Friday, November 15, 2013

UCLA's Sustainability Grand Challenge

UCLA has just announced an exciting grand challenge 
"In a kickoff event at UCLA's Royce Hall, Chancellor Gene Block will describe the ambitious project, "Thriving in a Hotter Los Angeles," whose goal is for the Los Angeles region to use exclusively renewable energy and local water by 2050 while protecting biodiversity and enhancing quality of life."

Among the goals of "Thriving in a Hotter Los Angeles" are:
  • A smart electrical grid that works with renewable energy sources, and smart metering systems that enable homes, businesses and electric cars to feed energy back into the system.
  • More efficient energy production and storage technology.
  • A carbon-free transportation infrastructure and public transit system, with greater options for bicyclists and pedestrians.
  • Solar energy on every rooftop.
  • A decentralized water treatment and supply system.
  • More efficient and affordable technologies for capturing and cleaning wastewater, stormwater and other urban water.
  • Developing environmentally friendly technologies for desalinating ocean water.
  • Policies that encourage homeowners to use low-water landscaping, rainwater catchment systems, and systems to capture, purify and reuse graywater.
  • An increased number of underpasses for wildlife and crossings to connect and enlarge wildlife habitats.
  • Supporting native plants and animals with green rooftops, native gardens, neighborhood green spaces and other land-use strategies to break down barriers between urban and natural space.

Some Economics Questions;

1.  Given that the Los Angeles building stock already exists and it is old, what is the cost of retrofitting such buildings to embody this new technology?  How much cheaper would it be to install this smart electrical grid if Los Angeles were to be built from scratch?
2.  Many Beverly Hills residents are using NIMBY concerns to block the Westside Subway.  Will similar issues arise with the installation of this new green infrastructure?    For example, where will these "decentralized" water treatment systems be built?  Will they be local disamenities or will LA residents be happy to live near them?
3.  If no more gasoline is used, then Los Angeles residents will not be paying gasoline taxes, how will Los Angeles finance the building and maintenance of its roads in the year 2050?
4.   Given that Los Angeles has more than 12 major employment centers, buses would appear to be a better public transit technology than subways (which focus on bringing people through a hub and spoke system).  Will Los Angeles introduce dedicated bus lanes and road congestion pricing so that "green buses" can achieve the win-win of moving at high speeds?
5. The main policy that will encourage homeowners to use lower water landscaping is to raise water prices!   Does the LADWP have the stomach to do this?  

So, I'm highly optimistic about this Grand Challenge and it is clear to me that economic analysis will be a key tool in guaranteeing that this optimistic vision for LA's future becomes a reality.