Empower Local Producers and Buyers of Renewable Electricity

The Melbourne Renewable Energy Project

By Deb Cailes, Manager, Urban Sustainability, City of Melbourne

Globally, we are seeing the lack of national and international action kick city governments into action. The City of Melbourne has long recognized the need for cities, corporations and individuals to take action on climate change. The Council’s first “Zero Net Emissions” strategy was endorsed in 2003 and led the way globally for ambitious emissions reductions for local governments.

While our strategies, programs and actions have evolved (we now have a Climate Change Mitigation Strategy that aligns our targets with the Paris Climate Agreement, for example), the fundamentals of the early Zero Net Emissions goal and the Council’s ambition have not.

Origins of the Melbourne Renewable Energy Project

As a local government in Australia, we have no policy control or ownership of our electricity generation assets or grid. So, we set out to find a new way for the city and other large energy users in Melbourne to take voluntary action to accelerate the decarbonisation of the grid, regardless of the policies of state or federal governments.

This gave rise to the Melbourne Renewable Energy Project (MREP), an Australian first that brought together a group of local governments, cultural institutions, universities and corporations to collectively purchase renewable energy from a newly built facility.

Renewable energy developers face barriers in securing finance in the face of an uncertain regulatory environment. To secure finance to build their projects, renewable energy facility developers usually require a ‘bankable’ long-term stream of income from an offtaker to underwrite the debt. These contracts are referred to as Power Purchase Agreements, or PPAs.

How the Model Works

The City of Melbourne and its MREP partners, in response, recognized that we could use our purchasing power and credit strength to provide sufficient certainty to enable the construction of a large scale renewable energy project.

We worked collaboratively with 14 partners from a wide range of sectors, from banks to universities, alongside local governments and state government bodies. To set the project up for success, we needed to agree on a way to work together and a clear decision-making framework in the early stages. We developed a participant agreement to provide clarity on issues such as governance and structure of the group and decision making processes.

As the MREP model was innovative and hadn’t been tested in the Australian market previously, the City of Melbourne had to work closely with proponents during tendering, evaluation and negotiation phases to ensure that the solution was fit for purpose for both customer and supplier.

Launching the Project

MREP members have committed to purchase 88 GWh of electricity per year from the Crowlands Wind Farm under a 10-year power purchase agreement. This commitment has enabled the construction of the 80 MW wind farm at Crowlands, a 3-hour drive from the City of Melbourne. The wind farm is owned and operated by Melbourne-based clean energy company Pacific Hydro. As the wind farm will generate significantly more energy than the purchasing group needs, it will bring additional renewable energy into the market.

The MREP contract demonstrates innovation by enabling customers to hedge their electricity costs over the 10-year period while creating additional renewable energy in the National Electricity Market. The deal delivers a competitive product compared to regular electricity purchasing along with some budget certainty for the customers.

Benefits of the Project

The project did achieve more than just new renewable energy and significant reductions in participants’ greenhouse emissions. It is also creating around 140 construction jobs, along with eight ongoing operational jobs in the local area. In addition, Pacific Hydro’s Community Fund will provide a long term funding stream to the local community and a solar and battery storage system has been donated to the Crowlands Shire Hall.

As of 1 Jan 2019, the Crowlands Wind Farm began supplying energy to power town halls, bank branches, universities and street lights across Melbourne. Council is now powered by 100 percent renewable energy.

We believe in the power of coming together. The MREP approach enables cities, corporations and institutions to take an active role in securing renewable electricity supply and take action on climate change. It provides long-term price certainty, enabling customers to mitigate the risk of increased energy costs in a volatile market. It will also be critical to increasing the speed of the transition to a renewable energy supplied grid and play a key role in achieving zero net emission targets.

MREP has been recognised as a game changing procurement model and the project team has actively encouraged replication of the model to others.

Replicating the Model and Next Steps

With support from the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance, the team has presented at a range of industry forums and published a guide to renewable energy procurement, drawing on the insights from MREP.

Since the final deal with Crowlands Wind Farm was concluded, a raft of other corporate PPAs have been announced in the Australian market. Large multinationals, universities and other local governments are all recognising the opportunity and stimulating billions of dollars of investment in renewable energy in Australia. The impact of our project is far wider reaching than just securing low cost renewable energy for our Council, it has catalysed sector wide change that is only getting started.

Since the success of MREP, the City of Melbourne is actively facilitating other organisations to follow in our footsteps. While many other very large energy users have signed a PPA since MREP was announced, there is still a need for someone to bring mid- to large-sized organisations together. To build on the success of MREP, the City of Melbourne is now facilitating a second PPA to aggregate those mid-sized energy users that benefit most from this kind of partnership.

Designate Car-Free and Low-Emissions Vehicle Zones

Stockholm’s Experience with Reducing GHG Emissions from Transport

By Anne Bastian, Strategy and Analytics, City of Stockholm Traffic Administration


To improve air quality, reduce congestion, and ultimately reduce GHG emissions from transport, Stockholm uses a mix of regulation and charges.

Gaining Support for Congestion Charges

The idea of congestion charges in Stockholm started out with low public support and carried high political risk, a trend not uncommon in many cities. This shifted in a series of events, with the introduction of congestion charges for a trial period only, which was offered as a political compromise. The charge system was carefully designed, using transport models, as a cordon around Stockholm’s inner city.

From day one, the charges resulted in substantial congestion reductions, even beyond the charge cordon. And after the trial period ended, Stockholm voted yes in a referendum on permanently re-introducing the charges. At that point, the residents of the Stockholm region had already experienced the congestion reduction and had, somewhat, gotten used to the charges. Other factors that also contributed to public support: communicating the environmental benefits of the system rather than funding or efficiency aspects, earmarking the revenues for transport investments in the region, and ensuring that the automated charge system operated smoothly.

The traffic volume reduction achieved by the charges has remained surprisingly stable over time, considering the rapid growth in the region’s population and economy. In 2016, the charge level increased for the first time and a major bypass was included in the system. In response, public support for the charges decreased slightly but remained positive. Today, 12 years after the charges’ permanent introduction, their existence is not questioned. The question is rather how the charge system, and other policies that restrain car traffic, should evolve.

Improving Air Quality via Heavy Vehicle Fleet Renewal

Air quality in Stockholm is now continuously improving, and much of this is due to vehicle fleet renewal. Since 1996, a low-emission zone bans the most polluting heavy vehicles from driving in Stockholm’s inner city. A national framework determines which heavy vehicles to ban, announcing the successively stricter requirements years in advance. This advance notice gives operators time to plan their fleet, which helps to reduce their adaptation costs and facilitate compliance. Compliance is still limited, however, because manual police controls (and soon parking penalties) are the only enforcement mechanisms.

Heavy vehicles today contribute just over half the nitrogen oxide emissions from transport in Stockholm, but comprise less than 10 percent of traffic. The year 2021 will mark an important step for further improving air quality in Stockholm’s inner city: Heavy vehicles will need to comply with the Euro VI emission standard, which reduces nitrogen oxide emissions per kilometer more than 10-fold compared to the current Euro V requirement. Thankfully, the busses operating in Stockholm largely already comply with this coming requirement.

Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions through New-vehicle Choices

Cities also have a powerful role in affecting the demand side of vehicle technology change. Firms and households in the Stockholm region purchase one third of Sweden’s new vehicles, and they often sell the vehicles to other parts of the country within three years. Stockholm’s inner city is also the economic and social center of the region and attracts vehicles from a wide geography: every fourth Swedish vehicle visits the area at least annually, many come only a few times per year. So, regulations in Stockholm have a reach beyond the region itself.

Stockholm also sees how possible regulation for air quality can have negative long-term effect on GHG emissions. This became apparent in 2018, when a public debate regarding a possible ban of diesel cars in central Stockholm – but also other factors and negative international news – contributed to a dramatic drop in the sales of new diesel cars in Sweden, substituted with petrol cars. From a climate perspective, the shift towards new petrol cars is problematic, because petrol engines are less energy efficient than diesel engines. Adding to this, in Sweden, diesel also contains a larger share of biofuel than petrol.

Ultimately, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions the uptake of zero-emission vehicles and reducing urban car use is preferable to both petrol and diesel. Stockholm has not decided on any zero-emission zone yet. The announcement of a zero-emission zone plan – and the specifics involving the how, when, and where – may encourage zero-emission vehicle uptake and charging infrastructure, lower second-hand values of other vehicles, encourage new distribution solutions, and so on. However, the costs for vehicle owners, businesses and visitors can be substantial and need to be weighed against the benefits. Some aspects to consider in limiting these costs would include sufficient pre-notice periods, potential impacts to local streets versus regional traffic flows, integration with other policies, and the alternatives drivers and vehicle buyers will seek under various scenarios.

Differentiated Charges Versus a Ban

One way to substantially lower these downsides is to charge vehicles varying amounts for driving in a zone depending on their emission level, as opposed to introducing a ban. Differentiated charge levels encourage uptake of clean vehicles among regular visitors to the zone, but also among other vehicle buyers via higher anticipated second-hand values for compliant vehicles. Charges discourage trips that are least valuable to travelers, and they provide a pay option to others who want more time to change vehicles or who make infrequent visits that are especially difficult to avoid. Stockholm already has some relevant experience here. During the first years of the congestion charge operation, some alternative fuel cars were exempt from paying the charges. This was intended to stimulate the market introduction of these vehicles and proved effective.

Suggested Next Steps for Cities Contemplating Vehicle Access Regulations

  • Start with defining clear objectives and constraints to guide policy planning, versus starting with ready-made answers
  • Expect public opinion on congestion charges to improve when their positive effects are experienced. This, of course, requires that the system delivers benefits, which requires effective design, implementation and operation
  • Build and maintain public trust. Reduce ambiguity about coming policies. Own the positioning
  • Think global on greenhouse gas emissions. Effect size matters. Shape travelers’, vehicle buyers’ and investor’s expectations
  • Think local on air pollution. Start with heavy vehicle fleet renewal and enforce these regulations. Reduce (through-passing) traffic in core areas, for example with pricing, bypasses, route-restrictions, parking regulations
  • Integrate vehicle access restrictions with other measures. Prioritize space-efficient modes (walk, cycle, transit), efficient goods transport, and space-making in the urban environment. Work towards mixed and compact land-use

To exchange learnings or partner on innovation, Stockholm host study visits, collaborates with peer cities, and looks forward to hearing from more cities. To read more about Stockholm’s congestion charge experience, this FAQ is a good place to start.

Decarbonization of Buildings’ Heating and Cooling Systems

Two Approaches To Buildings Decarbonization

By Klaus Bundgaard, Climate Project Manager, City of Copenhagen,
and Jenna Tatum, Director, Building Electrification Initiative

Approaches to decarbonizing heating and cooling systems in buildings depend on whether the city provides an extensive district-scale heating and cooling system (as many European cities do) or uses a market in which individual buildings purchase and operate their own systems (which is the prevailing practice in Asia and North America). In this edition of the Game Changers Deep Dive, we have two guest contributors. Klaus Bundgaard, Climate Project Manager to the City of Copenhagen, invites you to learn more about how Copenhagen has worked to achieve a state-of-the-art district heating system. Jenna Tatum, Director of the Buildings Electrification Initiative (BEI), offers a deep dive into how BEI works to make the switch to heat pump technology in the North American market, as illustrated by two city case studies in Burlington, Vermont and New York City.

Copenhagen’s District Heating System

In the start of the twentieth century, Copenhagen was once heated like most other cities. Individual heating supplied every home, which meant the city was heavily polluted from coal, petroleum and coke burned in stoves locally. In 1925, due to rising electricity demand, more power plants were constructed within the city, which led to an increasing amount of excess generated heat. A smart person proposed the idea of utilizing the heat by pumping it out as steam to the nearest households through a network of pipes, and hereby the first district heating network in Copenhagen was established.  Now, 90 years later, Copenhagen has built one of the world’s most extensive district heating networks, supplying more than 99 percent of the city with sustainable and efficient heating. Between 1925 and now, more than 1,400 kilometers of pipes were installed, providing heat to more than 500,000 Copenhageners. More impressively, the district heating network in the City of Copenhagen is a part of four connected networks covering 17 surrounding municipalities in the Greater Copenhagen Metropolitan, and the assembled network covers a fifth of Denmark’s total heat demand.

Establishing a district heating network makes so much more sense in a dense city, since the density of end-users cuts the price of constructing the transmitting network. Of course, the economic business case has been favorable and helped with the expansion of the district heating network, but another important measure was the mandatory connection to the network introduced up through the 80s and 90s. With this regulation, all property owners in Copenhagen had to be connected to the network within a limited time, otherwise they would have to pay an annual fee.

Our road towards a carbon neutral heating will probably be less bumpy than other cities, since we – together with surrounding municipalities – own the utilities. Due to this ownership model, our vision is also shared by the utilities. Today, 65 percent of the heat supply is carbon neutral, and we expect an increase by next year that will allow us to go above 80 percent, due to the opening of the BIO4 power plant. This is a new biomass-based power plant unit that will replace an old unit running on coal, and hereby also highlight the end of coal-based power plants in Copenhagen. This means that our main inputs for heat production will come from waste and biomass with a sustainable certificate. The remaining 20 percent of carbon dioxide will derive from plastic and other fossil fractions in the waste, and further the need for peak-load capacity.

Amager Bakke Energy Plant, a combined heat and power waste-to-energy plant in Copenhagen, Denmark. Photo credit: Amager Resource Center.

To overcome this, we plan to add carbon capture technologies to the waste-to-energy plants, removing the carbon dioxide emitted from the remaining plastic and fossil fractions, which is roughly 165,000 tons. We’re collaborating with our waste-to-energy plant, Amager Resource Center, and have recently completed a technological screening of a possible carbon capture facility. It is still undecided whether the carbon dioxide will be stored underground or used for producing new e-fuels. Adding this technology to the list of solutions related to district heating offers a huge potential as a game changer, due to the possibility of producing energy with a ‘negative’ carbon footprint, if it is coupled with biomass. Through the annual CNCA Innovation Fund, we received funding for a project focusing on Carbon Capture Storage and Usage from a city perspective. It is our hope that together with the cities of Amsterdam, Helsinki, Oslo and Stockholm, we can join forces and share knowledge while pushing each other closer to implementation.

The district heating network is constantly evolving, and it’s not only the transition to biomass that makes it more sustainable. Currently the remaining steam-based pipes are being replaced with low temperature water-based pipes, which will reduce the heat loss by 140 GWh, equivalent to 6,000 family homes, and further cut costs for operation and maintenance by 90 percent. Also, with the increasing amount of wind turbines introduced into the energy system, there is a need for new solutions to balance the grid. Here, Copenhagen’s district heating network can become an integrated part of the future energy system that will utilize renewable energy. On windy days with lots of excess electricity, large scale heat pumps and electric boilers could raise the temperature of the water in the district heating network and function as a storage capacity. Creating flexibility in the energy system is something that is being tested and demonstrated in the project EnergyLab Nordhavn.

While some parts of EnergyLab Nordhavn relate to more systematic changes, it also tests solutions within the households of our citizens. The previously mentioned peak-load capacity is a challenge since it relies on backup from oil or gas turbines. On a calm and cold day in January, most people wake up and go to the shower while heating up their household, which creates a peak load. But what if the utility centrally could manage their room temperature and could raise the room temperature a couple of degrees before people wake up, and thereby move forward the demand a couple of hours? We call this ‘flexible heating customers’, and they should of course be rewarded for this service.

Lastly, why limit yourself by only installing a network for district heating? In the center of Copenhagen, we’ve now installed a new district cooling network utilizing the sea temperature in the harbor through cooling exchangers. As for now, it is voluntary to connect your property, and it is still only in certain central areas. But in the future, we expect the network to expand as it delivers some clear benefits such as substantial reductions in cost and carbon dioxide and further requires less space and produces less noise.

The Buildings Electrification Initiative (BEI) and Switching to Electric Heat Pump Technology

Why Building Electrification?
In cities across North America, fossil fuels used to provide heating, cooling, and hot water in buildings account for a significant portion of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—accounting for between 15% and 40% of emissions in a typical U.S. city. This is particularly true in heating-dominated climates like the Northeast. In New York City, for example, on-site fossil fuel use in buildings accounts for 42% of the city’s GHG emissions, which is the largest single source of citywide emissions.[1]

In the North American market, where individual building owners generally purchase and operate their own heating, cooling, and hot water systems, the most viable option is to convert these systems to cold climate air source heat pumps (ASHPs) and heat pump water heaters (HPWHs). These are highly efficient electric technologies that use a compressor to pull heat from the outdoor air to provide indoor space heat and hot water—essentially an air conditioner that can run in reverse.

Because these technologies are so energy efficient, heat pumps reduce emissions in nearly all parts of North America today, and they have the potential to dramatically reduce emissions even further over the long run by using electricity increasingly powered by clean and renewable sources. During warmer seasons, ASHPs can also provide high efficiency cooling, which is an increasing need across North America as cities experience increased heat and waves due to climate change. Electrifying building systems also has the potential to dramatically reduce indoor and outdoor air pollution and reduce the risk of fire from gas infrastructure—over the past two decades, there have been over 640 gas distribution accidents, resulting in 221 fatalities across the U.S.[2]

In the long term, major utility investments and state regulatory action will be needed to fully transition buildings away from fossil fuels. In the short term though, city action can spark the development of new markets and equitable approaches for transitioning to high efficiency electric building systems. This action will deliver immediate GHG and air pollution reductions, while also providing information on best practices and laying the groundwork for more ambitious efforts that will be needed at all levels of government.

The Building Electrification Initiative
The Building Electrification Initiative (BEI) equips cities with the tools, knowledge, and resources they need to implement strategies to accelerate the transition of building heating and cooling systems away from fossil fuels. BEI currently works with six leading cities: New York City; Washington D.C.; Boulder, CO; Burlington, VT; Berkeley, CA; and Salt Lake City, UT.

BEI emerged from the “Thermal Decarbonization Initiative for Cities,” a project launched in 2016 with startup support from the USDN and CNCA Innovation Funds. Under this Initiative, cities conducted market analysis and developed roadmaps for accelerating building electrification in their communities. They also began forming critical partnerships with states, regional organizations, utilities, manufacturers, and others to co-invest in solutions and coordinate regional action.

Building on these activities, BEI has developed a Theory of Change for how it will scale up these initial efforts and deploy city leadership to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels in buildings.

Theory of Change
When it comes to building electrification, it is important to recognize the scale of the problem. There are over seventy million homes and businesses that burn natural gas, oil, or propane on-site in the U.S. for space heating and hot water production.[3] Electrifying all or most of these buildings would be a massive investment. For example, electrifying all the residential homes in Boulder alone—a city of roughly 100,000 people—would require an estimated investment of at least $1 billion. Moreover, there are tens or hundreds of billions of dollars of gas infrastructure assets across the U.S. that will need to be depreciated or phased out.

In general—but particularly in regions with colder climates—heat pump technologies have not moved beyond the “innovators” or “early adopters” and into the mainstream market. However, because heating systems have 15-20 year replacement cycles, it is critical to begin installing high efficiency electric heat pump systems today in order to minimize the cost of the large-scale transition and reach broad market scale by 2050.

Given the scale, voluntary market development alone will probably not be sufficient to achieve these goals; it will require robust local, state, regional, and federal policy regimes to transition away from fossil fuel-based building systems. Supporting market development activities will also be necessary to improve existing heat pump products, train and qualify contractors who can install them, and ensure there are customers who want heat pumps and understand their value.

Reaching scale will also require major investments in frontline communities to ensure these communities are not negatively impacted by the transition and that benefits are equitably distributed. Cities have long been on the frontlines of historical societal inequities, and are now facing a growing affordability crisis that threatens to displace many of their existing communities. Climate change will only exacerbate this rising inequality. Moreover, enacting transformative policies will require building new and broad coalitions of support. Communities who are most likely to be impacted will need to help create these policies, and can also become key allies for policy implementation. If implemented well, these policies can also help address cities’ equity and affordability needs by creating better quality and more affordable housing, providing new economic and job opportunities for those who need them, and mitigating against climate, health, and safety risks.

Cities can take the lead on developing strategies that pave the way for an equitable transition. Cities play an outsize role in their regional markets due to their size and population density. They can develop “proof of concept” programs and policies that can pave the way for future state, regional, and federal policy action on building electrification. They can also participate as strong voices within coalitions advocating for the necessary policy changes at other levels of government, and help ensure that these efforts equitably distribute benefits to frontline communities.

By equipping cities with the tools, knowledge, and resources they need to implement these strategies today, BEI aims to achieve a widespread transition away from fossil fuels in buildings by 2050 while delivering major investments that prioritize benefits for frontline communities.

The Building Electrification Initiative’s Theory of Change

City Highlights: Burlington, VT
Burlington is Vermont’s largest city, with a population of approximately 42,000. In 2014, Burlington became the first city in the country to source 100% of its electricity from renewables, and today is poised to make the transition to net zero energy in the building and transportation sectors.

Achieving Burlington’s goals will be no easy feat, given its cold climate, older housing stock, and the fact that more than 90% of housing units use natural gas for heating, which is relatively low cost compared to electricity. Fortunately, Burlington has a municipal electric utility, the Burlington Electric Department (BED), which is committed to supporting Burlington’s climate goals and has delivered innovative energy efficiency programs for nearly 30 years.

In 2018, BED launched a cold-climate heat pump rebate program that includes a combination of weatherization services and installations of high-efficiency electric heat pumps for customers using oil and propane for heating, which are more expensive than natural gas. In this program, BED prioritized low- and middle-income customers so they can be first to benefit from energy savings and gain access to cooling. To date, BED has provided incentives to over 300 customers to convert to cold climate heat pumps. Additionally, the City has found that cold-climate heat pumps are becoming a popular option for new multifamily buildings, due in part to the cost-savings that come from avoiding the installation of gas infrastructure to the development.

Building on its progress, going forward, Burlington will explore the potential to create new policy options for installing heat pump retrofits in new and existing multifamily buildings. To ensure their focus on equitable building electrification, these efforts will include an emphasis on building new partnerships between the City and representatives of low-income communities and communities of color to ensure these policies are implemented as successfully and equitably as possible.

City Highlights: New York, NY
New York City is the largest city in the U.S., with more than 8.5 million residents and over one million buildings. To achieve New York City’s commitment to 80×50, the City estimates that over half of these buildings must convert to high-efficiency electric heating and more than 90% will need to electrify their domestic hot water.

Through a detailed market segmentation analysis, the city identified over 175,000 small residential buildings that are the best candidates for heating electrification in the near-term based on a combination of technical, market, and socio-demographic characteristics. This includes more than 75,000 buildings located in the borough of Staten Island. Based on the market opportunity, the City is collaborating with its electric and gas utility, Consolidated Edison, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), and Mitsubishi Electric, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of heat pumps, to propose a coordinated outreach and assistance program to scale up heat pump installations in Staten Island. To ensure that the program delivers equitable benefits, New York City plans to develop a strong workforce development and job access component to connect un- and under-employed New Yorkers in frontline communities to new HVAC contracting jobs.

New York City is also piloting heat pump installations in larger multi-family and commercial buildings through its NYC Retrofit Accelerator program. As part of this initiative, the City is publishing case studies and technology primers that will help accelerate future action across other real estate owners and developers. The City has also compiled a list of technology needs to improve existing heat pumps for the NYC market and has begun working directly with manufacturers to identify opportunities to develop these new systems. As a result of these efforts, New York City will begin to unlock its huge market and help drive the long-term transformation away fossil fuel use in buildings.

[1] New York City Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, New York City’s Roadmap to 80×50. www.nyc.gov/80×50

[2] Reuters, based on data from the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration

[3] Rocky Mountain Institute, The Economics of Electrifying Buildings, based on data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. https://rmi.org/insight/the-economics-of-electrifying-buildings/

Natural Carbon Sequestration

Three Reasons Why Cities Need to Get in the Sequestration Game and Five Ways to Do it

By Brett KenCairn, Senior Policy Advisor for Climate, Sustainability and Resilience, City of Boulder Climate Initiatives

Last year brought more sobering news about climate change from the world’s scientific community.  Both the IPCC report on the Paris Agreement and the US National Climate Assessment used uncharacteristically direct and urgent warnings that climate change is proceeding faster than expected and the time remaining to avert large-scale catastrophic impacts may now be less than two decades.  Within these reports are three critical points relevant to anyone engaged in efforts to stabilize climate.

1. Emissions reduction will not be enough to stabilize climate

An important focus of these two reports was the emphasis on the insufficiency of emissions reduction strategies alone to stabilize climate. In even optimistic future emissions scenarios, the accumulated carbon budget to stay within manageable climate change will be exceeded. These reports and many others all point to the inescapable fact that large-scale carbon recapture/sequestration must now be scaled up rapidly if we are to maintain a livable planet.

2. Near-term carbon capture is critical to buy time for longer-timeframe infrastructure change

As those actively engaged in efforts to change energy systems are well-aware, the essential process of large scale infrastructure change—from residential buildings to energy delivery and production infrastructure—is an immensely expensive, logistically complicated, and politically difficult transition to enact rapidly. With a shrinking timeframe within which to effect this change, we need to find ways to reduce the warming factors as fast as possible in the near-term. Many biological systems—both terrestrial and aquatic—have both rapid and large-scale capacity to recapture carbon in the near-term while working toward longer timeframe structural transitions.

3. Carbon-rich ecological systems are more resilient to climate change

As we now also face the reality that climate change is already underway and having increasing impacts on cities and surrounding landscapes, a growing body of information demonstrates that healthy carbon-rich soils, landscapes, and aquatic systems are more capable of buffering climate extremes. Cities with carbon-rich water and nutrient-holding ecosystems will be more resilient to heat island impacts, flooding, wildfire behavior, air and water quality improvement and other environmental extremes that will occur with increasing frequency and intensity in the coming decades.

Taking Organics Out of the Waste Stream

Recycling organic waste, instead of disposing of it in landfills, ends the emission of CO2 and methane due to decomposing organics in landfills. As much as 5% of global GHG emissions emanate from the solid waste sector, most of it from rotting organics. The emissions from organics are extremely problematic because methane is about 25 times more potent than CO2 in trapping heat in the atmosphere.

Recycling organic waste can also replace fossil fuel-based products with renewable ones. Composting uses microorganisms to break down organics into the essential component of soil (called humus), which can replace fossil-fuel based fertilizers. Cities also use anaerobic digestion facilities to turn organic waste and sewage into biogas, providing clean fuel for buses and other heavy vehicles instead of fossil fuels. When cities sell their compost and biogas for use, they generate revenue that covers some of the cost of the organics recycling system—the beginning of a “circular economy” model.

Composting reduces GHG emissions in yet another way. Compost added to the soil can draw CO2 out of the atmosphere and enhance the soil’s capacity to sequester/hold the carbon—especially in no-till situations, such as in orchards, vineyards, and grazing lands, where the soil is not disturbed in ways that would release the CO2.

Turning organic waste into a decarbonizing asset involves the mandatory collection and sorting of food waste, yard clippings, and other biodegradable waste from residences, businesses, and institutions (hospitals, schools, etc.) so that it is kept out of landfills where it would generate GHG emissions. The organics are separated from the rest of the waste stream and recycled into carbon-capturing compost for sale to nearby farms and landscape use or bio-gas for vehicles and industry.

High Impact City Sequestration Opportunities

While few cities currently have active efforts to assess, develop and implement sequestration strategies, there are at least five major entry points accessible to almost every city to begin exploring this opportunity.

1. Direct sequestration on city lands
Most cities have land holdings. In addition to parks, some have larger open space holdings. Boulder’s urban parks encompass over 1,500 acres. The city’s agricultural holdings encompass over 15,000 acres. Chicago, as an example of a larger city, has 500+ parks covering over 7,500 acres. A variety of soil management techniques including compost, biochar, biological inoculums, and mineral treatments show significant promise. A combination of these treatments could enable the soil to capture significant amounts of carbon: 1-5 tons of carbon per year by some projections. When converted to its CO2 equivalent, this pure carbon represents over 3½ times that amount of CO2. By some projections, soil treatments on 2,000 of Boulder’s open space lands could result in capturing over 35,000 tons of CO2. In contrast, the city’s long-standing residential and commercial energy efficiency programs reduce carbon emissions by around 2,000 tons annually.

2. Indirect sequestration: urban green waste to land-applied compost
San Francisco has done an extensive analysis of its urban green waste and the potential for directing this to land-application composting. The city currently generates approximately 187,500 tons of urban green and food waste per year which when processed yields 70,000 tons of compost.

While San Francisco captures over 50% of its organic waste stream this is an outlier of success in most cities. For most cities in the US 50-60% of waste is organic materials, the majority of which ends up in landfills resulting in the powerful climate forcer, methane. The pioneering work of the California Marin Carbon Project demonstrated significant carbon sequestration potential for compost applications in managed agricultural sites like orchards and vineyards, and in open range applications. Through strategic use of these urban carbon and nutrient flows in land-based sequestration, cities both reduce future landfill methane emissions from landfills and facilitate land-based carbon recapture and soil/land productivity and resilience improvements.

Following the findings of the Marin Carbon Project, if San Francisco used its 70,000 tons of compost to treat degraded range lands with 1/4 inch of compost, that would allow them to cover 1,200 acres every year. Starting in 2020 and going to 2030, using conservative estimates, this would result in just over 400,000 metric tons, or 10% of San Francisco’s 2016 carbon footprint, being sequestered. And for every ton of CO2e sequestered, upwards of 50-70 tons CO2e are avoided upstream.

3. Ocean/aquatic sequestration
Aquatic systems have enormous potential to capture carbon because of rapid carbon cycling, particularly in ocean and estuarian ecosystems. Groups like the Climate Foundation are pioneering “marine permaculture” that regenerates multi-layered ocean ecosystems that both fix carbon and rapidly restore improved ecosystem conditions. Yokohama, Japan, has developed an exciting initiative called “Blue Carbon” (funded in part by the CNCA Innovation Fund) that includes support for developing a local coastal seaweed production paired with the development of an offset market to subsidize the initial development of the sequestration system. This project demonstrates that while cities may not control large areas of aquatic environments, they can serve as early hosts for innovation around aquatic sequestration/regeneration. This emulates the pivotal role cities have played in many cases around energy systems change.

4. Biomass Energy + Carbon Capture and Sequestration (BECCS)
A major focus in the climate stabilization scenarios put forward by IPCC and others is the large-scale development of biomass energy systems that are paired with carbon capture and storage. These schemes depend on many as-yet unworkable elements including cost-effective capture and stable and accessible storage. A far simpler, more scalable and much less expensive alternative is the use of biochar systems that capture and utilize the released heat as a renewable thermal energy and generate long-term stable carbon (biochar). The base “fuel” for these systems is low grade biomass: urban wood waste, fire hazard reduction thinnings, agricultural waste and other low grade biomass. The resulting biochar can be used in land applications to both capture more carbon and improve water retention. Boulder is hosting a pilot scale bioenergy-biochar system in the summer of 2019 that will be used to assess the feasibility for larger scale distributed deployment of these technologies.

5. Offsets to local sequestration projects
Given the bundle of values that can be derived from the development of both terrestrial and aquatic carbon recapture projects in and around cities, we believe this represents a powerful opportunity to explore local voluntary carbon markets that support local ecosystem regeneration/carbon sequestration projects. Yokohama has already initiated aspects of a local offset program, initially targeting large sporting events. Boulder is exploring expansion of its current marijuana energy impact offset fund as a potential foundation for a local carbon offset fund. Boulder and San Francisco are also exploring emerging initiatives to link carbon capture projects with block-chain based digital currencies using tonnes of carbon as the denomination that is valued.

Next Steps

The active engagement of cities in emission reduction initiatives has been a major factor increasing both issue profile and innovation around energy system transitions. With the emerging realization that emissions reduction alone will not stabilize climate unless it is paired with rapid development of carbon recapture efforts, cities once again have a potential role in both raising awareness and fostering innovation in this sector. A unique aspect of this area of action is the significant additional local benefits that carbon sequestration initiatives could bring to cities.

The next steps for cities interested in further exploration of this sector would be to conduct initial assessments of assets and knowledge in a number of key areas including:

  • Assessing sequestration potentials
    • Land within city control or influence that could be receive sequestration enhancing treatments
    • Ocean-aquatic zones within city control or influence
  • Assessing biomass waste opportunities: Inventory existing green wastes and available infrastructure for composting or other biomass processing
  • Assessing potential BECCS: Conduct renewable thermal opportunity assessment, particularly in larger scale commercial industrial settings
  • Considering local offsets opportunities: Explore the creation of a local carbon offset market directed to projects in terrestrial or aquatic sites in and around cities that generate multiple benefits

For more information or to be a part of the CNCA Sequestration Working Group, please contact Brett KenCairn or Trude Rauken.

The World’s First Mass Market for Electric Vehicles – The Oslo Case Study

The World’s First Mass Market for Electric Vehicles – The Oslo Case Study

By Sture Portvik, Project Manager for Electro mobility, City of Oslo, Agency for Urban Environment

Today, Oslo is the world’s first mass market for electric vehicles. You will not find a higher density of electric vehicles (EVs) anywhere else in the world. More than 50% of all new cars sold in Oslo in 2017 were electric. In 2018, the number increased to more than 60%. This means that more than every second car sold is now an EV.

The sales of EVs are skyrocketing. At the same time, sales of diesel and gasoline cars have dropped, and the sale of diesel cars is in a free fall, especially in the largest cities like Oslo and Bergen (less than 10%). Beginning in 2025, the goal is to sell only zero emission passenger cars and vans and become the world’s first zero emission city by 2030.

A broad political settlement between all political parties and a synergistic interaction between the national government and the City created stability and consistency over time. The Norwegian government made the EVs affordable to buy, while the City made EVs affordable to use, practical and convenient.

A whole package of incentives boosted the sales of electric vehicles in Oslo, including: zero purchasing tax, no value-added tax (VAT), free parking, no road tax, free charging, free passing in the toll gates, free tunnels, free travel with ferries, access to the bus lines, etc. In sum, these incentives made EVs:

  • Affordable to buyno purchasing tax, no VAT
  • Affordable to usefree parking, free electricity, free passing in toll gates
  • Practical to use – access to charging, free parking, bus lines

Going forward, Oslo sees three main challenges:

1. We Need a Faster Deployment of Chargers

Even though Oslo has deployed more chargers per capita than most other cities, the numbers of chargers per EVs are falling behind because of the unexpectedly high growth of EVs. Securing enough chargers in a growing mass market is a major challenge. The challenge is enhanced by the fact that all passenger cars sold will be zero emission by 2025.

The exponential growth of EVs also creates a historic window of opportunity. For the first time, we have a mature mass market of EVs that can help finance the urgently needed green shift in transportation. The solution is available to boost the deployment of chargers, but also to make the charging infrastructure smarter and more efficient.

To achieve this Oslo will:

  • Triple the deployment of new charging points
  • Deploy more fast chargers on the corridors in and out of the City (in close cooperation with private companies)
  • Deploy a large network of semi-quick chargers (7.4 – 22 kW) which can secure higher charging speed and higher turnover of cars
  • Build new indoor parking garages for EVs like the “Fortress” (The World’s first dedicated parking garage for EVs only)
  • Construct new green mobility houses including electric car sharing, bicycle hotels, electric bicycles, electric scooters, and MCs etc.

Starting in March 2019, Oslo will start to charge a small user payment to finance the green shift in mobility. The price for charging will be reasonable and low compared to diesel and gasoline prices. It will also give priority to residents and priority sectors like electric taxis and electric freight vehicles. The City expects that this revenue will be sufficient to finance the needed investments in additional charging infrastructure.

2. We Need to Provide Charging Opportunities for People Living in Multi-Family Buildings

Over 60% of Oslo’s citizens are living in apartments or townhouses in Oslo, not in detached houses and villas with private charging opportunities. This means that not everybody can charge at home, a common but serious challenge to a further electrification of transport in many urban cities.

Home charging is cheaper and more convenient than curbside for both drivers and the city. Oslo has thus developed a support scheme for home charging:

  • Private housing associations and housing co-operatives can apply for a grant covering up to maximum 20% of all needed investments in charging infrastructure on private ground, up to a limit of NOK 1 million (~ $117,613 USD).
  • In 2018, more than 16,000 chargers in private housing co-operatives and associations have been financed. This is a substantial figure compared to the deployment of 600 new curbside/on-street chargers owned and operated by the City on a yearly basis.

3. We Need to Shift Commercial Fleets to Electric

The sales of private EVs are skyrocketing. The sales of commercial electric vehicles, however, are still far from high enough.  We need a substantial boost in sales of commercial EVs for taxi drivers, craft and service drivers, and freight if we want to meet our ambitious environmental goals. This is especially important because the use of commercial vehicles is expected to increase much faster than the use of private cars.

Electrification of commercial vehicles is now the focus. In order to succeed with the electrification of commercial vehicles Oslo will create tailor-made solutions for different sectors in addition to more normal and quick chargers.

New solutions include designated hubs for commercial vehicles, including high-performance DC quick chargers (150-350 kW), V2G and inductive charging etc., as well as well-designed support schemes for electric freight vans and taxis.

The city also gives a grant of 50% of total investment cost for needed charging infrastructure for all craft and service drivers and owners of freight vehicles and taxis who want to switch to electric vehicles.

To boost the sales of commercial electric vehicles Oslo has actively used its public procurement policy to demand/or favor zero emission freight deliveries of goods and services purchased by the City. The experience is promising and clear: environmental demands in public tenders do trigger development of new innovative green solutions for transportation of goods and services.

Even if the numbers of electric commercial vehicles are far from satisfactory there are positive signs for vans and small freight and service vehicles. In 2018 we witnessed 2-digit sales figures for freight and service vehicles (12%) for the first time.

Like with private EVs, Oslo sees the need for incentives to boost commercial EV uptake, and the city has a generous incentive scheme to achieve this:

  • New “Centre of excellence” for professional users of EVs with tailor-made charging solutions for professional users of EVs and pre-booking possibilities. A good example is already in place at Vulkan, Norway’s largest and most advanced mobility house financed by the EU-project SEEV4 City
  • New hubs for commercial vehicles (including pre-booking opportunities, high performance chargers, smart grid, etc., reserved for commercial vehicles)
  • Designated taxi ranks for electric taxis only (some of the best locations will be reserved for only zero emission taxis)
  • New super-quick chargers (some reserved for commercial EVs)
  • Inductive charging (for electric taxis only, as it’s much simpler)
  • Reserved parking with charging possibilities for commercial vehicles (downtown Oslo)
  • Grants for investment in charging infrastructure for light commercial vehicles and taxis
  • Grants and subsidies for zero emission trucks and heavy-duty vehicles (50% of the extra cost of zero vehicles and needed charging infrastructure)
  • Free parking for zero emission commercial vehicles (on all public parking)
  • Free passing (or high discount) on passing through the gates (in and out of the City)
  • Demand for zero emission transport in public procurements of goods and services
  • Discount on quick charging for priority segments like electric taxis and freight vehicles

Electrification of Transport – A Holistic Approach to Transport is Needed

Oslo aims to be the world’s first emissions-free city within the next 12 years. The skyrocketing growth of EVs is fantastic, but only part of the solution. Oslo takes a holistic approach to ensure that all transport becomes zero emission and convenient through:

  • more public transportation
  • zero emission public transportation (by 2028)
  • bicycling lanes and pedestrian walkways (2018-2020)
  • zero emission taxis (by 2023)
  • zero emission freight vehicles (2025)
  • electric ferries (2019)
  • electrification of the harbour (2019)
  • car sharing (2018-2025)
  • autonomous vehicles (2019)
  • public transportation on-demand
  • electrification of the maritime sector and domestic aviation (2040)

The focus is now on mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) and electrification of all types of transport. The use of public transportation in Oslo has increased substantially the last ten years (80%), and is, today, at a historic high. The number of people using cycles and walking is also increasing rapidly. Incentives are important, but we also need more regulations on the use of cars. In Oslo several new measures are already deployed or planned:

Lessons Learned

There are several lessons learned from the EV capital Oslo, including:

  1. Green taxes are working. People will make green choices if they can afford it. A green tax on petrol and diesel cars combined with tax exemptions for zero emission vehicles gives a double incentive to buy electric cars.
  2. The growth of EVs in Oslo has proceeded much faster than expected.
  3. A high national tax on the most polluting cars can balance the cost of tax exemptions for zero emission vehicles to balance the revenues.
  4. Home charging is equally important as public charging. Home charging is the cheapest and most convenient way to charge for EV users.
  5. The chicken and egg problem is solved. A ubiquitous public charging infrastructure is needed as a first mover and will create business opportunities and revenues for the private sector over time. To leave everything to the private market before a market has emerged equals too little, too late.
  6. EVs are important but only part of the solution. We also need clean public transportation, car sharing, cycling and pedestrians, etc., to solve the (zero emission transport) equation.  
  7. Experience shows that it is possible to boost the sales of EVs and at the same time increase the use of public transportation, cycling and walking. All green solutions must be in focus simultaneously.

New Innovations and Trends

There are a number of new innovations and trends that will influence the future growth of the EV market, including:

  • The offers of new and interesting models are really picking up, and more and more OEMs are gearing up for the race.
  • The technology is already available. Over 60% of all new cars sold in Oslo are now electric, either a battery electric (BEV) or a plug-in hybrid (PHEV). New models with longer range and a broader selection of models will increase the sales.
  • More EVs on the global market will create economy of scale and eventually the production price for EVs will drop.
  • The battery technology will improve with longer range and speed of charging, and the battery costs seem to be on a steep downward trend. We have only seen the start of the modern storage technology.
  • The public chargers are getting cheaper, better and much faster (6 times faster).
  • The on-board chargers in the cars are getting ready for the new high-performance DC chargers and the standards for AC charging are improving.
  • The electric engine is already extremely energy efficient and cheap to produce, due to few movable parts and lesser complexity than the combustion engine. It is therefore expected that the electric engine will outcompete the far more complex combustion engine within 5-10 years. In the future you may have to subsidize diesel and gasoline engines if you want the combustion engine to survive.
  • New players have emerged on the global scene that now have more experience with the electric vehicle technology than many of the traditional OEMs.
  • Shared and autonomous mobility is on the rise and will increase the progress towards electrification of transport.
  • New smart grid solutions, V2G and battery storage based on second-hand batteries can bring down the investment cost and operational cost for charging solutions.
  • New user friendly innovations like inductive (wireless) charging, high-performance chargers (with 5-8 times higher speeds), machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) and user-friendly applications can increase the attractiveness of EVs.

The Road Ahead – Highway to Electric

It is hard to predict the future, and even harder to be right. Today we have a historic opportunity to convert all vehicles to zero emission: private vehicles, commercial vehicles and public transport. We just need the right policy, public-private cooperation and the political and administrative resilience to succeed. New technologies will fuel the progress towards electrification, and experience indicates that things are often moving much faster than anticipated.

The future will depend on:

  1. The political willingness to use green taxes, regulations and other incentives to make the shift to put a price on pollution.
  2. Technology developments for vehicles, battery, chargers, autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence and intelligent transportation systems.
  3. Policies in major markets that foster EV sales and therefore economy of scale.
  4. Global price developments on fossil fuels like gasoline and diesel, etc.
  5. National and transnational cooperation including local government, national government and private businesses.
  6. Global cooperation and free exchange of examples and ideas.
  7. The development of sound business models that can help finance the green shift in the transport sector.
  8. A rapid and promising growth in large cities in California, China, Korea and Europe help to fuel the present optimism.

The experience from Oslo shows that it is possible to boost the sales of electric cars and at the same time increase the use of public transportation, cycling and walking. It also shows that EVs work in a rough, Nordic climate and that a major shift could be just around the corner. The future is electric; the future is now!

Adopting a Zero-Emissions Standard for New Buildings

Adopting a Zero-Emissions Standard for New Buildings

By Vincent Martinez, Chief Operating Officer, Architecture 2030

Through his over twelve-year tenure at Architecture 2030, Vincent Martinez has developed robust networks focused on private sector commitments, education and training. Vincent has strong connections to private sector leaders in urban real estate through his previous role as the 2030 Districts Network Interim Director from 2013 to 2016, helping co-found the 2030 Districts model that has now been adopted by 20 North American cities. He now sits on the 2030 Districts Network Board of Governors. Vincent also formerly managed the development and dissemination of the AIA+2030 Professional Education Series, which provided design professionals in 27 markets across North America with strategies for reaching zero-net-carbon buildings and has since been developed into an online education series. Vincent currently leads Architecture 2030’s work on urban zero-net-carbon buildings, including the ZERO Code, Achieving Zero framework, and Zero Cities Project with 11 leading US cities. Vincent is the 2018 Chair of the American Institute of Architects’ Energy Leaders Group and is a member of the AIA 2030 Commitment Working Group. He is an honorary member of AIA Seattle and was named an Emerging Leader by the Design Futures Council in 2015.


The UN’s 2017 “Global Status Report” estimates that the world will add 230 billion square meters (2.5 trillion square feet) of buildings by 2060 – the equivalent of adding an entire New York City to the planet every 34 days for the next 40 years.

Over 50% of this new construction will happen in North America, China and India between now and 2030. During the next wave, the majority of new construction will shift to the global south (Latin America, Africa, and India) where there are mostly voluntary building energy codes or no building energy codes at all.

Coupled with the urgency that the IPCC has placed on the decarbonization of our built environment (both existing and new buildings) over the next decade, it is clear that all building sector actions and policies must be evaluated based on their ability to scale and to have a significant immediate impact on greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

While there have been worldwide improvements in building sector energy efficiency, as well as growth in renewable energy generating capacity, these have not been nearly enough to offset the increase in emissions from new construction. As a result, building sector CO2 emissions have continued to rise by nearly 1% per year since 2010. To meet the Paris Agreement targets, action is needed today to implement zero-emissions building standards or codes worldwide.


A zero-emissions, or “net-zero”, building standard is one that requires new buildings to be designed and equipped so that all energy use on an annual basis — for heating, cooling, lighting, appliances, vehicle charging, etc. — is highly efficient and comes only from renewable (non-CO2 emitting) energy sources.

Two critical questions that address the scalability and ability of such standards to have significant immediate impact are: 1) how do we define “highly efficient”, and 2) how do we ensure that the energy a building uses comes from “renewable energy sources”? This e-news highlights efforts to answer these questions.



This Zero-Emissions Standards Game Changer is inherently linked to and reliant on another strategy: Empower Local Producers and Buyers of Renewable Electricity. While energy efficiency is the primary leverage point of the traditional building energy code structure, zero-emissions buildings cannot be achieved through efficiency alone. It must be complemented with impactful mechanisms for renewable energy generation and procurement to reach zero-emissions standards, especially in jurisdictions with existing highly-efficient codes.  Ensuring that the energy needs of new construction are met by renewable energy sources provides the most impactful emissions mitigation strategy for new construction in CNCA cities.

The incorporation of on-site and/or off-site renewable energy requirements has been added to new construction standards across the world. The European Commission’s Technical Standard for Nearly Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB) defines a NZEB as “a very high energy performance building with energy produced by renewable sources on-site or nearby”, and requires new public buildings to reach this standard starting in 2019 and all new buildings to reach this standard starting in 2021. The China Academy of Building Research’s (CABR) recently released Technical Standard for Nearly Zero Energy Buildings also requires on-site and/or off-site renewables.

The World Green Building Council’s Advancing Net Zero Initiative, additionally, provides a framework for defining Zero Net Carbon buildings that recognizes the need for off-site renewables, and to date six Green Building Councils have introduced standards that address on-site and/or off-site renewable energy. More recently the World Green Building Council and C40 launched the Net Zero Carbon Building Commitment, which has 15 businesses, 22 cities and 5 state and regional governments as founding signatories. The commitment follows the EP-100 Technical Criteria for on-site and off-site renewable energy claims and provides a framework for regulating jurisdictions to consider. A new report from C40 also highlights the cities’ planned actions for delivering on the Net Zero Carbon Building Commitment.

Many jurisdictions are also leveraging their building energy codes or local ordinances to lead to, or require, on-site renewable energy generation. For example, on-site solar requirements for new residential construction in the State of California, on-site solar requirements for new non-residential construction in California cities, on-site solar thermal requirements in Sao Paulo and across Europe, and in Durban the eThewini Municipality is exploring land-use planning schemes to require on-site renewables to cover half the building energy needs.

The next option, and most immediately scalable and impactful policy, will be off-site renewable energy procurement requirements, which also address large buildings with limited on-site renewable energy generating capacity (e.g. buildings in dense urban environments). The City of Palo Alto (USA),has a new proposal for their reach code to require on-site and/or off-site renewable energy for new small- to mid-rise non-residential construction, which they have shown to be cost-effective in their climate. The nuances of requiring off-site renewable energy procurement will depend on the local market. An Off-Site ZNE Policy Proposal, ZNE Has Left the Building, submitted by Arup to the California Energy Commission, and Architecture 2030’s ZERO Code, illustrate how this can be implemented.

To create zero-emissions buildings, the focus and urgency must now be on implementing zero-net-carbon building codes and establishing programs and opportunities for off-site renewable energy procurement. This will only accelerate and complement efforts by utilities and regional governments to decarbonize the electricity supply. Lessons learned from the upcoming e-news on Empowering Local Producers and Buyers of Renewable Electricity may be helpful in this regard.


This Zero-Emissions Standards Game Changer is also linked to the Electrify Buildings’ Heating and Cooling Systems Game Changer. While reaching net zero-emissions is possible now through the purchase of additional renewable energy in order to offset emissions produced by on-site fossil fuels, there is a growing concern that new on-site systems that produce emissions will quickly become a liability and will counteract parallel efforts to electrify existing building heating and cooling systems. Therefore, zero-emissions standards should prohibit, or significantly discourage, on-site fossil fuel use.

Many other cities are working with industry to provide incentives for all-electric buildings, while they work through legislative barriers to its requirement (see CNCA’s Game Changers report). An example is from a recent study performed by the City of Palo Alto (USA), which illustrated that all-electric new construction is cost effective for most building types in their climate, and this is now a central strategy in their upcoming reach code proposal.


While increased energy efficiency is one of the two central components of Zero-Emissions Building Standards, most advanced jurisdictions already have aggressive energy efficiency requirements for new construction or can adopt the latest model codes (which are highly efficient and include a host of ready-to-use compliance tools). In jurisdictions with high-efficiency codes, the relative emissions reductions from increased energy efficiency in new construction are small, compared to policies that require all new buildings to meet their energy needs from renewable (non-CO2 emitting) sources. Jurisdictions with large amounts of renewable energy in their electricity supply may also see greater emissions reductions from all-electric new construction policies than they would from small incremental efficiency gains.

Jurisdictions that do not have control over their building energy codes will find renewable energy requirements to be one of the only regulatory tools that they can implement to immediately address new construction emissions. For example, the City of Copenhagen doesn’t have control of their building energy codes and is instead working to ensure that Copenhagen is supplied by 100% carbon neutral electricity and heat in 2025, which means their buildings will be zero-net-carbon users.

For jurisdictions pursuing advanced energy efficiency through the building energy code structure, innovative strategies are being developed (see infographic on right). Toronto’s proposed Thermal Energy Demand Intensity targets for heating energy and their Greenhouse Gas Intensity targets encourage low-carbon fuel choices and address the two priority areas, all-electric new buildings and the use of renewable energy, discussed above. Vancouver’s building code and rezoning policy already have GHG limits per unit area for most building types and will be updated incrementally so that they will require zero emissions from all new construction by 2030. These types of targets can drive innovation and high levels of efficiency through the performance pathway of the code.

To ensure scalability, zero-net-carbon building energy codes and standards must focus equally on prescriptive and performance code pathways (see figure on left), as the large majority of new buildings around the globe are expected to follow a prescriptive path. Architecture 2030’s ZERO Code provides the framework for linking both the prescriptive and performance path compliance approaches to renewable energy requirements.


The urgency of the climate crises and the scale of expected global new construction makes highly efficient building energy code adoption, coupled with on-site and off-site renewable energy requirements, the most critical policy for all new buildings in CNCA cities. Renewable energy requirements can achieve the emissions reductions required for leading cities to reach a zero-net-carbon building sector, and, with building energy codes, are a critically missing policy piece for the rest of the developing world.

It is also worth stressing that in order to truly decarbonize the built environment, we must eliminate fossil fuel GHG emissions from both building operations and the embodied carbon of building materials and construction. To address this urgency, new policies, above and beyond government procurement, must be developed and include prescriptive and performance-based standards and requirements. Stay tuned for more on innovations in this important topic in a future e-news.