David Beach | 05/16/06 @ 2:00pm
Cleveland's future might depend on developing a plan for sustainable energy, according to Peter Garforth, an international energy and business consultant who spoke today at the City Club.
The world market for energy is changing rapidly with the end of cheap oil, the onset of global climate change, increased demand from countries like China, and political instability in oil-producing regions. When prices double and triple, what will the U.S. do to remain competitive when it consumes so much more per unit of GDP than other nations?
Garforth said the most serious competitive disadvantage comes from the design of American cities. Our buildings consume twice the energy of European buildings the same size. And urban sprawl further increases the energy footprint of American cities by forcing people to drive more and by making it more difficult to install efficient heating systems shared by homes in a neighborhood.
He described how the Copenhagen region in Denmark has systematically reinvented its urban energy system over the past 30 years and now achieves a high quality of life while consuming one fifth the energy of U.S. cities. The Danes adopted building efficiency standards to reduce energy use in the first place. They doubled the efficiency by which they generate power by using the waste heat from the generation of electricity to heat homes. They increased the housing density of the city, which reduced vehicle use, made transit more practical, and made the city livelier. And, to avoid energy disruptions, they diversified their fuel sources, now obtaining 20 percent of their electricity from wind turbines. (A positive side-effect of promoting wind power has been the development of local companies manufacturing the turbines. One company that used to make Fiberglas fishing boats has grown into a billion-dollar company that makes wind turbine blades.)
A similar energy plan could revitalize the Cleveland region, Garforth said. The region should begin now to figure out how to cut energy demand in half in the next 20 years. Doing so will make the region more competitive, revitalize the city, improve the environment, and promote local industry.
"The future depends on understanding and managing the growth of cities," he said. "Can Cleveland become a green city on a blue lake based on rational and sustainable use of resources?"
All of which raises the question: Who is going to lead the development of a regional energy plan for Northeast Ohio? How are we going to meet this challenge — and turn it into an opportunity?