- What are the various sustainable sources of energy that cities are using across the world?
- What are the limitations to the use of sustainable sources of energy?
- What are the various co-benefits of using sustainable sources of energy in cities?
How can we enable universal access to energy as defined in SDG7? The transition to sustainable urban energy systems along with their deep decarbonisation as agreed in the Paris Climate Accord.
This is one of the greatest innovation and implementation challenges of the 21st century that will be won or lost in our cities, especially those of Asia and Africa where there are rapidly growing energy demand, that is rising in response to ending energy poverty and driven by population and economic growth.
The development of the modern city can be characterised by a series of energy transitions from the wood and biomass burning pre-industrial city that still persists in some parts of the world to the coal-burning city of the early Industrial Revolution that one can see reminiscence of in China and India, to the coal-based electricity, oil and gas-powered city of the late industrial era which characterises most contemporary cities to the renewable and maybe safe nuclear low-carbon city of the mid – 21st century. Universal access to reliable and affordable modern, clean and renewable energy has finally been seen via SDG7 as crucial to human wellbeing, vital for national economic development, essential for the provision of clean water, sanitation and other environmental services, lowered air pollution and lower climate risk.
In this lecture we will explore the relationship between sustainable cities and energy systems. How do we ensure universal access of affordable, reliable and modern urban energy services? What constraints and impact could this have on urban form, economy and well-being?
How can we substantially increase the share of renewable energy across key urban end-uses, like manufacturing, lighting and mobility? How can we rapidly increase energy efficiency and enable deep decarbonisation of energy use in building construction and maintenance, commercial activity, transport systems and urban services. What kind of technology and institutional innovations can enable this? The fundamental challenge across much of low and middle-income countries and cities in Asia, Africa and some parts of Latin America is that of energy poverty or the lack of universal access to affordable, reliable and modern, urban energy services.
This means that cooking, heating and lighting is often dependent on smoky, pollution creating burning of wood, agriculture residue or in some cases low- grade coal.
The transition to universal household and enterprise access to electric power and gas, solar PV wind and other renewable based energy has been slow and patchy at best.
This is partially because of the poverty of end-users and the ability to aggregate demand effectively. It is also linked to a range of infrastructural challenges for example, lack of reliable generation and distribution systems, technological challenges like high cost of renewables vs. coal-based power, OECD monopolies on advanced technologies, institutional challenges, for example, inadequate regulation, pricing and internalisation of externalities like pollution and carbon emissions, financial challenges for example, the lack of access to affordable finance and high-risk premiere for energy projects and governance challenges – large-scale theft, monopolies and lack of policy stability.
Addressing these kinds of questions need systemic sectoral reform and innovation, the recognition of cities as central actors and the willingness to commit politically to medium-range change.
This diagram shows the overall flow of energy from primary sources to end uses for India in 2011. Traditional biomass continues to be a significant primary source of energy in India even though it shares declined over time, especially in urban areas. The bulk of the energy supply comes from coal via electric power and burning to generate process heat. Both renewable energy: wind and solar PV that have been growing very fast and nuclear power make up under approximately 5% of the total primary energy flux. This means that even if they grow very fast and energy transition in which they have a significant share could take many decades to execute.
On the end-use side, a huge opportunity lies in reducing massive energy losses more than 30%, which currently are almost as big as a sum of the demand from the industry and the fast-growing transport sectors. It is only when we look systemically at energy systems like this that we can start understanding what changes need to be enabled.
Yet a dual strategy of addressing city-level initiatives and regional and national innovation and implementation is required. Urbanisation typically involves an intensification of Urban Energy use partially due to the concentration of commercial and industrial activity but also because of urban demographic and income growth.
Given that three-fourths of global energy consumption is in urban areas, how cities decide to acquire, transmit and use energy will help define global energy trends. This in turn is closely related to carbon emissions, hence, the Nationally Determined Contributions – NDC’s to address climate change under the Paris Climate Accord will be critically linked to urban leadership and implementation of deep decarbonisation of energy systems, through mechanisms such as the Compact of Mayors.
The challenge for urban energy systems in countries with large, centralised power and energy supply ability to transform their primary power sources, for example, the amount of coal based power generation in the grid without a change in regional or national energy mix. At best they could influence citywide energy efficiency and fuel substitution initiatives like shifting to LED street and home lighting as has been done in Madrid, Houston and Sydney, shifting transportation fuel mixes like Delhi shift of all public vehicles from diesel and petrol to CNG in the early 2000s and mandating building by-laws that reduce embodied energy and construction as has been done in Singapore.
Appropriate energy pricing at national, regional and city level and quality, utility, regulation that uses marginal, cost principles are difficult to implement but can pay strong dividends as in the case of California.
It was reasonably established through the California electricity crisis in the early 2000s that effective regulation is the key to ensure that market power is not exercised by just a few sellers. The California crisis has helped us to understand the importance of regulatory and institutional design in ensuring that market principles are efficiently followed and respected.
What cities and regions can certainly do is plan their land use, transportation, energy and information infrastructure much better to contain sprawl and promote liveable, mixed-use development, reduce the need for transit, enable the shift to public and active mobility like cycling and walking that would also improve citizens health and rapidly move to gas and electric vehicles. The hope is that these vehicles can in time draw energy from a grid that is based on renewable energy.
Gas is a possible transition fuel that produces less pollution and carbon emissions during the shift. This is not only possible in high-income cities like Copenhagen, Melbourne, Seoul and Vancouver but is increasingly catching on in a wide range of middle-income cities, countries and regions like Delhi, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Brazil and the Asia-pacific.
There are a series of positive feedback loops hidden here: universal internet & communication coverage at low-cost, enables productivity and innovation that tends to reduce the need for travel to work, or enable financial and information transactions, micro grids that enable building neighbourhood and citywide decentralised energy production and storage using rooftop solar PV reduces distribution losses, increases grid efficiency and power quality and resilience, all serious challenges in rapidly growing urban environments.
This enables the more rapid deployment of energy efficient and intelligent devices that respond to demand by switching off street lights and domestic devices that are not needed, the deployment of new cost-effective storage technologies could enable these processes to cross a tipping point in many urban environments. Less transport and more human-centric mobility not only reduces traffic accidents but improves health, liveability and social cohesion reclaiming the city for its citizens reducing energy intensity and carbon emissions at the same time. The other major area for urban innovation is dramatically reducing embodied energy use in building an infrastructure and later in the use of energy services like lighting, cooling and heating in these buildings.
When taken together a range of good practices could mean a multi-factor reduction in energy and carbon emission intensity in these cities. A range of low life cycle energy construction technologies are available for each region. The challenge in their deployment is less from the formal building and construction sector that’s often responsive to price and regularly signals like building bylaws and codes but the challenge lies in the informal and the self-building sector that makes up a large share of the current and future building stock. In building energy use, a key innovation is in using passive building and urban design techniques like building orientation, shading and sun exposure, appropriate insulation and ventilation to reduce the use of air conditioning and heating as much as possible as both increase energy intensity by factors of 2 to 4.
The use of high energy efficiency lighting, cooking and production systems that recover and reuse waste heat are also becoming more viable. A big shift that is starting to be tested in some cities across the world is combining large-scale centralised power production systems using power plants and transmission systems with distributed and renewable power production using rooftop solar, onshore and offshore wind and biomass energy. This when combined with co-generation of power, heat and cooling and flexible storage for example using stationary electric vehicle batteries could save hundreds of billions of dollars in capital investment, reduce power costs by up to 50%, reduce vulnerabilities, safeguard the integrity of fragile ecosystems and improve energy access. Cities are starting to lead this wave of innovation from widespread electric vehicle charging infrastructure like developments that we see in China to smart grids in Germany, Japan, China and Brazil.
So what had we learned in this lecture: the fundamental challenge across much of low and middle-income countries and cities in Asia, Africa and some parts of Latin America is that of energy poverty or the lack of universal access to affordable, reliable and modern urban energy services.
Addressing these kinds of questions needs systemic sectoral reform and innovation, the recognition of cities as central actors and a willingness to commit politically to medium-range change. The bulk of the energy supply in low and middle income countries and cities comes from coal via electric power and burning. Both renewable energy and nuclear power make up a small proportion of the total primary energy flux.
This means that even if they grow very fast, an energy transition in which they have a significant share could take many decades to execute. On the end-use side, however, a huge opportunity lies in reducing massive energy losses which can be sufficient to offset incremental demand. It is only when we look systemically at energy systems that we can start understanding what changes need to be enabled yet a dual strategy of addressing city-level initiatives and regional and national innovation and implementation is necessary.
Urbanisation typically involves an intensification of energy use, partially due to the concentration of commercial and industrial activity but also because of demographic and income growth.
Given that three-fourths of global energy consumption comes from urban areas, how cities decide to acquire, transmit and use energy will help define global energy trends. What cities and regions can certainly do is plan their land use, transportation, energy and information infrastructure better to contain sprawl, promote liveable, mixed-use development, reduce the need for transit, enable the shift to public and active mobility and rapidly move to gas and electric vehicles. There are numerous successful innovations in implementation from cities across the world.
However, the need of the hour is to scale those innovations, setup an enabling framework that helps us learn from them and appropriately redesign national, regional and city level energy systems and frameworks.