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Capturing the true value of trees, cool roofs, and other urban heat island mitigation strategies for utilities


A growing body of research values the broad benefits of cooling down cities, such as improved energy efficiency, worker productivity, air quality, health, and equity, at hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars to a single city. However, widespread adoption of urban heat mitigation programs, such as urban greening and reflective surfaces, has been slower than their economic potential suggests it should be. One possible cause for this lag is a lack of robust engagement from important stakeholders like utilities that could fund and implement heat mitigation strategies. This paper highlights the benefits of urban heat mitigation and demonstrates how these benefits fit into private utility programs’ standard cost–benefit tests. This paper serves as an introduction on how to include the wide suite of benefits that urban heat mitigation programs provide in cost–benefit tests and concludes with program design guidance.

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Fig. 2


  1. Solar reflectance is measured on a scale of 0 to 1. A surface with a 0 solar reflectance rating would absorb all solar energy. A surface with 0.5 solar reflectance would reflect 50% of the solar energy that contacts it and absorb the other 50%.

  2. In this paper, we omit a specific discussion of two other standard cost–benefit tests: the participant cost test and the ratepayer impact measure test. These two tests represent the perspectives of the program participants and non-participants, respectively, which are both included in the total resource cost. Thus, the relevant benefits and costs for these two tests will be discussed in relation to the total resource cost test.

  3. Examples are based on a review of utility websites. See: Salt River Project:; Cedar Falls Utilities:; Tacoma Public Utilities:; Burbank Water and Power:; Columbia Water and Light:; and Riverside Public Utilities: Last accessed March 4, 2019.


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Correspondence to Kurt Shickman.

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Shickman, K., Rogers, M. Capturing the true value of trees, cool roofs, and other urban heat island mitigation strategies for utilities. Energy Efficiency 13, 407–418 (2020).

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