Powering Future Cities

Future energy production requires innovation.

Future of Cities2While energy prices are falling, especially in North America, cities in the developing world will require new, clean sources of energy as they become the new engines of the world economy.

This growth comes at a crucial juncture: as the United Nations Climate Change Conference reminded us, the need for renewable and clean sources of energy has never been more imperative.

Even though the demographics of cities are changing rapidly, urban infrastructure can be slow to keep up. Oxford Economics projects that by 2030, 260 million new homes will be needed in the world’s top 750 cities.

The key to powering all this new space may not lie in large, central power plants that spew greenhouse gases. Instead, future cities could be powered by decentralized, small-scale, sustainable energy sources.

Today a number of countries are ahead of the curve in experimenting with novel ways to produce energy as efficiently as possible.

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By 2030, 260 million new homes will be needed in the world’s top 750 cities.

Germany has already developed an aggressive plan for energy transformation, and is testing its feasibility as it works to meet its own stringent goals of reducing carbon-dioxide emissions.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems have modeled an all-sector renewable energy system for the entire country, matching supply and demand on an hourly basis. However steep the cost (about $628 billion), the model suggests that converting 80% of Germany’s energy to renewable sources could pay itself off by 2025.

Pakistan is experimenting with methods of generating power from trash that don’t involve pollution-producing incineration. A Swiss firm, EAWC technologies, is building a facility in Karachi that converts solid waste into electricity—a method that can be scaled down for smaller towns or up for larger cities.

Island nations in Southeast Asia have thus far experienced difficulties when it comes to large-scale renewable energy solutions, especially in countries like the Philippines, an archipelago comprised of more than 7,100 islands.

In the past, solar adoption has been hampered by the technological limitations of solar panels and storage batteries that proved unable to meet peak demand at night.

global_cities_landscape-cover-pageBut as solar energy collection and storage technology improves, off-grid solutions are growing in prominence. These initiatives are expected to make solar energy increasingly competitive with diesel fuel.

India is joining the solar revolution as well, and is working on a plan to form a coalition of countries with high solar-power potential to lower the cost of solar energy infrastructure and production and reduce emissions.

India recently increased its 2022 solar production target fivefold, to 100,000 megawatts. It’s a lofty goal, considering the country today only generates 2,900 mw of solar power and its 2022 goal will require a total investment of $110 billion.

When it comes to energy production in the cities of the future, there’s no silver bullet. The key is innovative, flexible thinking. Combining emerging technologies with tailored solutions for specific geographies will make emerging cities competitive in the global market—and will keep the lights on for their burgeoning populations. goldbrown2


Peter Harris is Director of Sustainability for UPS Europe. He has worked for UPS for 27 years, holding positions as UK Automotive Director, as well as UK Industrial Engineering Director. He holds a Masters in Engineering from Cambridge University, UK, and is a Chartered Engineer and Member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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