Energy conversion goes local: Implications for planners

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Problem: Emerging energy technologies are bringing planners a new set of issues. The supply-oriented framework from engineering economics within which energy planning has traditionally been conducted may be useful for siting large refineries, power plants, and transmission corridors, but it is not helpful for mitigating conflicts at the site level, encouraging new technology adoptions, managing the demand for energy, or, especially, coordinating the diverse users of smaller, local energy facilities Purpose: I provide an alternative conceptual framework for thinking about emerging energy planning tasks. I highlight factors not considered in the traditional model, and introduce terminology for characterizing key characteristics of the changing energy economy. Methods: I draw on concepts from industrial ecology, urban metabolism, and ecological economics, and apply my new framework to a set of examples illustrating its advantages relative to the traditional approach to energy planning. Results and conclusions: I propose that planners use network models to think about energy systems and focus especially on nodes where energy is converted from one form to another. Understanding the scale, scope, commodification, and agency of such nodes, and whether and when these attributes are open to change, can improve energy planning decisions for traditional energy investments such as power plants and for energy initiatives such as wind farms, rooftop solar systems, energy-efficient buildings, cogeneration, compact growth, and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. Takeaway for practice: Planners should do more than just mitigate energy facility siting conflicts. They should also identify points of governmental leverage on private decision makers, keep track of evolving technologies, bundle energy users with different temporal demand profiles, and help build smarter energy networks. Focusing on energy networks and their nodes should help planners see how they can be most effective.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)231-254
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of the American Planning Association
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Urban Studies


  • Energy efficiency
  • Energy networks
  • Infrastructure planning
  • Siting conflicts

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