Cities Go Solar

Phoenix is blessed with more than 300 days of sunshine each year (hence the nickname Valley of the Sun). Well, sometimes it’s a curse, what with the urban heat island effect raising already blazing Phoenix temperatures as much as ten degrees in recent years. Oddly, and sadly, the state hasn’t done much to harness the sun’s power. Electricity consumption increased 4.1 percent annually between 1980 and 2001, and of the 1.353 trillion BTUs used in 2001, only .3 percent of them were from renewable energy sources.  By 2025, it’ll be required that 15 percent of energy come from renewable sources, but until then, you’re likely to see a lot of SUVs, air conditioners and oil-heated homes continuing to spread across the desert.

Some folks won’t have to wait that long to go solar. Next to massive Del Webb developments like Sun City and, um, Sun City West, and eerie master planned, self-contained communities like Anthem, Solar City will be added to the Phoenix-area portfolio.

The British trade journal Building reported that Arup, the engineering firm responsible for Dongtan, the eco-city near Shanghai, a carbon-neutral (well, they hope) creation that will house 10,000 on the banks of the Yangtze River, is taking on the task. Seems funny to use China as a model for development in Phoenix, when the opposite has been happening for years to terrifying result. But maybe both sides are learning.

The solar city should house some 300,000 inhabitants on 33,000 acres, using daytime sun to power the place, and offering excess energy back into the grid; it will rely on traditional power sources for nighttime juice.

While this may be one of the more ambitious green development plans circulating in the area, metropolitan Phoenix is frantically trying to green up. A new light rail system is on the docket, pedestrian paths being created throughout the city, a new Global Institute of Sustainability housed at Arizona State University—a campus that, until recently, only recycled 10 percent of its waste. Times are a changing.

Construction on the solar city won’t likely begin until 2010, and at the rate this city is changing, who knows? Everything may have gone solar by then, and solar city will be old news.


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