Cleveland, Similar Cities Could Produce Most of Their Energy: Ohio State Study

Wind turbine and solar panels at the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland.


  • Increased urban energy self-reliance would add between $28.7 million and $1.76 billion to Cleveland's economy annually.

WOOSTER, Ohio -- Cleveland and similar North American cities have the potential to generate up to 100 percent of their current energy needs, retaining millions of dollars in the local economy, creating new jobs and spurring additional environmental benefits.

Those are some of the findings of a study conducted by Parwinder Grewal, director of the Center for Urban Environment and Economic Development at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) -- the research arm of Ohio State University's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

The study, "Can cities become self-reliant in energy? A technological scenario analysis for Cleveland, Ohio," was published online in the journal Cities last June.

Parbir Grewal, a former intern in the OARDC Research Internship Program and currently a bioprocess development engineer at Genentech Corporation, co-authored the study.

"Applying the concept of self-reliance, we found that while nearly all of Cleveland's energy is currently imported, this city has the potential to meet a lot of its electricity and fuel demands using local, renewable sources," said Parwinder Grewal, a professor and Distinguished Research Scholar who is also a specialist with Ohio State University Extension.

"Cities occupy only 3 percent of the Earth's surface, yet they consume 75 percent of total global energy and produce 80 percent of all greenhouse emissions. Typically all of this energy is produced elsewhere and imported by cities, weakening their control over their own economies and also threatening their environmental sustainability."

Using data on electricity, natural gas and transportation fuel usage in the city of Cleveland (2010 population: 396,815) provided by the GreenCityBlueLake Institute, the researchers estimated the city's energy demands at 22 million megawatt-hours per year. All three sources of energy were converted to megawatt-hours for ease of comparison. The scientists also estimated that less than 1 percent of Cleveland's energy is locally produced from private solar panels and wood burning.

Once the city's current energy profile was determined, an assessment of local resources available for energy production was carried out. Cleveland does not produce natural gas, petroleum or coal in significant quantities, but it does have important renewable energy resources such as wind, solar, conversion of waste to energy, and biofuels. Also calculated were the city's total rooftop area (18.1 km2) and vacant land (13.8 km2) from data provided by the Cleveland Planning Commission.

With that information, the researchers developed four scenarios of energy self-reliance for Cleveland.

The first scenario was limited to planned renewable energy developments: Cleveland Public Power's 20 MW Municipal Solid Waste to Energy facility and Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation's (LEEDCo) 20 MW offshore wind project. These facilities would meet 1 percent of the city's energy needs.

In addition to these planned energy developments, the second scenario assumed an increase in the contribution of offshore wind energy to 1,000 MW, which is LEEDCo's target for 2020. Added to this was the generation of solar energy (from 10-percent-efficient panels) on one-quarter of the city's total rooftop area and the production of biodiesel from moderate-productivity algae grown on one-half of Cleveland's vacant land. This arrangement would supply 17.6 percent of Cleveland's current energy requirements.

The third scenario took into consideration LEEDCo's 2030 target of generating 5,000 MW from offshore wind turbines. Solar energy and biodiesel would be produced on the same amount of rooftop area and vacant land as in the second scenario, but this time 20-percent-efficient solar panels and high-productivity algae would be used instead. These adjustments would make Cleveland 70 percent self-reliant in terms of electricity and fuel.

The final and most aggressive scenario would provide 100 percent of Cleveland's energy needs. In addition to the variables included in the third scenario, it would require the generation of a total of 7,494 MW of offshore wind power.

In addition to the environmental benefits of replacing coal-fired plants and hydrocarbon fuels with renewable energy sources, the researchers said energy self-reliance would help Cleveland retain money that it now pays for energy brought in from elsewhere: $28.7 million, $480.7 million, $1.39 billion or $1.76 billion respectively, depending on which scenario is implemented.

Development and production of these new sources of energy would also generate local jobs and stimulate additional economic activity through a multiplier effect, the researchers said.

"In addition to the obvious direct financial benefits of localizing energy production, cities can enhance their economic resilience by controlling fluctuations in energy prices," Parwinder Grewal said.  "They can also reduce their ecological footprint by becoming carbon-neutral through recycling waste and using renewable energy sources."

A similar study conducted by Parwinder Grewal on urban food production self-reliance can be found here.


CFAES News Team
For more information, contact: 

Parwinder Grewal