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Six Common City-Level Energy Policies Could Reduce Nationwide Carbon Emissions by up to 480 Million Metric Tons Annually

October 19, 2016

The Energy Department's (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory recently examined the carbon abatement potential of city actions in six policy areas as part of the DOE's Cities Leading through Energy Analysis and Planning (Cities-LEAP) project. The analysis uses new data on energy use in more than 23,400 U.S. cities and estimates the aggregate impact of city actions related to: building energy codes, public transit, building energy incentives, rooftop photovoltaics, smart growth, and municipal actions. The results indicate that by 2035, these six common city-level policy approaches could reduce nationwide carbon emissions by 210-480 million metric tons of carbon emissions per year. That is a 7-19 percent reduction in carbon emissions for the average city relative to current city-level emissions.

The report, Estimating the National Carbon Abatement Potential of City Policies: A Data-Driven Approach, illustrates the comparative impacts of city-level energy actions and helps cities better understand how their particular climate and characteristics influence these impacts. For example, by enacting more stringent building energy codes, cities could reduce building energy use by about 10 percent on average. Due to higher natural gas use in colder climates, the carbon reduction potential of building energy code policies is almost double for cities in the Midwest. Comparatively, smart growth policies are about twice as effective for carbon abatement in eastern coastal cities than in other cities due to larger urban areas and more vehicle miles traveled.

"Cities are increasingly taking actions such as building code enforcement, urban planning strategies, and public transit expansion to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide in their communities and municipal operations," said NREL's Eric O'Shaughnessy, lead author on the report. "But many cities don't have the data and methods to analyze policies in terms of carbon abatement potential, and we didn't know the abatement potential of these city actions on a national scale. Our analysis fills these gaps by providing methodologies to assess the carbon abatement potential of a variety of city actions."

Additional city actions such as enabling policies enacted at the state or federal level could significantly augment a city's carbon abatement potential.

Collectively, Cities-LEAP resources and tools, funded and supported by funded by DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, provide credible data and transparent, usable analytic methodologies to help city policymakers and staff members take more strategic energy actions toward a clean energy future.

NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy's primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for the Energy Department by The Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC.


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