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UK cities seek green innovation

The UK’s urban areas are thinking smarter about energy than ever before, and there are few better recent examples than plans in the centre of Britain’s second city, Birmingham. A combined heat and power (CHP) system is to be installed in the brand new Birmingham New Street station. A pretty sustainable start; but things don’t stop there. Heat generated beyond what’s needed on site will be exported to the Birmingham District Energy Scheme, which includes Aston University and the National Indoor Arena. It’s also a good example of numerous bodies working together for the public good on an ambitious scale. It also illustrates how making a firm green step can have considerable potential for useful knock-on effects, both for now and later. Birmingham’s City Councils Cabinet Member for Development, Transport and the Economy, Tahir Ali, is understandably happy with what’s in store:

"I am really pleased that the new station is joining the city's existing shared district heating network to the north side of the station...It will further reduce the city’s carbon footprint and provides considerable potential to expand. There are a number of public buildings in the vicinity to the station, which have been identified for possible connection to the district heating. The scheme also provides a huge potential for connecting adjacent buildings with district heating, and support a more sustainable regeneration that is planned for the south of the city centre.”

Birmingham is not the only city looking to make an impact on energy and infrastructure. Four major cities - Bristol, Aberdeen, Leicester and Milton Keynes - got together to provide part of the clamour for the UK to push for agreement on 2030 EU climate targets; a position that ultimately prevailed. They argued for more pragmatic reasons than simply complying with targets: “first and foremost to save jobs, competitiveness and the well-being of our citizens”. Towns and cities would do well to follow New York’s example. The city’s administration has approved a $1 billion plan to drastically improve the energy efficiency of public buildings. Targets are in focus here, too, with the aim to reduce the city’s emissions by 80 per cent on 2005 levels by 2050. The Empire State Building set a key example here with a retrofit that began in 2009 and is now saving its owners $4.4million a year. The savings to be made from getting serious about energy efficiency can be significant, in themselves but also as a means of engaging civic action and investment.

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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