The World's Greenest Cities

Urban areas gobble copious amounts of energy, accounting for most of world consumption. Discover 10 cities—including a few local standouts—that are innovators in eco-friendly energy usage:

Seventy-five percent of world energy consumption happens in cities, says Energe-Cites, a France-based organization, which acts as the voice of some 100 European cities committed to sustainable practices. This means that urban areas present rich opportunities for energy conservation. Indeed, a growing number of cities around the world are pursuing eco-friendly strategies. The 10 cities mentioned below are unique because of their innovative approaches to green energy usage:

Chicago, IL, USA
The word "green" is hardly associated with Chicago because of its industrial heritage. But Mayor Richard Daley has kick-started an ambitious program that aims to make Chicago the most eco-friendly city in the world. And his plan is already bringing distinction to the metropolis, which has more than a billion square feet of industrial real estate. For starters, Chicago can now claim to be one of the biggest non-utility purchasers of renewable energy in the country. Moreover, it's already on the verge of meeting its goal to buy 20% of its municipal power from renewable energy—two years ahead of the 2006 deadline set by the city government. Moreover, the city has shown creativity in promoting sustainable practices. For instance, it offers various incentives to city residents who buy historic bungalow-style homes and install energy efficient technologies in them. Through this initiative, the city is showing that historic design can go hand in hand with modern, clean energy systems.

Reykjavik, Iceland
With a population of only about 115,000, Reykjavik may be small in size but it has a huge ambition—to become the world's first hydrogen city. In April 2003, it became home to the first Shell-branded hydrogen station built by Shell Hydrogen, a global business of the Royal Dutch/Shell Group of Companies. And apart from fuel cells, Reykjavik also embraces renewable energy. Its home country of Iceland has been benefiting from its remarkable geothermal and hydro electric resources for many years and currently gets an impressive 70% of its energy from renewable energy generated on the island. Moreover, Iceland aims to become a hydrogen economy by 2050.

Vancouver, Canada
Vancouver is an even bigger user of renewable energy than Reykjavik. In fact, a whopping 90% of the energy it provides its 560,000 residents comes from renewable energy, mainly hydro electric. And it's not stopping there. It has a 100-year plan that includes far-reaching strategies that will enable the city to embrace emerging energy-efficient technologies. Moreover, the coastal city is seeking to take advantage of a broader range of renewable energy sources, including solar, wind, wave and tidal.

Sacramento, CA, USA
This central California city with a population of 400,000 consistently finds itself in the Top 10 metro areas in the U.S. when it comes to green energy sales to consumers. It can thank the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) for this distinction. The utility, which is one of the largest retail green energy suppliers in the U.S., offers a green-energy pricing program that allows consumers to pay a fixed monthly fee, which it then invests in renewable energy. Currently, the utility gets almost 60% of its energy from renewables, mainly from hydro electric resources. And it plans to broaden its portfolio, providing 10% of its electricity from non-hydro renewables by 2006 and 20% from non-hydro renewables by 2011.

Barcelona, Spain
In order to lessen carbon dioxide emissions, this city of 1.5 million is encouraging the installation of solar panels. For example, a law requires new buildings or buildings under major renovation to implement enough solar energy systems to satisfy 60% of running hot water needs. Since the law became effective, builders have applied for licenses to install 14,028 square meters of solar panels, compared to only 1,650 square meters before the law took effect, says the Barcelona Energy Agency. As a result, the city will likely save 11,222 MWh a year and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1,973 tons annually.

Portland, Oregon, USA
While renewables now provide only about 10% of its electric load, this Pacific Northwest city (population: roughly 0.5 million people) has set its sights on an ambitious goal—to get 100% of its energy from renewables by 2010. As part of that effort, it depends on solar energy to power its parking meters. What's more, it also employs fuel cells powered by waste methane, a micro hydro facility located in its drinking water system, and microturbines propelled by waste methane.

Malmo, Sweden
Malmo, which can be found in Sweden's southern province of Skane, already has hundreds of smart energy homes. And the city, which has a population of about 260,000, is not resting on its laurels. In fact, it hopes to become an international example for densely packed sustainable residences and office buildings that derive all of their energy from renewable resources. To this end, Malmo is renovating shipyard and industrial areas and turning them into residential communities. Moreover, the city is constructing energy-efficient homes with recyclable materials.

Austin, Texas, USA
Like other cities on this elite list, Austin (population: 650,000) has a lofty goal—to become the number one solar manufacturing center in the U.S. Currently, it is supporting the solar industry by offering various pro-green energy initiatives. Its municipal utility, Austin Energy, has set its sights on obtaining 35% of its energy from renewable resources and through efficiency measures by 2020. Central to the plan is what the utility calls the "nation's most ambitious solar energy initiative" which is expected to pave the way for the installation of 100 MW of solar power by 2020.

Freiburg, Germany
Freiburg is already renowned in Germany as the solar city. In this city of 200,000 people, solar panels are everywhere—in homes, hotels, sports complexes, schools, businesses and institutes. Moreover, hundreds of environment-related companies call this city home. One such company is Solar Fabrik, a photovoltaic company that says it's Germany's largest manufacturer of installation-ready solar modules and the operator of a zero-emissions factory, Europe's first carbon dioxide-neutral production facility for solar modules.

Sydney, Australia
This city of 4 million people celebrated the arrival of 2004 by using green energy to light up the 1,650-feet Harbour Bridge and 16 other landmarks. And it also embraces eco-friendly energy usage on a daily basis. In February 2003, Earth Power, a green waste generator, opened in the city, and now restaurants and supermarkets deposit 2,100 tons a day of leftover food there. The facility turns waste into gas through anaerobic digestion, a combustion-free process, and produces 3.2 MW of power. It generates electricity as well as produces high-nutrient fertilizer. Moreover, the state of New South Wales (NSW), where Sydney is located, is striving to increase green energy production and consumption. The state already holds 52% of Australia's renewable energy capacity—more than 4,051 MW.


Chicago: Green Kind of Town
Elisa Wood
Renewable Energy World, March-April 2004

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