Energy Transition

This city will soon run only on renewable energy

Chicago is aiming to slash its carbon footprint and completely run on renewable energy.

Chicago is aiming to slash its carbon footprint and completely run on renewable energy. Image: Unsplash/Pedro Lastra

Victoria Masterson
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • Chicago plans to run all its buildings and operations with 100% renewable electricity by 2026.
  • The move will include the US city’s two airports, its central library and main water purification plant.
  • More than 100 cities around the world now get at least 70% of their electricity from renewable sources, according to environmental charity CDP.

The US city of Chicago runs more than 400 public buildings, including City Hall and two international airports.

Now these buildings and other city operations are to be run on 100% renewable energy.

After signing a new five-year clean energy deal with electricity supplier Constellation, the Illinois city has announced that all its facilities and operations will run on renewable energy by 2025.

Chicago says it is one of the biggest cities in the US to make this commitment, which is expected to reduce the city’s carbon footprint by more than 290,000 metric tons each year.

This is equivalent to the emissions of 62,000 passenger vehicles, according to estimates from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Chicago plans to power its public buildings and operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025.
Chicago plans to power its public buildings and operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025. Image: Chicago 2022 Climate Action Plan

Chicago city buildings go green

Chicago’s two airports, its central library and its Jardine Water Purification Plant – the biggest water treatment plant in the world – will run partially on solar energy as part of the deal.

The solar energy will be sourced from a project being developed by Swift Current Energy, which is expected to be one of the largest of its kind in Illinois to date.

For other power uses, like street lights and small and medium-sized buildings, Chicago says it will buy renewable energy credits. These are certificates which show energy bought from the grid is renewable.

The city has committed to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by 62% by 2040. This and other goals are set out in Chicago’s 2022 Climate Action Plan.

A map showing the world's renewable energy cities
A map showing the world's renewable energy cities Image: CDP

Renewable energy cities

More than 100 cities globally now get at least 70% of their electricity from renewable sources like solar, wind, hydro and geothermal, finds a renewable energy city tracker from environmental charity CDP.

These cities include Bogotá in Colombia, Nairobi in Kenya, Montreal in Canada, Aspen in the United States, Inje in South Korea and Reykjavík in Iceland.

Cities are at home to more than half the world’s population and generate more than 70% of global carbon emissions, according to the World Economic Forum’s Net Zero Carbon Cities initiative.

This is why reducing the carbon footprint of cities is vital if global warming – which is fuelled by greenhouse gas emissions from human activity – is to be kept to well below 2°C.

The Net Zero Carbon Cities initiative aims to help cities decarbonize across their energy, built environment and transport sectors.

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How is the World Economic Forum supporting the development of cities and communities globally?

City climate targets

As cities wake up to the threat of climate change, more of them are developing emission reduction targets and climate action plans.

These cities include South Korea’s capital, Seoul, which aims to become carbon neutral by 2050 through action in five key areas – buildings, mobility, forestry, clean energy and waste management.

The city of Adelaide in Australia has powered its municipal operations entirely from renewable energy since 2020 and is investing in technologies including battery storage and biogas.

In Cape Town, South Africa, the government hopes renewable energy will account for 40% of energy use by 2030, up from 8% in 2016. Coal is currently the country’s main energy source. But the city is now looking to procure up to 300MW of renewable energy from independent power producers, according to news site Renewables Now.

The UN expects urban populations to increase significantly in the next two decades. With bigger cities exposed to more climate and disaster-related risk, it’s vital decision makers act collectively and quickly, the World Bank says.

“Building cities that ‘work’ – inclusive, healthy, resilient, and sustainable – requires intensive policy coordination and investment choices. National and local governments have an important role to play to take action now, to shape the future of their development, to create opportunities for all.”

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