Urbanization and the notion of smart cities have been emerging topics for some time now. This is no surprise, given that urban residents accounted for 54 percent of the total global population in 2015, and are expected to grow to 60 percent by 2030, according to the World Health Organization.
In order to accommodate this urban population growth, cities will continue to face increasing challenges, including congested transportation and housing and the need to reliably supply sufficient energy to meet growing demands.
Smart cities are large urban areas that are unique due to their exceptional connectivity and technology surrounding critical infrastructure and systems. These technology advancements, such as advanced sensors to monitor traffic and smart grids and lighting, will certainly help cities of the future meet urbanization challenges. But resiliency must also be a priority for creating sustainable growth, and energy efficiency plays a key role in the resiliency equation.
With this in mind, here’s why we need to pay more attention to energy efficiency and resiliency when discussing how cities will meet ongoing urbanization and climate-related challenges.
Resiliency means improved response
Resiliency is considered a system’s (or city’s, for the sake of our conversation) capacity to survive, adapt and grow in the face of unforeseen physical, social and economic challenges. As urban populations grow, it becomes increasingly important that cities of the future are equipped to deal with stresses, such as food and water shortages, energy demands, inefficient public transportation systems, cyber-attacks and natural disasters. According to the Rockefeller Foundation, resilient cities are not only able to better respond during extreme events, but they are also able to better-deliver basic functions to their populations in both good and bad times.
Just as resiliency reduces a city’s vulnerability in times of extreme risk, a resilient city will also find itself better equipped to handle increasing demands resulting from growing urban populations.
Moreover, taking a city’s ability to deal with the stresses associated with population growth – demands on food, water, space and energy – into account for sustainable growth is also important when preparing for a long-term surge in urbanization. For example, incorporating energy efficiency strategies into planning efforts can minimize stress on the grid and improve overall grid reliability.
Uniting local and global efforts
To meet the demands of urban population growth, governments, businesses and non-government organizations (NGOs) will need to work together. But what exactly does this mean, and what exists to help get them there? For starters, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of 17 global goals aimed at addressing poverty and other sustainable development issues, calls for this type of collaboration. For example, goal seven calls to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.” Partnerships between industry members and all stakeholders will be critical in achieving this goal.
Using the SDGs to unite conversations between government and businesses is a great start to help advance energy efficient and resilient urban environments. At the same time, these conversations are largely uncharted territories. Keeping the SDG objectives in mind during these conversations can undoubtedly serve as a missing link between strategic planning for cities of the future and preparing for increased urbanization.
However, it is also important to remember that these conversations are fluid and ever-evolving – especially as innovation progresses, providing new and exciting strategies. Ten years ago, automation technologies to help control energy usage were not commonplace, yet today they are widely leveraged.
Energy efficiency takes center stage
Energy efficiency plays an inherent and vitally important role in a city’s resiliency. As it relates to energy, resilience is also considered a “community’s reduction of and preparation for risk,” according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).
Not only do energy efficient solutions support resiliency as it relates to severe weather events, but these solutions can also offer ways to better manage uncertain or changing energy supply and demand. For example, certain solutions can allow energy to be stored and automatically utilized during off peak hours. This ultimately allows for better energy management and efficiencies that avoid excess usage.
As urbanization continues to increase, cities need to be able to respond to growing energy demands. As such, embracing these types of energy reduction and efficiency strategies will help improve grid reliability, and hopefully even reduce costs down in a times of extreme stress.
Cities of the future
Smart city technology and global initiatives, like the U.N. SDGs, are helping unite cities to meet the challenges of urbanization. Implementing resiliency strategies, including energy efficiency, can also help cities achieve sustainable growth while preparing for surges in urbanization, and requires partnerships across governments, businesses and NGOs.
By achieving resiliency and sustainable growth, cities of the future will be fit to handle both anticipated and unexpected environmental, social and economic stresses.
Image credit: Pexels
Scott Tew is the founder and leader of the Center for Energy Efficiency & Sustainability at Ingersoll Rand (CEES), which supports all of the company’s strategic brands – Club Car, Ingersoll Rand, Trane and Thermo King – and is responsible for forward-looking sustainability initiatives. Since the CEES was formed in 2010, Ingersoll Rand has successfully met or exceeded its long-term goals in energy use and waste reduction, while embedding sustainability in all parts of the product development process. Tew’s efforts have led to the development of world-class initiatives, including the creation of a green product portfolio, personalized employee engagement programs, and unique research on unmet needs in the green space. Tew manages all sustainability-related public transparency, advocacy, reporting and goal setting initiatives for the company.
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