Chasing Energy Efficiency Gains

on June 30, 2011 at 8:30 AM

“Let’s compete a little bit,” Siemens‘ Chief Sustainability Officer Alison Taylor told Breaking Energy.

Competition, she said, will motivate cities that are not ranked near the top of a newly-released Siemens-sponsored report on energy efficiency to implement programs that will improve their score.

New Urban: Cities and The Emerging Energy Economy was researched and written by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and funded by Siemens. It examines the data from 27 American and Canadian cities on the issues of carbon emissions, electricity consumption, land use, buildings’ energy efficiency, transportation, water use, waste production, air quality, and environmental governance.

San Francisco came in first overall, with Vancouver, New York City and Seattle following closely behind in that order. But on average, the study found, American cities emit twice as much carbon per capita as Canadian cities.

And unlike European cities, which Siemens has studied in the past, nearly all American and Canadian cities have failed to promote usage of green energy. If they have implemented policy, it has not been comprehensive.

New York City received an exceptionally high score in the “land use” category mostly because of Bloomberg’s MillionTreesNYC campaign but also because of Central Park, which both add up to give NYC an extremely high percentage of green land space in a densely populated area.

“American cities aren’t waiting for Washington to make policy for them,” Taylor said. “There is some federal policy in place, but climate change has been a real gridlock, so I think that what’s happened is that we’ve seen cities really step into the void.”

Taylor said San Francisco has been extremely successful in curbing greenhouse gas emissions, not only because of creative city programs but also because of aggressive state policy in California.

For city governments, climate change mitigation may be critical because it is not only theoretical. Taylor said that some of the cities in the study have already experienced changing climates or rising sea levels. And for city-specific challenges, federal policy would be useless.

Frankly, the federal government can’t come up with a one-size-fits-all policy,” she said.

City government may also be more effective in implementing resource efficiency because they have no other choice. Facing growing populations that rely heavily on resources like electricity, water and sanitation, city governments may have no other option but to creatively encourage citizens to cut down on use.

Taylor said she hopes that the study will reach mayors worldwide and give them ideas about how to implement efficiency programs in their cities.

Photo: San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee attended a ‘topping out’ ceremony, in June, to witness the final structural beam being hoisted atop the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s new headquarters that is being constructed.