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 The transition to renewable energy sources cuts across the entire urban energy landscape, from buildings to transportation, to industry and power. Renewables can bring tremendous benefits to cities and counties, including cleaner air, modern services, and improved living spaces. At the same time, cities are crucial to the world’s transition to a low-carbon economy, accounting for 65% of global energy use and 70% of man-made carbon emissions.

Lattice Energy Solutions explores high value potential for urban communities to scale-up renewables by 2030, based on estimated energy usage of 3,649 cities. Every city has massive potential to cost-effectively boost renewable energy use at the local level to enhance budgets and sustainability goals. There’s three basic priority areas where cities can take action: renewable energy in buildings (for heating, cooling, cooking, and appliances); sustainable options for transport (electric mobility and biofuels); and creating integrated urban energy systems. Lattice can help!

By highlighting the best practices from participating cities and counties – policies and technologies by which cities can bring about a more renewable energy future makes financial as well as economic and environmental sense. It provides concrete examples of how municipal leaders and business administrators can partner in achieving sustainability goals at the local level by utilizing our consultative approach.

The global energy transition is already accelerated in order to greatly decarbonize the energy sector by the middle of this century and meet the climate objectives of the Paris Agreement. National-level policies play a crucial role in making the transition a reality, by investing in and enabling the deployment of renewable energy technologies, along with energy efficiency improvements and greater energy system flexibility. But cities and counties are the essential decision makers in this process.

Just over half of the world’s population (4.8 billion people in 2018) lives in cities. By 2050, the absolute number of urban residents is expected to nearly double, and the share may grow to 68% according to reputable and governmental estimates. As engines of the economy and migration magnets, cities already account for 65% of global energy use and 70% of human-made carbon emissions. Urban-level energy planning and decision-making are therefore critical to the success of the energy transition and related sciences. The transition can support local economic development objectives and will boost urban resilience in the face of challenges like climate change, air pollution, supply uncertainties and price volatility. 

Wastewater Treatment Plants Can Generate Renewable Energy

Wastewater treatment facilities can be converted to a revenue stream! Sewage is replete with microorganisms providing anaerobic digestive action. The process of breaking down organic matter can generate biogas right onsite.

Harnessing the wastewater treatment process itself to create biogas is an ingenious way to take a bite out of the facility’s energy budget. According to studies, biogas from anaerobic digestion can provide around half the energy required for a treatment plant to function. However, improvements in fuel cell technology and adding sludge pre-treatments can further boost the yield. (See our biogas & biomass section for products and services provided by Custom Energy Inc.)


Renewable Energy Puts Wastewater Treatment on the Smart Grid

Treating municipal wastewater consumes around 4% of all the energy used in the United States. Moreover, electricity is typically 40% or more of the operating budget for a treatment plant. That leads to two major challenges in the wastewater industry: the cost of maintaining operations and the degree to which treatment facilities depend on a steady supply of energy from utility companies.

The now almost universally acknowledged effects of carbon footprints and sustainability goals further compound these challenges. Energy and budget resilience in the face of natural disasters and the pursuit of more affordable and more sustainable municipal services has spurred many municipalities and counties to invest in renewable energy products.

Caldwell, N.J., and Lee County, Ga., developed plans to add solar arrays and solar storage systems to their facilities. When greenlighting the projects, city leaders cited events like Superstorm Sandy, which knocked out electricity over widespread areas and prevented treatment plants from functioning at all. With renewable energy retrofits, the plants can operate for up to 10 days without outside power. Even better, the influx of clean solar energy will slash their operating budgets by around 57%.

In this way, wastewater treatment plants also become full participants in smart energy grids. Each “node” in a smart grid that generates renewable power can receive or provide energy as demand dictates. Smart grids also make electricity delivery areas more resilient against intense weather events and help utilities isolate and repair problems more quickly than before. As an added bonus, solar power is also instrumental in solar irradiation — a water treatment method that eliminates a wide selection of chemicals and microorganisms, all without harmful byproducts.

Why Is Renewable Energy So Crucial in Wastewater Processing?

All countries now recognize access to safe drinking water as a human right in 2010. Tragically, the U.N. also reports that as many as 2 billion people live with compromised access to sources of fresh, clean water. In Asia and Africa, studies show that the poorest fifth of the population spends up to 11% of their income on water.

“Bringing costs down” and “using resources more efficiently” are rallying cries all over the world. In some parts of the world, finding the right technologies and techniques could change thousands, perhaps millions, of lives practically overnight.

Renewable energy is a sea change by itself, but when combined with the processes that keep us hydrated and clean, the benefits are extraordinary. From lower utility prices in suburbia to efficient and scalable water infrastructure in even the most impoverished villages and towns, clean energy has positive implications for all.

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