Is renewable energy the elephant in the room?

January 6, 2009 - 10:14am -- Anonymous

Yesterday I attended the Growing Cooler event at the Hubert H. Humphrey Center. The event was centered on a recent book published called "Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change". (Click here to go to the Urban Land Institute page where you can order copies of the book)

The speakers were all well-versed in urban development and land use and talked about how smart growth patterns will play a critical role in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. There was, however, a clear elephant in the room: energy. Not simply development of renewable energy, but of any mention of energy consumption in general.

Most of the speakers stressed the importance of integrated land use planning and urban development - that we can't continue foward in vacuums and expect everything to come together. Transportation departments need to work with real estate developers, policy-makers need to work with scientists, auto manufacturers need to work with public works departments, etc. But where does energy fit into this?

It may be idealistic and naive to believe that smart urban development can include energy efficiency on a micro scale (smart development embodies a more efficient use of resources by its very nature, but what about in specific residential or commercial units? will CFLs be used? What about set-back thermostats?)

And on a more macro scale, what about developing communities and neighborhoods that can help supply some of their own energy consumption with renewable energy? Urban development can easily integrate solar power or geothermal heating. Smart development in rural areas can even incorporate a community-owned wind turbine to power the community!

Sometimes I feel as if I am the only person who sees this connection... Perhaps it is because those with more experience in this field know the hurdles are too high to get over to combine smart growth with renewable energy. I don't accept that as a good enough reason to not try.

In the meanwhile, I am happy to continue my naive and idealistic dreams. Someday the things we can only imagine today will be here for us to touch.