How Urban Planners Integrate Alternative Energy Into Architecture

How Urban Planners Integrate Alternative Energy Into Architecture

As global temperatures continue to rise and extreme weather events increase in frequency, the need for sustainable solutions has never been more apparent. Human activities are largely responsible for climate change, and urban areas are adversely affected. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the effects of climate change may be amplified within the world’s cities, including rising temperatures.

More people are living in urban areas than ever before — the United Nations estimates that 68% of the global population will live in cities by 2050. Although various sustainability initiatives exist to combat the effects of climate change in an increasingly urbanized world, urban planning must now incorporate sustainable solutions into every design to reduce humanity’s dependence on fossil fuels.

Even as sustainability sits at the forefront of modern architectural trends, developing alternative energy solutions isn’t without its challenges. For example, not every city is ideally situated for harnessing solar power due to atmospheric conditions that limit annual sunshine. The good news is that solar energy is just one of the various forms of alternative energy that can be utilized by urban planners in sustainable building designs.

Combating the Effects of Climate Change

Those involved with sustainable urban development must consider such factors as the effects of climate change, various costs associated with alternative energy systems, local regulations and ordinances, and more. Since the end of 2020, for example, all newly constructed buildings in the European Union (EU) are required to incorporate sustainable designs to achieve “nearly zero” energy usage. Solar energy is at the forefront of their efforts.

However, many of the global leaders in alternative energy, including Sweden and Germany, aren’t necessarily the world’s sunniest nations. For its part, Denmark sources more than 50% of its national electricity needs from alternative sources, primarily sun and wind.

The summer months, when sunshine is abundant and shines for upwards of 17 hours per day, are prime conditions for harnessing solar energy. Conversely, Denmark only gets around 8 hours of sunlight daily throughout the winter, and wind energy helps bridge the gaps in terms of national energy needs. The country’s impressive alternative energy numbers wouldn’t be possible without mindful designs from urban planners with a deep understanding of local climatic conditions.

In those areas like Denmark, where solar energy may not be the most reliable choice year-round, urban planners may need to think outside the box. To determine the most cost-effective alternative energy source for a particular area, climate and weather considerations are just as crucial as estimated energy usage. And indeed the smallest details shouldn’t be overlooked within sustainable design plans – even the most advanced solar and/or wind energy systems can be quickly drained by inefficient devices such as air conditioning units and water heaters.

Sustainability and Urban Planning

To successfully design and maintain sustainable architecture that will last into the future essentially hinges on the drastically changing global climate. Sustainable buildings can vary significantly, and popular green building designs often incorporate the natural landscape and strive for nearly zero waste. Earthships, for example, commonly seen in the southwestern U.S., are often built partially into the earth and rely completely on alternative energy from the sun and wind.

Urban planning on a city-wide level, however, is much more complex than that of Earthships, which are primarily single-family homes, located off-grid. Affordability is also a key part of the equation for urban planners and city leaders alike in regards to sustainable building design. The rising price of lumber, for instance, is both another by-product of climate change and a huge consideration in the design process. There are also building and permit costs to consider, as well as a possible labor shortage stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Future of Green Building Design

Climate change and urbanization are intrinsically linked, and the environmental impact of urban living is substantial. For large metro areas to continue to sustain an increasing population while also actively reducing emissions, change must come from the same source: cities themselves. When building sustainable neighborhoods, from apartment complexes to community spaces, alternative energy has become an integral part of the solution.

In terms of architecture for all, it’s important to note that the benefits of sustainable building design span well beyond reduced emissions. Urban planners can also do their part to foster healthier and happier communities via the various elements of sustainable design. Integrated alternative energy systems, dedicated bike lanes, and linked sidewalks can help revitalize a community while also reducing harmful pollutants.

By incorporating alternative energy into design plans, urban planners thus have a unique opportunity to improve the quality of life for countless global citizens. As the effects of climate change and increasing temperatures become even more pronounced, we must look for actionable solutions. Within cities, integrating alternative energy, whether harnessed from the sun, wind, or water, into future city planning represents a massive step towards improved climate and public health.


Amanda Winstead is a writer from the Portland area with a background in communications and a passion for telling stories. Along with writing she enjoys traveling, reading, working out, and going to concerts. If you want to follow her writing journey, or even just say hi you can find her on Twitter.

How Builders Can Contribute to Zero-Energy Efforts

How Builders Can Contribute to Zero-Energy Efforts

With so many energy efficient innovations underway in the field of construction, it’s now easier than ever for builders to contribute to zero-energy efforts. In fact, they must recognize the significance of sustainability and how it impacts the future of their business.

After all, residential and commercial sectors now consume around 40% of the nation’s fossil fuel resources. Additionally, growing concerns regarding climate change and the future of building materials have resulted in a shift toward zero-energy efforts in the construction industry.

But why are these sustainability ventures important and what benefit do they offer to builders themselves? Follow along to learn more about how builders can contribute to a zero-energy lifestyle while reaping the benefits.

What Is Zero Energy & Why Is It Important?

Zero-energy buildings are structures that don’t consume more energy than they produce. In other words, as defined by the International Living Future Institute, “one hundred percent of the project’s energy needs [are] supplied by on-site renewable energy on a net annual basis.”

You may be wondering how that’s possible. But this radical solution is already fast on its way to reducing our carbon footprint and changing the planet. While still an ambitious project, each year it becomes more and more affordable for everyday homeowners and business owners to achieve their zero energy goals.

Regulatory oversight from state and federal governments means homeowners are slowly moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle. Commercial business owners, on the other hand, are driven by profit incentives and corporate sustainability goals to reach zero-energy status.

Net-zero-energy status has the power to shift the tides of climate change. If all new constructions were built to a net-zero standard and existing structures retrofitted to meet net-zero specifications, our nationwide carbon footprint would be reduced by nearly 40%. That would represent an overwhelming win in the fight against climate change.

Benefits for Builders

Homeowners aren’t the only ones who benefit from net-zero buildings. As a builder, you may be wondering what personal benefits zero-energy efforts can offer you. Besides the massive impact carbon neutrality would have on society as a whole, there are tons of reasons why builders should contribute to the movement.

Financial Returns 

If it’s money that motivates you, it’s time to do your research on sustainability and building! Energy conservation systems are just some of the surprising features that add value to your home. That’s why investing in net-zero efforts in the construction industry pays off big in the long-term, whether it’s for your own house or those you’re building. Buyers are more likely to pay a higher price for a home with modern, energy-efficient upgrades.

Helping Combat Climate Change 

This one should go without saying, but constructing net-zero buildings goes a long way toward fighting global climate change. Everyone must do their part, and builders are in the unique position of being able to contribute to the energy efficiency of homes everywhere. Not to mention you’ll feel good about the work you’re performing and its potential to benefit the planet.

Being on the Cutting-Edge of Building Technology 

It’s important to stay up to date on all the latest technological developments in the building industry, and most of these innovations are taking place in the clean energy field. When you design homes for the future, you show an astute awareness of industry trends and do your part to enact positive change. You and your clients will be all the better for this initiative years down the line. Invest in the future by participating in this massive shift in the building industry now.


How to Contribute to Zero-Energy Homes

The biggest way builders can contribute to zero-energy homes is by simply making structures as energy-independent as possible. There are a variety of ways to achieve this goal, and some of the most widely-used techniques include:

  • Installing solar panels.
  • Using energy-efficient HVAC systems and appliances, such as induction cooktops.
  • Making sure the structure is airtight.
  • Performing all construction with non-toxic materials and finishings.
  • Using advanced fresh air systems.
  • Making use of solar design principles.
  • Integrating LED lighting.
  • Maximizing efficiency of water systems.

You may have such a knack for energy-independent building that you become a zero-energy professional. As a builder, that means you’ve developed the necessary skills and competencies to design energy-efficient home packages for your clients’ individual needs.


Reap the Benefits of Zero-Energy Construction

No matter your reasons for getting into the net-zero construction field, chances are you’ll never want to leave. The industry offers plenty of opportunities for career advancement as technologies progress and clean building practices become more accessible. Do your research to learn about how to cost-effectively build zero-energy homes, and you’ll be on the road to success in no time at all!


Amanda Winstead is a writer from the Portland area with a background in communications and a passion for telling stories. Along with writing she enjoys traveling, reading, working out, and going to concerts. If you want to follow her writing journey, or even just say hi you can find her on Twitter.