US Mayors Are Working Diligently On Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy

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If you were a mayor of a US city, what would you be doing to convert your municipality to renewable energy? What energy efficiency measures would you pursue? If you and other mayors are working to achieve a zero emissions community currently, what obstacles stand in your way from achieving these goals?

A recent report, “Leveraging New Technologies to Modernize Infrastructure and Improve Energy Efficiency in America’s Cities,” provides timely information on how mayors are working in the US to incorporate energy technologies and infrastructure improvements.

Throughout the report, it is clear that respondents have evolved in just a few years in their positive recognition of renewable energy progress and urban applications. City leaders have become much more knowledgeable about the need to deploy energy technologies to improve city infrastructure.

Most Promising Technologies for Reducing Energy Use & Carbon Emissions in Cities

The 103 US mayors in this survey were asked to select the most promising technologies from a list of 20 options. (Note: Some questions offered mayors the opportunity to list up to three choices or all that apply.)

With increased attention to the deployment of electric vehicles to “electrify” more of the transportation sector, this survey queried mayors on specific issues relating to the increased use of electric vehicles (EVs). Of particular note is that more than half of the mayors identified all-electric vehicles as the “most promising technology” for reducing energy use and carbon emissions in their cities.

  • All-electric vehicles 55%
  • Low-energy buildings 49% (e.g., construction and retrofitting of public buildings)
  • Solar electricity generation 47% (e.g., photovoltaics)
  • LED or other energy-efficient lighting 43%  (including street lights, buildings and connected systems)
  • Energy-efficient appliances, pumps, and other systems 27%
  • Smart grids / smart meters 13% (monitoring electricity use in homes/offices)
  • Hybrid solar-energy storage systems 11%  (e.g., batteries)
  • Hybrid vehicles 10% (combination gasoline/electric)
  • Waste-to-energy conversion 7% (i.e., creating electricity o r heat from combustion of waste)
  • Energy-efficient water treatment technology 6%
  • Methane capture from landfills and/or bio-solids 5%

More than 2 out of 3 mayors indicate their city has a plan/strategy for building out this infrastructure. These mayors with a plan/strategy (69%) were then asked if the technology’s implementation was dependent upon securing additional resource commitments from federal, state, and/or private sector partners. Nearly 9 of 10 mayors (89%) are counting on partner resources to help fund their EV charging infrastructure.

Nearly every mayor (97%) indicates that their EV charging infrastructure plan/strategy was part of a larger city effort to reduce energy use/climate emissions in the transportation sector.

Technologies Receiving Top Priority in Next 6 Months

More than half of all mayors are working to “increase significantly” the deployment of solar energy technologies on city buildings and facilities.

  • Solar electricity generation 21% (e.g., photovoltaics)
  • All-electric vehicles 17%
  • LED or other energy-efficient lighting 14% (including street lights, buildings & connected systems)
  • Low-energy buildings 13% (e.g., construction and retrofitting of public buildings)
  • Electric vehicle charging stations 10%
  • Energy efficient appliances, pumps, and other systems 9%
  • Hybrid vehicles (combination gasoline/electric) 4%
  • Hybrid solar-energy storage systems (e.g., batteries) 3%

It is noteworthy that these priorities diverge somewhat from earlier surveys. In the Conference’s 2014 survey, “Energy Efficiency and Technologies in America’s Cities,” two-thirds of the mayors (66%) identified LED or other efficient lighting, solar electricity generation, and low energy buildings as their top three priorities. In the 2016 survey, 3 of 4 mayors (76%) chose the same technologies in the same order. In this new survey, less than half of the respondents (48%) identify these technologies, and they rank them differently.

Areas Cities Are Targeting Most for Improved Energy Efficiency or Reduced Energy Consumption

More than 7 of 10 mayors identify energy (e.g., shifting fuel sources, solar energy, methane capture and/or distributed generation) and public buildings (e.g., heating, cooling, and ventilation) as the top two areas cities are targeting most for improved energy efficiency and reduced energy consumption.

  • Energy 71% (e.g., shifting fuel sources, solar energy, methane capture, distributed generation)
  • Public buildings 71% (e.g., heating, cooling, ventilation)
  • Outdoor lighting 44% (e.g., of roads and public spaces)
  • Public transit 25% (e.g., service frequency, more e!icient vehicles, alternative fuel vehicles, EVs)
  • Wastewater treatment 22% (e.g., energy use by treatment plants & collection systems)
  • Water supply 15% (e.g., purification, production & distribution of potable and industrial water)
  • Recreation 8% (e.g., heating cooling, ventilation & lighting of parks, ball fields, stadiums)
  • Traffic management on roads 8%(e.g., Intelligent Transportation Systems including smart signals)
  • Waste management 6% (e.g., transportation, treatment, incineration, composting)
  • Public safety 5% (e.g., heating, cooling, ventilation & transportation for police, fire, emergency services)

Most Significant Challenges to Increasing Energy Efficiency & Conservation in these Areas

When asked to identify the “most significant challenges” to increasing energy efficiency and conservation in these areas, survey respondents overwhelmingly cite financial constraints and costs. Mayors rank these 4 funding concerns as major obstacles to embracing energy efficiency measures and replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy options:

  1. Local budget/local funding constraints (69%)
  2. High up-front costs (45%)
  3. Limited/no available federal funding (29%)
  4. Limited/no available state funding (28%)

These top challenges are the same — and in identical order — as the 2016 survey found, with similar percentage shares. Also of concern were:

  • Developing infrastructure for new technologies 22% (e.g., CNG fueling stations or EV charging facilities)
  • Inadequate technical expertise of city staff 18%
  • Current infrastructure still working / hard to justify upgrades 16%
  • Utility support limited 14%
  • Other (city specified in writing) 14%
  • Low/uncertain rate of return 13%
  • Unproven track record of technologies/systems 7%
  • Insufficient private sector offerings 5%
  • Lack of public support 4%

Mayors are Working toward Improving Energy Efficiency in Buildings

More than 2 out of 5 mayors — 43% of all respondents — have already developed a comprehensive city energy plan, with nearly all others anticipating their city will have a plan within the next 3 years. For cities without an energy plan (57%), one in 10 of mayors (10%) expect to develop one within the next year, nearly half (45%) within two years, and a sizable share (38%) within 3 years. Planning consists of:

  • Retrofitting city-owned buildings 80%
  • Providing energy audits 44% (e.g., city buildings, residential or commercial buildings)
  • Revising building energy codes 40%(e.g., International Energy Efficiency Construction Code)
  • Retrofitting commercial and industrial buildings 28%
  • Training/certification of workers/building operators/others 19%
  • Retrofitting multi-family buildings 19%
  • Retrofitting single-family residences 16%

Facilities Now Being Targeted for Connected Lighting

Public spaces are sites where both social communication and movement of people, things, and goods take place. These are classic, usually architecturally designed spaces between buildings that have been crucial to the functioning of the community and its social, historic, and economic life. Mayors are working to extend the use and vitality of these public space with enhanced city lighting.

  • Street Lights 86%
  • Landmarks 36% (e.g., bridges, iconic structures, and neighborhoods/districts)
  • City-Owned Buildings 29%
  • Public Parking Structures/Lot 29%
  • Traffic Lights 29%
  • Athletic Fields 25%
  • Parks 25%

Mayors are Working toward More Connected Lighting

When asked what they believe are the key benefits of deploying LED and connected lighting systems, mayors overwhelmingly identify cost savings and carbon emissions/energy use reduction.

  • Cost saving 85%
  • Carbon emissions/energy use reduction 77%
  • Longevity/reliability of luminaires 52%
  • Lower future maintenance costs 40%
  • Public safety 25%
  • Neighborhood enhancement/restoration 9%
  • System management 8% (e.g., wireless/wired or sensor controls of lighting)

How Connected LED Lighting Systems Can Leverage Local Infrastructure to Deliver Additional Capabilities

For cities that have deployed connected lighting or are now considering such deployments, nearly two in 3 mayors are working to incorporate lighting technology to help them leverage local infrastructure to deliver additional capabilities, citing public Wi-Fi as their top choice.

  • Public Wi-Fi 65% (i.e., using light poles to expand broadband services)
  • Deep dimming of lights  59% (i.e., only when no vehicles or pedestrians are present)
  • Traffic monitoring and control 44% (i.e., improved traffic analysis and queue management)
  • Air quality monitoring 44%
  • Pedestrian counting and crowd detection 32%
  • Smart parking 29% (i.e., deliver real-time parking availability info to drivers and city)
  • Gun shot detection 27%
  • Noise detection 12%

Final Thoughts about How Mayors are Working toward Energy Goals

This report was prepared by The US Conference of Mayors and sponsored by Signify. And these mayors are not alone — mayors are working around the globe to increase energy efficiency and transition to renewable energy sources. Look no farther than the City of Oslo, Norway, which has a plan to slash carbon emissions in the next 8 years.

That’s a hefty goal, and, somehow, it seems as if it will happen with its 16 target areas of improvement. Let’s hope the US gets the same kind of municipal focus.

Photograph by Carolyn Fortuna/CleanTechnica

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.

Carolyn Fortuna has 1248 posts and counting. See all posts by Carolyn Fortuna