Barcelona continues to be at the forefront of sustainable energy

Story by Hayley Masters

BARCELONA – Raul Logrosan is on what could be considered the front line of Barcelona’s all-out assault on wasted energy and resources. The bus driver, who has been working for nine years for the city’s Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona, is required to shut off his bus at every red light and bus stop.

A man crosses a street near Plaza Catalunya using energy efficient street lights. Photo by Clara Cutbill

A man crosses a street near Plaça Catalunya using energy efficient street lights. Barcelona has been named one of the most energy efficient cities by the European Energy Commission.
Photo by Clara Cutbill

Plus, the bus itself is powered entirely by electric energy. “A few years ago we only used oil and gas. But today that’s all being replaced by electric and hybrid technology. All of the buses run with half oil, and half electric energy,” he said, adding that plans are to make the entire fleet fully electric in the coming years.

Though one of the most visible examples of the city’s commitment to clean energy standards, the buses are just a fragment of an enormous patchwork of evidence for what makes Barcelona a leader in conservation in Europe and across the globe.

In March 2014, the European Union awarded the first European Capital of Innovation award to Barcelona for having the “best innovative ecosystem connecting citizens, public organizations, academia and business.” And even more significantly, Barcelona is also one of the only European cities on track to meet the ambitious goals of the European Energy Commission, which set binding targets for 2020.

“We have three main objectives for 2020: reduce 20 percent of our carbon dioxide emissions, have 20 percent alternate energy and to improve the energy efficiency of each city by 20 percent,” said Ferran Tarradellas, the director of the European Commission in Spain. “They all work together. If you want to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions, you must increase the use of alternate energy sources, which will equal more efficiency.”

What does that mean in practical terms? The transit systems are all running on electricity and hybrid technology. All of the street and stop lights are now using LED lighting, powered by Europe’s largest solar panel system called the Forum Esplanade. All new appliances bought in the region must meet Energy Star standards, which means they must follow an international standard for energy-efficient consumer products. All new houses sold or leased have to meet rigorous energy standards including all-LED lights. All new-construction houses and buildings must be equipped with solar-thermal water heating systems. And any new building has to have a net-zero energy input and output balance, which means that energy used must equal the amount of renewable energy created by the building through alternate energy sources.

In Barcelona the parking meters, Metro, escalators and buses are all designed to save energy. Photos by Clara Cutbill

In Barcelona the parking meters (top left), Metro (top middle) and buses (top right) are all designed to save energy. Buses are either hybrid or electric, and their engines stop at red lights and bus stops. Escalators (bottom left) stop moving when not in use, all street lights (middle bottom) are solar-powered and doors on the Metro will not open unless pressed by a waiting passenger (bottom right).
Photos by Clara Cutbill

Even the city’s schools have to participate in the effort: All public schools must prove every year that they have increased energy efficiency by at least 3 percent.

“Barcelona started converting to energy efficient systems before most European cities, hence why they are so far ahead today,” said Tarradellas. “They are on track for all three objectives that [the European Commission] set for 2020.”

Tarradellas explained how the European Commission uses three pillars – industry, housing and transportation – as areas to transfigure, reconstruct and revolutionize so that the target goals can be achieved.

“I think that by 2020 Barcelona will be relying on more and more forms of alternate energy. We are using solar energy and electric energy the most right now, and have started to use wind and geothermal energy in the industry sector and biofuels in our transportation sector. The city is definitely on track,” said Tarradellas.

On the local level, Barcelona’s city government has also been working with several energy conserving organizations and companies to create a comprehensive approach to achieving better energy efficiency. The government’s Local Energy Agency, whose goals run parallel with the European Energy Commission’s, are providing appealing financial incentives for companies and individuals to follow suit. For example: decreased tax bills are awarded to those with more efficient houses and lower fees for public transportation are offered for those who comply.

Saunder Laudy is the director of B01 Architecture, a company that uses advanced technology to create energy-efficient buildings, and is also board director of the non-profit organization Green Building Council. It is a member of the World Green Building Council, the world’s largest “green building marketplace” which networks in more than 100 countries, linking numerous green building councils together. Laudy said, “Barcelona is working on very interesting ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions caused by energy consumption. They are doing this through enhanced efficiency in buildings. They are promoting electric cars and creating new technology.”

Solar panels like these are one of the many ways Barcelona is using alternative sources of energy to save money.  Photo by Hayley Masters

Solar panels like these are one of the many ways Barcelona is using alternative sources of energy to save money.
Photo by Hayley Masters

B101 Architecture uses solar collectors, photovoltic and geothermal technology to design and construct public buildings, apartments and also renovations of older buildings. Their team of urban planners also finds space around Barcelona that can maximize natural light and ventilation, and they only work with eco-friendly materials.

Laudy described several of the buildings that B01 Architecture has constructed throughout Barcelona, including the Technological Sustainable Centre, the El Prat Rehabilitation facility, the Marina Street sustainable lofts and the Polyfunctional Hospital. The architecture firm was also involved in the construction of the Olympic Village in 1989.

Ana Vinals, the communications coordinator for the all-electric Tram street-level rail system, the mode of transportatIon that consumes the least amount of energy in Barcelona, said, “We had more than 24 million journeys in 2014. We transport people in a smarter, cleaner and more efficient way.”

Tram and the other public transportation companies are held to high standards and follow strict regulations in regard to their carbon dioxide emissions.

“If we want to tackle the [European Union’s] target of reducing our air pollution we have to continue to promote services like Tram that are using alternate energy sources,” said Laudy.

Everyone agreed that the implementation of sustainability and efficiency within the pillars would take a complex plan of action. Houses would need to apply the 0 percent energy balance system, industries would have to function with only alternate energy and the transportation system would need to also use only alternate energy.

If that happens, the savings will be significant. As far as Tarradellas is concerned, it’s not a question of “if.” To him, it’s more appropriate to say “when” that happens.

“We will save 400 billion euros per year” if the 2020 goals are met, Tarradellas said. That’s the equivalent of about $445 billion. “The business case is clear.”


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