Building a ‘net zero’ community

On Oct. 16 and 17, the cities of Fort Collins and Loveland, together with the Northern Colorado Business Report, brought speakers from around the country and the globe to speak on the future of cities.

The Net Zero Cities Symposium was dedicated to three focus areas this year. The first was in energy and conservation, the second on transportation, and the third on education of the next-generation workforce in preparation to enter these emerging fields.

The message we heard is that, internationally, numerous cities are retooling their infrastructures to meet the growing needs of a clean-energy future.

Already, new technologies that will transform the United States are gradually transforming our grid into a series of distributed power sources.

According to the Department of Energy, this is one of the fastest-growing trends in energy in the United States.

Over time, we will gradually move away from the large power plants of today and transition to many more, smaller power sources such as wind power and solar energy.

Additionally the automotive market will change from being dominated by gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles to hybrid electric vehicles and ultimately to electric or hydrogen. These changes will dramatically affect the way the average consumer uses power.

The next-generation city will introduce low-emission vehicles and homes through enhanced travel systems that rely on both electricity and compressed natural gas.

The way we use energy in our buildings also will change.

As buildings become more efficient and begin to use distributed electricity generation, they will need to become “smarter,” using operating systems much as your computer does.

Real-time electricity monitoring will allow residents to change their heating and cooling from remote locations.

Smart windows will have flexibility based on outside thermal and glare conditions and may eventually be energy generators themselves.

Education of the Millennial Generation also will change dramatically.

As social media combines with three-dimensional technology, interactive-display learning systems will become the standard.

These changes, as I’ve said, are already happening today and will influence consumers now and into the future.

Bruce Hendee is chief sustainability officer for the City of Fort Collins.


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