How can energy support the growth of urbanisation?
A transformative approach is needed, argues a forthcoming Arup report for the World Energy Council
As the world's population grows and urbanises, the question of how energy can contribute to the success of cities is becoming increasingly urgent. It's an issue Arup examines closely in its forthcoming World Energy Scenarios report, which will launch at the World Energy Council (WEC) congress in October. The report forms a chapter in Arup's partnership with WEC's World Energy Scenarios, which allows policymakers and energy leaders to test the key assumptions they make to shape the energy of tomorrow. The report will launch in Istanbul, a city that is grappling with the challenge of updating its energy infrastructure to cope with a burgeoning population of 15 million.
So how can cities like Istanbul address this challenge? It's my belief - and the basis of the World Energy Scenarios report - that a paradigm shift is needed to meet cities' future needs with low-carbon energy. But a shift to what? Renewables, such as solar and wind, are not the sole answer within dense urban areas, so the challenge is how to get clean energy to the centres of demand. And going all-electric would for many cities require unrealistically costly network enhancements, especially when you consider that a typical northern metropolis might use three times as much energy for heating and twice as much in vehicle fuel as it does for power. Rather, what's required is a shift to an approach that integrates different energy vectors - different forms of carrying energy - and control them as a single system. Electricity grids. Gas networks repurposed to also carry hydrogen. District heating. Transport fuel. Ground source or air source heat pumps. They all need to be part of a mix that's controlled smartly.
Achieving this requires a system of economic and control mechanisms that allows much more dynamic balance of supply and demand across a city. This concept, which the World Energy Scenarios report describes as 'transactive energy', would use data and technology to radically transform the overall efficiency of this integrated system. The good news is that many major cities and their mayors are realising they can create city action networks, with firms like Arup advising on how they can structure effective policies to benefit from an integrated approach.
However, this transformation will require a shift in regulatory thinking. For example, when you consider London's gas network carries five times more energy than its electricity grid, doesn't it make sense for the city to use this grid in new ways? The problem is that regulations in the UK currently prevent this. With its legacy of steel gas mains, the UK has so far restricted putting hydrogen into the pipes because it can make them brittle. But where the old pipes have been replaced with plastic ones, there's no reason that this restriction shouldn't be lifted. Gas networks, unlike electric, inherently provide energy storage so hold the energy until it is needed. It then can make sense to use renewable energy more flexibly and take benefit of times of surplus marginal cost energy to generate hydrogen or put stored energy into electric vehicles. Integrating these energy vectors and dynamically balancing supply and demand relies on real-time knowledge of energy availability and cost. Regulatory frameworks must be up-to-date and take into account factors like this if they are to be enablers rather than inhibitors.
Nor can energy be considered in isolation. Integrated energy planning also influences city planning - urban form, transport planning and design have a vital role to play. Take the cities of Atlanta in the US and Barcelona in Spain. They are both home to roughly five million people, yet Atlanta's carbon and energy footprints for transport are ten times that of Barcelona's. The reason is urban sprawl; the result is high overall energy costs and air pollution. If the world's growing cities are to continue to thrive, it's clear that they must apply thought to the concept of urban energy and the built environment - considering them as an integrated whole.
It is exciting that many cities are beginning to do exactly this and are making use of new financing models, such as energy performance contracting.
In the World Energy Scenarios report, launching in October at the World Energy Congress, we look at cities that are leading this thinking, with some even setting up integrated municipal energy companies. If more cities follow their lead, I'm hopeful that a global transformation in the relationship between cities and energy will gather momentum. Ian Gardner is Arup's global energy leader. He also sits on the firm's UK, Middle East and Africa regional board, is a member of the World Energy Council's UK board and on the Institution of Civil Engineers' energy panel
This article is culled from daily press coverage from around the world. It is posted on the Urban Gateway by way of keeping all users informed about matters of interest. The opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and in no way reflects the opinion of UN-Habitat