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Changing the Game: Boulder's Clean Energy Goals, and How a Lego Game Shows How To Reach Them
Editor's Note: Marisa McNatt researched information for this story while traveling in Copenhagen, Denmark as part of the Heinrich Böll Foundation's Climate Media Fellowship program.
Photo: In Changing the Game, Alexander Ebuart, Albert Grau-Ivern and Julia Chozas use Legos and change cards to turn a traditional energy system into the most energy-efficient system possible. (Photo/Marisa McNatt)
What if there were a way for Boulder to visualize what would happen if the city were to take more aggressive action for reducing carbon emissions, or to map what it would look like to meet its renewable energy targets through municipalization? Lego blocks and “Change Cards” provide just such a tool, offering insight into the technological, economic and political challenges to making Boulder’s clean-energy and carbon-reducing visions a reality.
In July I traveled to the E.U. as a Heinrich Böll Climate Media Fellow, to learn about policies that the EU and Germany are implementing to transition to a carbon-free economy and translate them to U.S. policy-makers. My first stop took me to Copenhagen, home to the inventors of “Changing the Game” - a game that allows you to dream up your ideal energy scenario for a region in Europe in 2030 and see if you can get there under realistic technological and economic conditions. The Game uses Lego towers to visually capture the basic principles of the energy system. As you implement policy measures throughout the game using “Change Cards” that modify the energy system, the Lego towers are altered in tandem, so that the changes are visualized.
Participating in a round of Changing the Game on day two of my travels, I learned that even with a well-educated and ambitious group, it’s pretty difficult to overcome the technological and economic constraints to meeting renewable energy and carbon reduction targets. Despite the cultural and political differences between Europe and the U.S., there are similar constraints to transitioning to a carbon-free economy on either side of the Atlantic. Even for Boulder, the Game offers insight into what it will take to reach municipal climate and clean energy goals.
The recent election shows that Boulder is still intent on exploring taking control of its electricity supply. The city is pursing municipalization in part because of the possibility to more actively implement clean and renewable energy. If Boulder adopts a carbon neutrality goal for 2050 (or an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions if that goal can’t be met) then more renewables will have to be part of the picture - a goal that the City Council is expected to approve next year. A City Council memo notes that to reach the long-term carbon neutrality goal, energy from renewable sources will need to increase “by as much as 50 percent in the next seven to 10 years.”
The city of Boulder’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) includes multiple measures and city assistance that individuals and organizations can take advantage of to reduce their carbon footprint, from building more efficient buildings, to using public transit. Yet, even with CAP in place, Boulder has continually failed to reach past carbon reduction goals, like the goal to be 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. Although voluntary measures are politically more acceptable, Changing the Game allows you to see the progress that can be made toward carbon reduction goals when climate policies are mandatory - and if municipalization were to become a reality.
In the late-afternoon of day two of my journey, I bused to Central Copenhagen to meet with energy consultant Julia F. Chozas, an expert in offshore wind and wave energy and a Changing the Game pro. In an old brick building, several floors up, I watched Chozas setup the Legos-based game, alongside water, juice, biscuits and a bowl of pears to get us through the potentially three-hour-plus game. Read more ...