Following up on the first 20 cleantech city solutions that I promoted here and here, below are 10 more cleantech solutions that cities can implement to more quickly propel humanity into a sustainable cleantech future.
As before, I highly encourage you to take some of these suggestions and try to get them implemented in your city (or county/province/state) — whether via lobbying and policymaking, civic activism, nonprofit or entrepreneurial initiative, or mafia-style threats and bribes (of course).
Thanks to the wonderful report EV City Casebook — 50 Big Ideas for some of these ideas, and thanks to readers for the two at the end.
1. Attractive, Eye-Catching EV Charging Stations
I previously wrote that cities should help to stimulate more electric car growth by providing EV charging infrastructure. However, I have a big gripe with the vast majority of EV charging infrastructure that is out there — it’s super discreet and often ugly. I walked by one charging station almost every day for approximately one year without even noticing it was there. Once I did discover it, I was disappointed at how ugly it is. But it’s basically the norm.
People are superficial. Something pretty is seen as better in many unrelated ways. In my opinion, EV charging stations should be pretty and should be designed with the aim of catching people’s eyes. If they were, a much greater portion of the public would realize electric cars exist, would pay attention to their market growth, would have positive initial opinions of them, and would start to consider them for future purchases.
Looking at a screenshot of EV charging stations in my home county of Sarasota from PlugShare (below), you can see there are dozens of EV charging stations in the county.
How many of those do you think stand out enough that people driving by or even parking next to them notice that they’re EV charging stations? How many of those charging stations do you think could be classified as pretty? Yeah … not many, if any.
It would be great of cities put some effort into not just supplying the electricity connection but also marketing EV life. If city or county governments aren’t doing it, though, I think there’s also an opportunity for EV nonprofits or startups to focus on this. With a bit of advertising or sponsorship to support the work, EV life in many cities could get a huge profile boost.
By the way, I don’t think it’s an accident that Tesla’s got so many hot-looking Supercharging stations and that even the basic Supercharger design catches one’s eye in a strong but pleasant way.
2. Wireless EV Charging
Wireless charging certainly isn’t a requirement for EV life. A small minority of EV drivers use it. But it’s one of those things that just boosts the convenience of EV life that much more. For common consumers, I wonder how much wireless EV charging could inspire them to go electric. I wonder how much they are turned off by fear of normal charging and the misconception that it’s difficult or even dangerous.
In any case, wireless charging is a cool tech that gets people’s “inspiration antennae” jumping, and it can genuinely make EV life more convenient.
Cities could partner with initial wireless EV charging leaders — well, there’s basically one standout leader — and implement some wireless charging spots around the city. Of course, being wireless, such charging spots could be essentially invisible, but that would be counterproductive. As noted in #1, the parking spots should catch people’s eyes and look nice.
Image by Plugless
3. Superfast Charging Collaborations
In another corner of the EV charging world, any city could become a world leader by jumping into a superfast charging collaboration. As of now, I don’t know of any non-Tesla superfast charging stations, but EVgo has reportedly broken ground on one station in Baker, California, and ChargePoint has launched a superfast charging product. Furthermore, Daimler, BMW, Volkswagen Group, and Ford have signed a superfast charging MoU in Europe.
Cities or counties can become early leaders in this critical segment of the EV world. They can make themselves home to this important infrastructure, perhaps by reaching out to EVgo, ChargePoint, automakers, and others to host initial stations.
4. Pricing in Pollution
Including the price of pollution in all relevant city calculations should be the norm. The tragedy of the commons comes from each of us not valuing our common resources broadly and holistically enough. Governments should know better — they are supposed to be all about acting in favor of society as a whole. So, whether evaluating a highway project, a parking garage, or a new park, the government’s calculations should include estimated costs or savings from air quality changes, climate change, and water quality changes. Any decision affecting any of these things should consider those costs/savings.
Again, Palo Alto has been a leader on this front. I think any of you who are interested in working this into your city’s or county’s policies should contact Gil Friend, Chief Sustainability Officer of Palo Alto, for some help.
5. Real Bike Highways
I wrote previously that cities should invest a ton of money into bicycling infrastructure, but I didn’t provide specific recommendations. One critical thing that is lacking in nearly every city in North American and many European cities is an integrated, continuous bicycle network. At the least, bicycle highways should be long, continuous, protected lanes that allow people to comfortably ride from one place to another.
Too many bike lanes are thin, lightly marked edges of the roadway that many drivers assume are just the shoulder of the road. Furthermore, many bike lanes get cut off after just a short distance. Can you imagine if you were driving around a city and the road kept getting cut off? Can you imagine if you kept having to share road space with train tracks that frequently had trains running on them — where you’d have to wait, dodge trains, or drive right next to trains?
New York City is making progress on this front, with some examples that should inspire other cities. Below are a couple of pics of the bike highway indicated on the map above.
Barcelona, Spain, has been pioneering what it’s calling “Superblocks.” In each of these Superblocks, as much as 60% of road space is transformed into green space, bike paths, pedestrian walkways, etc. “To begin, a square of 3×3 city blocks of the Eixample district will be closed off to cars (with the exception of those who live on the block and drive, who will be able to continue at very reduced speeds), creating a 9-block ‘Superblock.’ This will mean more space and quiet for residents to actually live — with greenery, room to walk and cycle, and recreational space that has the possibility to make the neighborhood a more social environment.”
The Superblocks can be transformed in various ways, but the aim is to refocus transportation infrastructure and public space on human-scale modes of transport that dramatically boost quality of life and clean the air. In the case of Barcelona, air pollution might be linked to 3,500 deaths per year and 19,000 hospital visits. The idea is to help cut those depressing numbers.
Other cities can take this idea and run with it to create more high-quality areas of their cities, cut overall air pollution, and green their urban environments as well.
7. Colored Bike Lanes & Bike Boxes
Getting back to specific bike infrastructure again, a couple of other key solutions are to color bike lanes and include “bicycle boxes” at the front of car lanes at red lights. You can see colored bike lanes in the pics for solution #5 (above), and here are a couple of pics I took of a bike box in Groningen, the Netherlands:
That box would routinely be stuffed full of bicyclists.
Colored bike lanes are on practically every street in the Netherlands, and these bike boxes are at many major intersections. The colored bike lanes and colored bike boxes help to increase awareness of bicyclists and make their section of the road more obvious, but they do much more than that. They signify that bicyclists are important — even “more important,” it seems, when bike boxes are used. The subconscious effect is subtle, but it is powerful.
8. Electric Vansharing
I suggested launching electric carsharing programs in the first article in this series, but a variation on that theme has popped up since then that seems equally brilliant. A new pilot program in Paris called VULe Partagés is experimenting with electric vansharing, which is particularly aimed at local businesses, craftspeople, and traders.
The initial pilot is for one year and 10 electric vans from 3 different manufacturers. These vans will primarily live at 5 charging stations. Presuming the pilot goes well, the program will be expanded to more parts of Paris in approximately one year.
This is one of those simple but powerful ideas that should be popping up all over the world at this point. Early in the evolution of carsharing, bikesharing, and similar initiatives, I saw the clear consumer benefits and practicality of those programs and I predicted they would grow in popularity quickly. They did. I think electric vansharing will see similarly dramatic growth. It just makes too much sense.
Help your city to be an early leader on this one instead of a late follower.
9. Electric Landscaping Equipment
“Stealing” the idea from one of our commenters, BigWu, on the first article: “a switch to electric landscaping equipment in city centers (large park mowers should be excepted).” Many non-electric landscaping machines are absurdly polluting and noisy. They need to go. Cities should mandate it — simply for the improved quality of life of their residents, let alone the climate benefits.
Back to BigWu’s comment: “The tyranny of nightmarish pollution from 2-stroke leaf blowers and trimmers must be stopped! The marketplace already sells heavy duty battery electric alternatives with equal power and 90% lower noise emissions.”
10. Super-Efficient Building Codes
Another suggestion from a reader/commenter comes from Freddy D: “good building codes.” This should indeed be much higher up the list. Good building codes are key to any city becoming a cleantech leader. “Something modeled off of PassiveHaus or the new California 2020 net-zero codes,” Freddy D specifically recommended (links added). Here’s a great story from the NRDC on the California standards, and here’s one published on CleanTechnica by Carl Sterner of SEFAIRA.
Freddy D provided a few more useful suggestions on this topic:
1. All new construction needs to be super efficient. (I don’t agree with net zero literally because multi-unit 6 story residences should be encouraged and they are the most environmentally friendly and pleasant living spaces). Net-zero efficiency principles should be followed, even if onsite generation isn’t feasible.
2. All buildings must get an “MPG” energy evaluation when rented or sold. All existing rentals have 3 years to get an energy evaluation.
3. All new construction is EV charger ready for all parking spots /garages.
4. All existing rentals have 7 years (and a progress scale) to equip all parking spots with EV chargers.
Great ideas. However, as he notes, you can dig into the various super-efficient standards in place already — Passivhaus, MINERGIE-P, California’s Title 24 standards, etc. — and pick and choose elements for your own jurisdiction. Then, as with everything above, push, push, push until your city/county adopts them.