Investment in renewable energy key to securing future of our cities

I’ve been a big fan of the Irish Independent my entire reading life – I grew up in a house where it was always available. So when they published this wonderful review of Science and the City, I was amazed, flattered, and overwhelmed! And then Paul Melia (the paper’s Environment Editor), contacted me to commission a piece on the financial reality of renewable energy. So it was a double-whammy of excitement! Anyway, I wanted to share a small excerpt from the article. I hope you like it 🙂

Google ‘future cities’ and you’ll be met with visions of a science fiction-enhanced urban landscape. In this utopia, we’ll have divested entirely from fossil fuels, while investing heavily in renewable energy generation and other technologies. And we’ll do so without increasing our spending. This might sound idyllic, but I’d argue that it’s a future that is not only much closer than you might think, but one we must urgently move towards, if we are to secure the future of our cities.

We are urbanites
Since 2014, the majority of the world’s population, 54pc, have lived in cities, and that proportion is predicted to rise. This will come with numerous challenges – housing, water, energy and transport infrastructure is already at breaking point in many regions. There is also the reality of our changing climate.

A recent paper from scientists at University College London suggested that in order to limit global temperature rises to the 2C set by COP21, four-fifths of our remaining coal, half of our gas, and a third of our oil reserves should remain unused until at least 2050. While we may be far from achieving that, within the world’s cities, decarbonisation of the electricity grid is already happening. Seattle and Oslo source around 98pc of their energy from non-fossil fuel sources (largely hydropower). Paris isn’t far behind either, at 91pc, although their grid is dominated by nuclear power.

Irish cities now get, on average, a quarter of their electricity from wind turbines. So, we’re not starting from scratch. But there are a number of technologies, that if more widely adopted, could change the city as we know it.

Transport
Bristol and Stockholm share a rather smelly secret. Every day, their buses and taxis head to their local sewage treatment plant… to refuel. They run on a methane-rich gas that’s extracted from processed human faeces. In Bristol, the aptly-named No 2 bus can travel 300km on a full tank of this biogas – equivalent to the annual waste of around five local residents. And the biggest taxi operator in Stockholm uses the same fuel to run its fleet.

Trains in Philadelphia recover excess electricity and either feed it back to a centralised bank of batteries, or sell it to the main power grid. In Gumi, South Korea, electric buses are recharged by driving along a 10km stretch of inductive roadway, and in India, waste plastic is being used as a road-paving material.

Build
The new geometric façade on the Manuel Gea González Hospital in Mexico City eats smog, thanks to its outer layer of titanium dioxide. This molecule converts the pollutant nitrogen dioxide into a harmless salt that washes away when it rains. The same chemistry is being used on paving slabs in Chicago, on billboards in Sheffield and on roof tiles in California. Another way to improve air quality is to plant more trees. Because plants rely on the sun’s heat to evaporate water from their leaves, more trees would also make cities cooler, reducing the load on cooling systems.

Rooftops have a role to play too, as shown by a study from Stanford. They found that by utilising more of the available rooftops in California’s cities, the entire state (five times the size of Ireland) could be provided with more than three times its electricity and hot water needs.

None of these cases represent a far-flung dream – all are already available on the market. But while their environmental benefits might be clear, we need to talk about the criticism continually laid at the feet of renewable technologies – their cost. Few are cheap to implement, so it’s reasonable to wonder if they are worth it.

Money, money, money
A report published by Bloomberg……

To read the rest of the article, head over to the Irish Independent page – and don’t worry, there’s no registration required!

Enjoy 🙂