How Birmingham can take the next step in setting energy efficiency standards

Last year, renewable energy accounted for all of the new energy generating capacity in the United States. Southern states—known for diverse natural resources—have made much improvement in energy management in recent comparisons. In the most recent rankings, Alabama ranked 9th in the nation for energy generated from renewable sources.

Cities in the South are taking advantage of abundant resources to make significant progress in terms of energy management. Although the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy listed Birmingham 50th out of 51 large American cities in terms of energy efficiency—the Magic City finished slightly ahead of Oklahoma City in the rankings—there is room for optimism.

Birmingham is one of 16 cities worldwide, and one of four in the U.S., to be awarded anIBM Smarter Cities Challenge Grant. With the IBM Smarter Cities grant, Birmingham has the opportunity to capitalize on energy efficiency and further grow its city center.

Atlanta recently mandated new benchmarking standards for buildings in the city. The new regulation will focus on buildings larger than 25,000 square feet and will take effect this year for government owned buildings before expanding to the private sector in 2016.

Birmingham could benefit by pursuing similar standards. Energy efficiency is an opportunity for economic growth and environmental stewardship— traits that can attract entrepreneurs looking to invest in a city that is willing to invest in the future.

Energy efficiency is an opportunity for economic growth and environmental stewardship

Alabama has implemented limited net metering standards—which allows buildings that generate excess energy via solar panels to sell the unused energy to the local utility. Unlike many states, there is no set rate for this process, but it could encourage better energy management solutions with such incentives.

Birmingham could also follow the example of neighboring Chattanooga—once known for its pollution—and use the Smarter Cities grant as a catalyst toward a more sustainable approach. Like Chattanooga and Atlanta, Birmingham could adopt benchmarking standards. Smart metering and retrofitting existing buildings could save the city millions of dollars a year and attract new jobs.

In 16 cities across the South, including Birmingham and Huntsville, efforts to retrofit buildings to new standards have resulted in a 387% return on investment according to research by the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance (SEEA). Increasing energy efficiency standards would place Birmingham in league with other leading Southern cities and could, ultimately, attract more business.

This article was originally published on AL.com