Nearly four decades after President Carter adventurously installed solar panels on the White House, America’s energy transition away from fossil fuels has seen only modest progress. 2007 marked the first year in history when more than half of the world’s population lived in cities, and the U.N. estimated that, by 2030, urban settings will be home to nearly two thirds of the global population. However, it was just in March 2017 that monthly electricity generation from wind and solar exceeded 10% of total U.S. electricity generation for the first time.
As America’s vibrant cities grow at an unprecedented pace, so does the importance of sustainable urban planning, power generation, transport systems, water and sanitation, and waste management. We set out to gauge how U.S. cities fare in terms of sustainability, and how the commercial real estate industry has embraced green building to support these efforts. We ended up with a ranking of 40 ‘sustainably powered’ U.S. cities. Read on to see how we did it and what the results show.
Methodology: Our Scores, Explained
For the purpose of this study, we looked at data on 40 U.S. cities: Arlington, Va.; Atlanta, Ga.; Austin, Texas; Baltimore, Md.; Boston, Mass.; Boulder, Colo.; Chicago, Il.; Cleveland, Ohio; Columbus, Ohio; Dallas, Texas; Denver, Colo.; Detroit, Mich.; Durham, N.C.; Eugene, Ore.; Hayward, Calif.; Houston, Texas; Indianapolis, Ind.; Knoxville, Tenn.; Lakewood, Colo.; Lancaster, PA; Las Vegas, NV; Los Angeles, CA; Minneapolis, MN; New York, NY; Oakland, CA; Philadelphia, PA; Phoenix, AZ; Pittsburgh, PA; Portland, OR; Reno, NV; Richmond, VA; San Antonio, TX; San Diego, CA; San Francisco, CA; Savannah, GA; Seattle, WA; St. Louis, MO; Tucson, AZ; Washington, D.C.; Yonkers, NY.
The starting point of our research was to learn how each of the 40 cities draws its power. We turned to the Carbon Disclosure Project for details on every municipality’s mix of energy sources (biomass, coal, gas, geothermal, hydro, nuclear, oil, solar, wind), as well as for information on carbon emissions generated by activity in each region. Because no data was available in CDP for Tucson and Dallas, we complemented the set with information sourced from the U.S. Energy Information Administration Electricity Data Browser, and Texas Electricity Ratings, respectively.
Depending on the indicator, the points were awarded either directly or inversely proportional to the use of each energy source. Directly proportional points (the more use of the resource, the higher the score) between 0 and 5 were attributed for use of hydropower (harnessing the energy of falling water or fast running water), geothermal (thermal power generation, where the heat source is the Earth’s internal heat), solar (direct or indirect conversion of energy from sunlight to electricity), wind (mechanical conversion of the energy of wind into electricity), and biomass (generating energy by burning wood and other organic matter). Between 0 and 5 points were awarded inversely proportionally (the less, the better) for energy generation by use of coal, oil, gas, and nuclear thermal power plants. Similarly, we scored each city inversely proportional to its CO2 emissions, between 0 and 30 points. “Other” represents the “Unknown sources,” as categorized in the CDP database, an indicator for which we awarded inversely proportional scores of between 0 and 5 points.
As cities grow, transportation needs increase along with resource use. With the help of ChargeHub.com, we were able to factor in how many EV charging stationsare available in each of the regions analyzed, and we gave directly proportional scores of between 0 and 10 points for this indicator. But not all transport options require fuel—we also looked at commuter statistics regarding Americans who ride their bike or walk to work and back, and awarded directly proportional points, between 0 and 5, according to each of these two indicators, for each city. Every year, the League of American Bicyclists compiles a comprehensive report of bike-rider data, and so we turned to their analysis for numbers on bicycle commuters in the U.S. For data on walking commuters, we looked to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. We awarded bonus points (between 0 and 10, directly proportional) according to each city’s scorecard, as evaluated by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy—the ACEEE ranks U.S. cities on their energy efficiency policies and program efforts.
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