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Top Energy Efficient Cities in the US

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Cities are currently home to around half of the world’s population.

Cities are responsible for three quarters of energy consumption and 80% of CO2 emissions worldwide.

If estimates are correct, cities could be home to as much as three quarters of the world’s population by 2050.

To cope with this huge growth and resulting demand for energy, engineers are focusing their efforts on making urban environments as energy efficient as possible.

Temperature and air quality sensors, variable speed drives, smart metres and intensity and colour controlled LED lighting are just a few of the technologies being employed to drive energy efficiency.

Here in the US, there are several cities leading the way when it comes to energy efficiency initiatives.

We’ve compiled a list of what we consider to be the top energy efficient cities in the US:
Boston has made it into our list of the top US cities for energy efficiency
Home to the Allston green district, a renowned area where solar panels, easy recycling and filtered water dispensers (to reduce plastic bottle disposal) are standard, Boston prides itself on having green affordable housing, and updates its climate plan every three years. The Energy Positive "E+" Green Building Demonstration Program aims to bring green homes to neighbourhoods of Boston and build upon the city’s environmental record for future generations.
New York is aiming to reduce emissions by 80% between 2014 and 2050
New York City
High use of public transport and an emphasis on energy efficient hybrid taxis are just a small part of a commitment made by Mayor Bill de Blasio to reduce emissions by 80 per cent between 2014 and 2050. As a result of this, an emphasis is being placed on the construction of green buildings such as the Hearst Tower, completed in 2006, featuring polyethylene tubing under the floor to circulate water for heating and cooling, rain collection tanks on the roof and floors made from heat conductive limestone. Widespread bicycle and walking routes as well as cycle rental schemes are also features of the city.
In the pursuit of energy efficiency Washington is offering free energy assessments for businesses
Investment in efficiency initiatives such as free energy assessments for medium and large commercial customers as well as financial incentives are cited as reasons for Washington to be highly regarded as a city making a difference. The Clean Energy and Affordable Energy Act of 2008 requires all large commercial buildings in the city to be rated for energy efficiency, with the results publicly disclosed, in an ongoing attempt to raise standards.
San Francisco is certainly one of the 'greenest' cities in the US with stringent environment regulations in place for the building industry
San Francisco
The first US city to ban plastic bags, since 2009 San Francisco has also had the first major urban food waste and composting programme in the country, which has seen emissions decrease by 12 per cent from those of 1990. Hybrid-electric and zero emission buses are prevalent, with new buildings subject to environmental requirements and incentives, and there is an Energy Upgrade scheme to help homeowners make their residences as energy efficient as possible.
Seattle's energy efficiency drive includes tough building codes and a target of carbon neutral buildings by 2030
A publicly-owned electricity utility, Seattle City Light, ensures that households have provisions of energy-efficient light bulbs, as well as producing 90 per cent of the electricity in the city using hydropower. Energy efficient policies form part of tough building codes, and the Seattle 2030 District aims to comply with efficiency targets laid out as part of the 2030 challenge, which plans to create carbon neutral buildings by 2030.
Chicago plays host to the City Energy Project which is a major initiative to pursue city-wide energy efficiency
One of many places that plays host to The City Energy Project, Chicago has ongoing major initiatives to aid with energy efficiency plans. The Project aims to provide information about building energy use so that owners and landlords can cut waste, as well as to ensure they function well. A programme named Retrofit aims to help commercial, residential and municipal buildings implement energy efficient changes in a structured way. The Archdiocese of Chicago has also committed to monitoring and tracking their building’s energy use as they try to become more efficient in the coming years.
Residents of Minneapolis are currently offered zero per cent finance on any energy saving upgrades
Residents of Minneapolis are currently offered zero per cent finance on any energy saving upgrades they make to properties, an offer that over 9,000 households in the city have taken up so far.  Greenprint, a part of the Minneapolis Sustainability Indicators, includes goals to reduce emissions, as well as policies for transport, waste, recycling and renewable energy. Recent years have seen the city make efforts to ensure government operations are more energy efficient, and strategies for buildings are implemented.
Portland implemented a Climate Action Plan in 2015 to reduce carbon emissions
Implementing a Climate Action Plan in 2015, the city of Portland has an established strategy for reducing emissions, which includes requirements for government buildings to be energy efficient, streetlights to be converted to LEDs and public transport vehicles to be as environmentally friendly as possible. Portland is recorded as having made 100 major energy efficiency investments over the course of the last 20 years.
Austin has a self-imposed target of making the city operations carbon neutral
As part of Austin’s self-imposed target of making the city operations carbon neutral by 2020, all departments must have climate action plans, which manifest themselves in performance targets for energy efficiency. Since 2014 the amount of renewable energy Austin residents use has risen to 31 per cent from 25 per cent, with a goal to make this 55 per cent by 2025.
Denver has created an ambitious Climate Action Plan which aims to reduce CO2 emissions to below 1990 levels
Carbon neutral buildings, opportunities to become more energy efficient and utilisation of renewable energy at the airport all form part of an elaborate and ambitious Climate Action Plan in Denver, which was updated by Mayor Michael B. Hancock in 2015. The city also plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to below the levels of 1990 by 2020 and increase energy efficiency within the building sector. The ongoing Denver Energy Challenge has been helping residents to make energy efficient alterations to their homes, with over 11,490 people having received guidance on rebates, tax credits and expert advice so far. 

But are energy efficiency initiatives a lost cause?

As the examples above demonstrate, the US is making great efforts to pursue energy efficiency in urban environments.

But many engineers, energy analysts and others have questioned the wisdom of pursuing energy efficiency initiatives; particularly with the aim of reducing carbon emissions.

Why? Because of Jevons Paradox.

Put simply, Jevons Paradox states that as energy efficiency is increased, we use more energy!

History seems to provide evidence of Jevons Paradox in action. Energy historian, Vaclav Smil, states “historical evidence shows unequivocally that secular advances in energy efficiency have not led to any declines of aggregate energy consumption.

On the flip side, those who argue in favour of pursuing energy efficiency dismiss evidence that there is a significant “rebound” of energy usage, typically suggesting that any such rebound usually only amounts to around 5 per cent, and is thus negligible.

Another factor to consider in this debate is that greater energy efficiency may in fact be a net positive in increasing economic productivity and growth, but as a result is not an approach to be utilised if your main aim is to reduce energy consumption and thus greenhouses gases.

Make no mistake, it’s a complicated, and controversial topic. What do you think? Are energy efficiency efforts a lost cause? Or should we continue to pursue them? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…

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Top Energy Efficient Cities in the US - Time to read 7 min
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