Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Decarbonizing Cities – How to Harmonize Buildings, Mobility and Infrastructure

Climate
Decarbonizing Cities – How to Harmonize Buildings, Mobility and Infrastructure
The Parc del Fòrum, a public open space with a massive solar panel in Barcelona, Spain. Enrique Díaz / 7cero / Getty Images

By Francesco Starace and Jean-Pascal Tricoire

Why is it so important to decarbonize cities? And how can we do it?


The first question is easy to answer: The cities in which more than half of us live account for nearly two-thirds of the CO2 emissions that lie at the root of our planet's looming climate crisis. Skyscrapers in megalopolises, shopping malls, SUVs in the streets, air conditioners in a growing number of places throughout the globe – all consume a vast amount of high CO2-content energy.

The answer to the second question is to take an integrated approach: leveraging clean electrification and digital technology to harmonize urban energy systems, while also thinking beyond individual projects to consider their impact within the surrounding communities and the built environment.

In fact, urban energy, transport and building infrastructures are gradually becoming greener: There are more electric vehicles on city streets, better water treatment and recycling schemes, and more solar panels on rooftops around the globe. According to International Energy Agency estimates, renewables like solar and wind are set to become the largest source of electricity generation worldwide by 2025, supplying one-third of the world's electricity and ending coal's decades-long dominance of the global power mix.

All this is, of course, welcome.

But with climate change accelerating, we need more comprehensive decarbonization actions on three fronts. First, we need even more energy to come from renewable sources. Second, we need more cars, heating and other activity to be powered by clean electricity. Third, we need everything from factories, to office buildings, homes, transport systems and consumer devices to become more energy-efficient.

This third lever might not as headline-grabbing as the rise of solar panels or electric vehicles. But it is a big piece of the decarbonization puzzle, with an even larger potential enabled by digital technologies.

Consider, for example, the technologies that make buildings more energy-efficient, by automatically adapting the amount of cooling, heating or lighting to occupancy levels at any given moment. Or digital tools that allow the operators of a manufacturing site in Sweden or a public utility in India to run their operations or distribution systems more efficiently and even remotely, rather than in person (a feature that has proved critical in these times of social distancing and lockdowns).

Imagine how much more we could achieve if we digitally integrate ultra-efficient buildings, public services – e.g. transport or lighting – and electric vehicle charging stations into a wider, highly efficient urban system, delivering better quality services for citizens and accompanying benefits such as local job creation, health, and well-being. Integration and interaction between assets are the key to disrupt the traditional equation of energy and efficiency in cities. An EV battery can store power not only for just one car, but, while a car is not in use, also for the surrounding community thanks to smart-charging infrastructures. Excess power generated by an office building's or warehouse's rooftop solar panels might be used to help power the wider neighborhood.

The technologies, digital tools and data analytics capabilities to enable this efficient urban system already exist, as do concrete examples of such an integrated approach. Therefore, integration and collaboration of systems and stakeholders are the fundamental drivers to accelerate and scale the transition in cities.

Integration of energy, buildings and mobility requires cross-cutting industry collaboration, ranging from utilities and real estate, to technology companies and financial institutions. City- and state-level administration can enable and facilitate such collaboration through public-private cooperation. The public sector can drive on governance, policy and licensing, while the private sector provides agility, technology and resources. This cooperation can share and balance risks and liability between stakeholders for mutual gains and value creation for the broader community.

All of this comes against a backdrop of great urgency. Epidemics, climate and economic pain have all created unique challenges in 2020. But combating climate change must remain top of mind. Cities lie at the heart of this fight and have now the chance to build back better. We have joined the World Economic Forum in the effort to promote dialogue and mobilize action together with a group of global leaders. As co-chairs of the Net Zero Carbon Cities initiative, our ambition is to accelerate a sustainable transition in cities, supporting mayors in creating value for their communities. It is up to all of us to ensure we become part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

Reposted with permission from World Economic Forum.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and German ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst stand at the Orion spacecraft during a visit at the training unit of the Columbus space laboratory at the European Astronaut training centre of the European Space Agency ESA in Cologne, Germany on May 18, 2016. Ina Fassbender / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

By Monir Ghaedi

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to keep most of Europe on pause, the EU aims for a breakthrough in its space program. The continent is seeking more than just a self-sufficient space industry competitive with China and the U.S.; the industry must also fit into the European Green Deal.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A new species of bat has been identified in West Africa. MYOTIS NIMBAENSIS / BAT CONSERVATION INTERNATIONAL

In 2018, a team of researchers went to West Africa's Nimba Mountains in search of one critically endangered species of bat. Along the way, they ended up discovering another.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Lakota spiritual leader Chief Arvol Looking Horse attends a demonstration against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico in front of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 28, 2015. Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden is planning to cancel the controversial Keystone XL pipeline on the first day of his administration, a document reported by CBC on Sunday suggests.

Read More Show Less
Seabirds often follow fishing vessels to find easy meals. Alexander Petrov / TASS via Getty Images

By Jim Palardy

As 2021 dawns, people, ecosystems, and wildlife worldwide are facing a panoply of environmental issues. In an effort to help experts and policymakers determine where they might focus research, a panel of 25 scientists and practitioners — including me — from around the globe held discussions in the fall to identify emerging issues that deserve increased attention.

Read More Show Less
A damaged home and flooding are seen in Creole, Louisiana, following Hurricane Laura's landfall on August 27, 2020. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

By Elliott Negin

What a difference an election makes. Thanks to the Biden-Harris victory in November, the next administration is poised to make a 180-degree turn to again address the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less