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By 2050, 70 per cent of the world’s population will live in a city. Demand for energy, water and other services will reach potentially unsustainable levels. Unless we use the economies of scale presented by people living in such close proximity to cluster energy needs together in ways that actually reduce energy consumption, resource use and costs.
The Cluster Principle in Action
Consider a row of four houses. Each house has its own boiler, requiring lots of energy to heat the water from cold, every morning and every evening, when the residents want their hot water. This isn’t a very good use of energy. Not only does it require the maximum amount of energy to heat the water from cold, there are four boilers in close proximity, all doing the same thing.
What if instead, you were to replace the four individual boilers with just one slightly larger boiler and leave it to run at optimal efficiency, just below its maximum load all day every day?
You could dramatically reduce the energy costs for the residents, while also increasing their access to hot water. Now this isn’t new, District Heating has been around in social housing contexts for decades, but we can now take this principle further to include community energy generation and sharing, national grid interaction, and connections to electric cars, transport and retrofitting, for example.
Making Cities Smart
Our vision is that by taking a smart approach to a communities’ development you can deliver a city which operates in an integrated fashion. One which uses digital technologies to enhance performance and wellbeing, to reduce costs and resource consumption, and also to engage more effectively and actively with its citizens. A Smart City.
Buildings; the main connectors between transport, energy, health, water and waste in a community, need to be at the core of this approach. Our belief is that by taking the lifecycle of the urban environment into account city planners can affordably start to create Smart Communities, scaling up to Smart Cities.
Imagine a series of smart neighbourhoods, made up of smart buildings capable of integrating with one another and the utilities to conserve energy. Each home is also capable of generating solar energy. The only problem is the residents are mostly out at work during the day, so they can’t use all the energy generated.
Instead of attempting to use harmful chemicals to store the energy, in a process that typically results in much of the energy being lost, a smart city would redirect the excess solar energy to a nearby business – as it’s being generated – eliminating waste and reducing costs.
Read more in IES – The Future of Energy Reduction.
Our wasteful use of energy is catching up with us. Environmental disasters which usually happen once every hundred years are happening every year. And climate change, once considered an issue for future generations, has moved firmly into the present.
The simple fact is: if we continue to emit heat-trapping gases from the burning of fossil fuels at the current rate, we will force temperatures to rise above the level our eco-system can cope with. All in less time than it takes for today’s preschoolers to finish high school.
Today, most countries have “Brown Economies” that are dependent on fossil fuels. We need to move as quickly as possible to “Green Economies” that have little need for fossil fuels and are resource efficient. Our ever increasing migration to cities and their growth presents us with a unique opportunity to drive this change through our approach to city infrastructure.
We need to stop wasting energy
As governments across the world respond by introducing carbon reduction targets, many people would argue the solution is to stop burning gas, oil and coal altogether and start generating all our energy from renewable sources, such as wind and solar power.
I used to be one of those people. It was only after I completed my PhD, in the generation and use of solar energy, that I realised renewable energy isn’t the solution. It certainly has a role to play – but when I tell people how much space they’ll need for all the solarflex required to power just one building, they quickly agree we need to stop wasting energy and reduce our overall energy consumption first.
When I created the Virtual Environment (VE), to enable architects and engineers to predict the impact of making changes to buildings on their energy consumption, little did I realise just how powerful the technology would become. Today, we’re not only helping facilities managers to reduce energy consumption and creating some of the world’s most sustainable buildings, but we’re also working with city planners to create smart cities where no energy is wasted.
Our buildings need to get smarter
It’s simply unacceptable that in a society capable of understanding the laws of the universe, cloning life and travelling through space, we still allow our buildings to waste a quarter of their energy.
As the Earth’s population continues to expand and more people migrate into cities, we need to look at how to not only make new buildings more sustainable, but also leverage the opportunities for economies of scale this presents. That way, we can we make our existing buildings and cities as energy-efficient as possible.
Only by looking at buildings and cities as the integrated environments that they are – instead of parts of the problem in isolation – can we ensure everyone involved in the conception, design or management of a building gets to leave our world in a much better state than we inherited it.
Thank you for playing your part.
Read more in IES – The Future of Energy Reduction.