Researchers at Arizona State University have created a simulation to map CO2 emissions in cities to individual buildings and roadway segments (or “fine spatial and temporal quantification” in academic terms). Called the Hestia Project, the simulation uses local data from buildings, air pollution reporting, and hour-by-hour traffic data to quantify emissions.
Cities are hungry for detailed emissions data, as in most cases what they can get from utilities is whole-city data, not broken down by neighborhood or building.
The idea is that while cities might be able to guess at where their CO2 emissions mostly come from, it’s more useful to know precisely where the hotspots are — a neighborhood of older houses, for example, or a handful of energy-wasting factories, or a frequently snarled intersection or merge point on a highway. By concentrating on these, a city could make significant improvements in its overall emissions picture with relative ease.
“We want to help them get the greatest reductions per dollar, the biggest bang for the buck,” said project leader Kevin Gurney, of Arizona State University.
A finer grain of detail will help target local emissions-reduction strategies. However, as our emissions measurement tools get better, we need to make sure not to miss the key land use-transportation connection that drives a big portion of greenhouse gas emissions. If a “frequently snarled intersection” looks like a significant emissions source in your community, the easy answer is widen the road, add some turn lanes, and voila, the source is reduced. Freeway-widening might have a similar, short-term impact. But adding capacity to the roadway to reduce total emissions will obviously backfire.
Another related issue deals with accounting or “responsibility” for emissions. Suburban locations may look pretty green, since by comparison, not much of the regional travel occurs inside their boundaries. All the “hotspots” are core freeways and intersections. If we look at emissions based purely on geography, we miss the fact that suburban growth drives urban transport emissions. That’s why in the community greenhouse gas accounting world, the newest methodologies use a “demand-based” method for accounting for transportation emissions, which more accurately assigns emissions to communities base on regional travel patterns. It would be great to see the Hestia project “reassign” some of the roadway emissions to the origin and destination locations and see how the map colors change.
David Roberts reminds us the issue is really pretty simple, and depressing.
It’s finally here. The first overt economic deterrent aimed at US consumers for their emissions of greenhouse gases has arrived on our shores. Figuratively, at least.
This past week, most major US airlines levied a $3 ticket surcharge on all flights to and from European Union (EU) nations after a European court determined that the “EU Aviation Directive” can and should apply to them. This means that US-based airlines will need to acquire and submit carbon emission permits in line with their emissions, consistent with the EU emissions trading scheme.
Boulder has actually had a carbon tax since 2007, but the airline fee is the first with a national impact.
If the EU cycling rate was the same as it is in Denmark, where the average person cycles almost 600 miles (965km) each year, then the bloc would attain anything from 12% to 26% of its targeted transport emissions reduction, depending on what forms of transport the cycling replaced, according to the report by the Brussels-based European Cycling Federation (ECF).
This figure is likely to be a significant underestimate as it deliberately excludes the environmental impact of building road infrastructure and parking, or maintaining and disposing of cars.
These figures are for the EU’s 2050 emissions reduction target. The figures are even greater for 2020 targets.
Bikes are not a new technology that would require long adoption periods and high initial capital costs. Almost everyone knows how to use them, and they are cheap. They also have myriad co-benefits, not least of which is increased physical activity. To get serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we should take a close look at the bike as a potential solution.
Using ECF’s study as a model and making some estimates, the Twin Cities metro could see some significant emissions reductions if we biked like the Danes, but getting there would be tough. I’ll get to that, but first some initial thoughts on the Europeans. Continue reading
Jane C.S. Long has an interesting, and sobering, review of the work of the California Council on Science and Technology on what it will really take to get to 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This is the target that California has adopted, and what many scientists have said we need to aim for to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Minnesota has actually adopted this target in state law as well (remember the old Tim Pawlenty?), but hasn’t done much about it since.
So how can we get to an 80 percent reduction? Not easily.
Having done the maths, what did we discover? If California could very quickly replace cars, appliances, boilers, buildings and power plants with today’s state-of-the art technology, replace and expand current electricity generation with non-emitting sources and produce as much biofuel as possible by 2050, the state could reduce emissions a lot — by perhaps 60% below 1990 levels. But it would have to replace or retrofit every building to very high efficiency standards. Electricity would have to replace natural gas for home and commercial heating. All buses and trains, virtually all cars, and some trucks would be electric or hybrid. And the state’s entire electricity-generation capacity would have to be doubled, while simultaneously being replaced with emissions-free generation. Low-emissions fuels would have to be made from California’s waste biomass plus some fuel crops grown on marginal lands without irrigation or fertilizer.
To reach an 80% cut will take new technology.
That new technology includes “major advances in near-zero-emissions fuel”. According to Long, “California can’t just spend or deploy its way to an 80% reduction or beyond — and neither can anywhere else.”
The slides from two sessions I presented at the 2011 Minnesota APA conference are now online:
All the maps and analysis that was used to develop the LEED ND presentation can be found here.
An EPA-supported study shows that if you’re concerned about energy use from urban development (in this case, residential buildings), you should look at location efficiency first, rather than building efficiency. The study describes location efficiency this way:
Housing that is located in a walkable neighborhood near public transit, employment centers, schools, and other amenities allows residents to drive less and thereby reduces transportation costs. Development in such locations is deemed to be “location efficient,” given a more compact design, higher-density construction, and/ or inclusion of a diverse mix of uses.
As the graph above shows, locating housing in location-efficient neighborhoods has a greater impact on the combined housing-transportation energy use than improving the performance of buildings and automobiles. EPA says that locating homes in these areas, where some automobile trips can be replaced with transit or other transportation modes, lead to reductions in household energy use of 39 to 50 percent. While I’m a little hesitant about the study’s assumptions of a 45 percent reduction in vehicle miles in TOD neighborhoods, the larger point is still valid: location has a large impact on energy use by urban development, larger than is often assumed, and deserving of more attention than it’s given.
The study uses energy consumption data for housing and transportation that was collected as national averages, not for any particular location. The “energy-efficient” homes data was based on Energy Star homes. So, of course, results from specific regions or cities may vary. Also, Energy Star is not the most energy efficient way to build a home, but it’s relatively affordable and has large market share compared with other home rating systems.
While location efficiency may be more important than building efficiency in terms of energy savings, it’s obviously a more complicated and politically charged topic than building energy efficiency. Improvements to buildings bring nearly immediate and focused benefits to owners, while decisions about density and location have benefits which are more widely distributed and whose paybacks accumulate over a longer period. Matthew Lister, who works for the firm that prepared the study, told Environmental Building News we shouldn’t just focus on the energy savings, though:
“The underlying story is about quality of life.” The choice to live in a densely settled, mixed-use neighborhood, Lister argues, is not just about saving money or even the planet; it’s about “less time in the car and access to more choices,” as well as more work opportunities. The report also touches on social equity, he said. “People have to drive further and further out so they can afford a house,” but then end up “shackled to two car payments,” which raises the effective cost of their housing.
Dakota County is the first county in Minnesota to complete an greenhouse gas emissions inventory for government operations and adopt a target for reductions. Now the County has the beginnings of a plan to get there as well.
I am happy to say that I was heavily involved in the process to develop this plan for reductions and bring it to review and adoption by the County Board. Our 15% reduction target for 2015 matches those adopted by the State of Minnesota, Hennepin County and the Midwest Governors Accord. The plan includes energy efficiency improvements to buildings, improving fleet efficiency, exploring renewable energy alternatives and reducing employee commute impacts. We will also be completing a county-wide emissions inventory, likely in 2010.
We believe the 15% reduction is totally doable, and will likely even save the County money. However, even after tons of research, I can still say that the devil will be in the details, and the next year will be challenging. Wish us luck!
Vacation means scoping out a new city, beautiful mountains and extra time to read all the news I’ve missed. Because of this great free time, I caught a four-part series on the NYT Economix blog by Edward Glaeser about the economic calculus of a high-speed rail investment (thanks Transportationist). The second part, (the first is really an intro, but a good read) is an abbreviated cost-benefit analysis of a hypothetical 240-mile line between Dallas and Houston.
The bottom line? Bad news for HSR in his estimation. Costs are six times greater than benefits. Even with a ridership level equivalent to the Northeast corridor, costs are three times greater. Glaeser argues that this math is tough to beat, and I would agree given the limited number of benefits he is analyzing. What he labels “passenger benefits” only include monetary ones, not congestion and not environmental benefits, which he promises to tackle next time.
I took a stab at quantifying the greenhouse gas pollution savings. Read on to find out if this benefit can make up the difference. Continue reading