Rethinking Infrastructure: Synthesizing a development model from the regional grid to a local hub to usher in clean energy systems
Author: Tyler DeMassa
Institution: Washington University in St. Louis
Instructor: Patty Heyda
Studio: Climate Action Now: Energy and Design for the Cities We Need; Undergraduate Architecture; Spring 2021
The state of Missouri has an energy history dominated by non-renewable, carbon-emitting power sources: fueled by coal, natural gas, and nuclear. However, recent legislation and technologies have shifted the tide by diminishing the use of high-carbon coal and improving feasibility of renewable production. Emerging on the regional energy landscape are ambitious ideas toward transmitting renewables efficiently over long distances, such as the Grain Belt Express, which hopes to access abundant wind energy in western Kansas to boost the energy portfolios of three consecutive states. Building upon Missouri’s current state of energy, the Reach Remote Renewables (RRR) Act is an approach to unlock distant renewable resources for communities spanning rural-to-urban settings. Applying interstate project federal funds, governed by local representational groups, and crafting a coalition of public and private expertise, the Act proposes a democratic framework to complete a large-scale project while balancing local interests. As it aims to create rural jobs and upgrades urban infrastructure, the unified Act can build well-being and resilience for populations along its path. In St. Louis, the long-distance project terminates at a site whose history, location, and infrastructure footprint are fit for reuse as a transmission-conversion hub. Converging urban and floodplain ecosystems, the Near North Riverfront includes St. Louis’ oldest and continually running power plant, an electrical substation linked to an underground grid, and a past of heavy industrial use. Installing restorative, functional, and educational spaces, the proposed ‘home’ for St. Louis’s energy network seeks to initiate sustainable jobs, infrastructure, and ecology for the neighborhood and city.
Climate Action Now remakes the city according to radical—necessary—new models of renewable, public controlled, distributed energy resources. It is well known at this point that climate warming is a global crisis. Species survival relies on curbing green-house emissions within the next few years. Currently, our centralized systems of fossil energy generate 55% of the U.S.’s toxic greenhouse gas emissions causing climate warming (EPA, 2018). Climate Action Now means, not only addressing how a post-carbon city can shape new paradigms of public and private life, but innovating the policy ideas for how to actualize it. Fossil capital, after all, provides power just as it holds (political) power. To that end, we will leverage the Green New Deal—the non-binding congressional call to arms—by giving it the teeth it needs via a testing of concrete new formats of American energy post coal, oil and gas. We will speculate on the design possibilities of a truly public decentralized energy city. Can we imagine an urbanism of people over profits; planet over pilfering? Public utilities? Sharable power, distributed energy resources; ground-up micro-grids? New paradigms of subsidy, regulation; property? And how do these transformations manifest in urban space and program across scales? An ecologically connected urban and landscape design approach will envision forward thinking scenarios of the post-fossil city we have no choice but to achieve. Students will first conduct research on existing energy systems in the context of St. Louis, MO. Then they will propose new energy economy frameworks (in small teams). Finally, through individual projects, students will play out the material-spatial design possibilities that those frameworks enable across scales. The St. Louis, MO region is home of the United States’ 14th most CO2 polluting coal-fired power plant, and Missouri is the third largest consumer of coal in the United States. St. Louis has thousands of vacant lots and the region still reels from ongoing racial tension and compounded inequality. Following on Van Jones’ Green Collar Economy (the original Green New Deal call!) the studio will explore how neighborhoods long underserved could become key participants and beneficiaries of the energy transition. The deurbanized city is a prime location for this new just energy economy.