Earth Day: World’s success stories

22 Apr 2014

Nesjavellir Power Plant, Iceland. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

On the day the world unites to recognise and celebrate Earth’s environment, the Earth Day organisation has highlighted some of the most sustainable cities in the world as part of this year’s theme, Green Cities.

Reykjavik, Iceland

The Icelandic capital Reykjavik is arguably the most energy efficient and cleanest in the world, with the vast majority of its energy coming from renewable resources.

As things currently stand, the city of 121,000 people only accounts 19pc of its total energy use to fossil fuels, mostly in transportation and heating, yet the remaining 81pc comes entirely from renewable resources, particularly from geothermal and hydrogen power.

Iceland is a volcanic island formed from millions of years of magma built up from an underwater volcano and has been powering the island’s population in some capacity since a farmer in 1907 led a pipe from a nearby hot spring into his house to heat it using steam, thus making Iceland one of the first countries to adopt environmentally friendly energy options.

Now, Reykjavik can now be proud of its position as the only city in the world to receive 100pc of its electrical needs from renewable energy.

As the country gradually switched from fossil fuel energy to geothermal energy, it is estimated Iceland has saved more than US$8bn over the last 30 years.

While some nations struggle to obtain the resources they need to power their cities, or at least at great expense, Iceland and Reykjavik in particular, can actually claim to have an over abundance of energy, as their national energy authority estimated they only use 20-25pc of the country’s hydro power capacity and only 20pc of its geothermal capacity.

Oberlin, Ohio, USA

The city of Oberlin, just outside of Cleveland with a population of 10,000, is aiming to start a renewable-energy movement in a country that has lived off fossil-fuel technology.

Known as the Oberlin Project, the city’s people are aiming to turn around its sources of energy and make it an example to all for running more sustainable urban locations.

The city receives 90pc of its electricity from renewable sources, but it plans to take it a step further by becoming carbon positive.

This means it will sequester more carbon than it produces by both reducing emissions and preserving and extending natural spaces that suck up CO2.

The driving force behind this goal is the Oberlin Environmental Dashboard, a piece of software that allows community members to see their electricity and water use in real-time and displays data in various user friendly ways.

The technology has already been installed in a number of residential areas and the nearby college campus, and every resident in the city also has access to the city-wide dashboard, which shows city-wide resources flows and contains educational tools that allow users to learn more about the local environment.

Following a great reaction, the leaders of the project aim to bring it to other cities across the United States in the coming years.

Adelaide, Australia

The city of Adelaide is taking the logical step of turning its public transport system into a more environmentally friendly system with the introduction of what is reportedly the world’s first totally solar-powered bus, named the Tindo, the aboriginal word for ‘sun’.

Adelaide City Council has even gone a step further to encourage more residents to use Tindo, by making it free to use and offering free Wi-Fi to its passengers.

The bus receives its energy from the solar station at one of the city’s nearby bus stations and is expected to save more than 70,000 kg of carbon and 14,000 litres of diesel fuel in its first year alone.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic