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Fueling Sustainable Cities

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A few weeks ago I moderated a panel during the G’Day USA; Australia-US dialogue on Urban Sustainability hosted by the Australian Government. Our session addressed the issue of whether the use of ‘smarter’ energy can lead us towards cleaner and more sustainable cities. Certainly we’ve made progress in cleaning our cities – but as we know in LA there is still a ways to go when 3 million children in the metropolitan area are still at risk for respiratory problems due to exposure to air pollutants.

There are many solutions to the problems posed – but there is one overriding opportunity – use energy more efficiently. We’ve made lots of progress on using electricity more efficiently as CA has led the world in innovative approaches to efficiency. Since the 1970’s while the per capita electricity use has continued to increase, California’s has remained flat – even with increasing electricity using devices – think computers!

We’ve made less progress on transportation fuels and they continue to be our biggest pollution problem. We need to be smarter in our use of fuels. We need to figure out how to motivate cleaner vehicles and cleaner fuels – using more diverse sources. New technologies are emerging as well – for example Rentech, Inc is developing a project near LA that is planning to take waste and convert it into clean synthetic diesel.

While we do see big corporations looking to be ‘greener’ (just check out the recent ‘green’ ads during football games) it is not necessarily translating down from the big corporations to the smaller ones. We all thought in the 1980s that pollution prevention would catch on after DuPont, 3M and others realized they could reduce pollution and reduce costs at the same time. But it didn’t trickle down to the extent that we had hoped. In our panel we talked about the need for the government to assist in technology innovation and the need for the private sector to step up to the plate and take some technological risks.

But how do we get people to make ‘smarter’ energy choices? By providing better information. Emerging technologies will allow us all to have a better understanding of how we use energy, and how we can be efficient in how we use energy. This will provide the opportunity to move towards a more sustainable urban environment. More on information and efficiency in my next blog.

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