy efficiency, demand management and a sophisticated relationship to the electricity market.
- WASTE: An extreme near-zero waste system, identifying the recycling opportunities, challenging the norms of what materials are needed for cradle to grave recyclability, and with 3D printing supporting a repair economy and sharing economy.
- WATER: catching and re-using every ounce of water that falls to support the life in the system. We already have some world leading expertise in aquifer recharge and water efficiency.
- GREEN: green rooves, green walls, vegie gardens. Like Singapore, a haven absorbed into a garden rather than a garden attached to the city.
- BIKES AND WALKING: What does a liveable car free zone look like and can it benefit from the enormous TDU tourism that we saw this year? Does a system like this need just a simple car sharing scheme to do away with car ownership.
- ELECTRIC AND DRIVER FREE VEHICLES: The pollution free precinct and Clipsal could become the zero carbon car race with alternative fuels and car designs. Holden V Ford might become Tesla V Toyota.
- SENSORY CITY: How can the Internet of Things help us go green.
- PUBLIC TRANSPORT HEAVEN: Where can I live and get everywhere I need to go with public transport – a haven for the elderly and less mobile.
- DESIGN CITY: Architecturally outstanding, low carbon imperatives in the design process from the outset – long term beauty, function and sustainability.
- CREATIVE CITY: A haven for the artists, the makers, the experimenters and the entrepreneurs – the source of green innovation.
Each haven will create the specialisation for some genuine world leading experiments, innovation and exportable skills.
These are my ideas – what would yours be?
or vote on your favourite: