India’s bold new market-based energy efficiency system

By Saravana Sivasankaran

A large reason why the Clean Development Mechanism (a mandatory process for certifying carbon credits) never really took off was because of the bureaucracy and ambiguity behind the requirements of the process. Project developers never knew with certainty if their projects, whether a clean coal plant, an energy-efficient building or a renewable energy project, would absolutely qualify for credits.

Take the case of India. I worked for a company that manufactured wind turbines for the regional Indian market. The price of the turbines we sold ultimately relied on the project’s IRR which in turn relied primarily on the site’s wind characteristics. However, with intensifying competition, a significant portion of the developer’s return increasingly came from income derived from selling carbon credits. I have seen first hand how the reliance on carbon credits killed deals or gave false hope to developers on risky projects only to be let down during the certification process. To further exacerbate the situation, India offered tax breaks for such projects resulting in many poor projects being funded. This in turn created havoc on the grid’s capacity to handle renewable energy’s erratic supply.

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Reframing Urban Sustainability Through Community Owned Energy Assets

By Drew Pierson

I recently reflected on the fact that “urban sustainability” is a term that typically narrows discussions about planning and development on environmental issues, in spite of related factors that may contribute to the general welfare of cities, such as jobs, income, and social well-being. Given that environmental problems often stem from economic processes and the social needs that drive them, one could assume that “urban sustainability” should extend its definition to include relationships among the three spheres of environment, economy, and society. As such, why isn’t “urban sustainability” more readily discussed within this framework and in a way that integrates goals from these three underlying areas at the onset? What opportunities exist that would allow entrepreneurs and planning practitioners to promote a more holistic version of “urban sustainability?” Continue reading

Causality and Hierarchy

By Jan Dolezal

I was thinking whether there are some frameworks for ranking and organizing different initiatives, for example those on the menu of PlaNYC (here).  PlaNYC is not conveyed with costs (or benefits) and it’s only part of the overall approach of the City and State of New York so it’s hard to quantify the components, but here are some qualitative thoughts:

Hierarchy of Needs

One is a pyramid mirroring Maslow’s pyramid (’s_hierarchy_of_needs) with a similar pyramid for cities (e.g. you don’t care about energy efficiency if you don’t have energy. You don’t care about climate change if you don’t have housing…) On the bottom level, there are basic infrastructure needs (housing, transportation, water, energy). If this is not met, nobody will really care about what is higher. Above that initiatives that improve immediate quality of living, such as Air quality or Parks. Only when this is met, people might be thinking more about recreational Waterways and problems that are not troubling them directly such as Solid waste management. At the top of the pyramid is climate change that people will be more willing to address only when their lower needs are met.

This pyramid also demonstrates why cities in developed countries care more about the higher levels than in developing countries where even the lower levels are not met.   We could place the PlaNYC (or KAEC or Tianjin or Dharavi) initiatives in such a pyramid.

Dolezal's Hierarchy

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On Trash

By Galen Laserson

Visitors returning from emerging markets commonly remark on two problems that plague developing cities: traffic and trash. Admittedly, visitors likely purchase bottled water and do not stay long enough to have to navigate power outages or a local transit system. More viscerally, traffic and trash are both highly visible and unpleasantly familiar enough that there is nothing “charming” or “local” about experiencing them and nothing particularly exciting about fixing them. Saravana’s post (“Roads – Simple, Mundane and Absolutely Vital”) teases out the significance of roads to economic development in West Africa, a concept we have added to in our class discussions about how to capture the lost productivity resulting from traffic. Accordingly, I would like to leave traffic aside for the moment and focus on trash.

At its core, trash is waste – the enemy of sustainability. Continue reading

Quick Fixes for KAEC

By Jannis Koehn

King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) is the first proper city that we discussed in the course. At least, it might eventually become one. Whether it qualifies as a sustainable city remains to be seen, and I do not want to get bogged down in the question what an economic city is exactly. So far the city developers are stuck with interdependency among sectors none of which yet exists, lack of capital, lack of knowledge and lack of a strategic plan. I want to suggest that a few adjustments may help the Protagonists to solve this Gordian Knot. Continue reading

An Argument for Retrofitting Existing Cities vs. Building Greenfield Cities

By Anonymous

As we look at best practices for investing in sustainable, competitive cities, most of the examples we have reviewed in class have either been driven by government or at least had significant government involvement. As I reviewed the prescriptive steps in planning that were proposed, it struck me that in order for these steps to result in the successful development of a sustainable, competitive city, it would require a high degree of intellectual honesty on the part of the protagonist, particularly as it relates to learning from history and past practice, measuring outcomes and learning and adapting. The question this brought me to is, if the protagonist is the government, is this a reasonable expectation? And if not, where does that leave us? Continue reading

Zooming out on energy efficiency retrofits in buildings

By Ilya Minevich

Is it sensible to ask why solar PV installations have not made more inroads in Siberia?  Putting aside the shock of the juxtaposition of two such seemingly dissimilar images, there are lots of factors that make PV installation reasonable in such a cold place: the white snow refracts light allowing panels to capture more sunlight, PV technology depends on actual irradiance rather than ambient temperature, and finally the substitutes are so expensive that it should make the cost surmountable even for a green energy technology.  However, when focusing on these details and asking why there are not more installations in Siberia, we lose sight of several high-level questions: 1) why not first figure out what’s going right with solar in a sunnier place like Spain and then see what aspects differentiate the two geographies? 2) Who needs electricity in Siberia and how likely are they to adopt a new technology? Continue reading