According to the United Nations Population Fund, over half of the world’s population, or about 3.3 billion people, live in urban areas, and that number will swell to almost 5 billion by 2030. In China, urbanites will outnumber peasants within a decade. China will have 83 cities with more than 750,000 residents, but only five with a population of more than five million. For the first time in history, the majority of the world population will live in towns or cities, and local governments will need the tools to predict future energy demands.
Warren Karlenzig, the President of Common Current, reported that scientists at the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley Energy Lab (LBNL) have created a tool that may provide governments and urban planners’ ways to model material, building, and resident’s anticipated energy use. This tool was applied to Jinan, China’s housing development, and was also used to conduct an extensive survey of 230 residential households in the Lu Jing block. The researchers at LBNL mapped where residents worked and went to school, how they commuted, where they shopped, and how much meat and what kind of products they consumed for an entire year. Total energy use and types of energy used were graphed, and a final graph showed the breakdown for energy used by buildings, transportation, food, and other areas. The result was a comprehensive model to forecast the aggregate energy needs of a portion of an urban population, rather than simply reporting the required energy supply of a single structure or industry.
As we move into a new era of urbanization, local governments, rather than the central government, will need to play a much more active role in designing sustainable cities. Local governments will need sufficient economic resources, technical capabilities, and sound policies to effectively address these challenges.
This innovative tool would enable local governments to plan for energy, transportation, and land use. As Warren notes, a shortcoming of the energy analysis tool is that it doesn’t take water use and supply into account, and yet increasing areas in the world are facing drought and water shortages. Reuters reported that Sanaa, Yemen, has become the world’s first capital city to run out of water. Water is a scarce resource, and policymakers will need to think carefully about how to manage and allocate water. Water shortage is one of the largest social and political issues of our time, and has already led to numerous incidents of unrest. While new technology may be available to treat polluted water and desalinize water, we cannot rely on technology alone, but must also adopt policies to encourage water conservation.
Regardless, this energy analysis tool is a great step forward in synthesizing existing programs to tackle the environmental challenges brought by urbanization. In the near future, this technology will be able to generate data on a city’s total energy use, but right now, each of us can learn the impact of our consumption patterns through calculating our water footprint and the water needed to produce the foods we consume on a daily basis. With this knowledge, we can start making changes in how and what we consume.