Greening urban centers: How can cities grow without endangering their future?

The UN-Habitat’s State of the World Cities 2010/2011: Bridging the Urban Divide report indicates that half of the world’s population today lives in urban areas. The same report also suggests that there is a positive link between economic development and urbanization, and that city residents experience what is known as the ‘urban advantage’, where access to services and jobs are far greater.

Around the world, urban city centers account for two thirds of global energy demand, 60 per cent of water consumption and 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. As urbanization continues to make its pervasive impact, the question that comes to mind is how cities can continue to be sustainable.

This includes the ability to address environmental concerns, even as cities race to become the epicenter of economic progress.

In fiscal 2012, Siemens registered a 10 percent increase in revenue from its environmental portfolio, underlining the increased investments in green technology among cities and businesses.

These solutions also help Siemens’ customers reduce CO2 emissions by a combined total of 322 megatons. Incorporating environmental technologies in urban city development is essential in building sustainable cities of the future.

Energy Sources

Today, the world is grappling with an impending energy crunch. Climate change and the depletion of fossil fuel supplies are driving the research and development momentum in renewable energy resources, especially in cities that are fast developing. Estimates suggest that more than 50 percent of worldwide investment in the power plant market will be focused on renewable energy resources such as water, sun and wind energy, as well as innovations in biomass. Even when fossil fuel is used in electricity generation, cities are focusing their attention on innovative technologies that will help generate more electricity from less fuel.

Additionally, technologies to further reduce emission, such as air pollution control systems by Siemens, will be an imperative for sustainable cities.

Smart Grid

Along with the development in green power sources and the need to maintain high energy reliability, smart grids and smart meters will be important components in future urban centers. Smart grid technologies help balance the fluctuations in green energy sources and increase energy system efficiency for sustainable energy management. Smart grids also allow operators to encourage and reward the shift of power demand from peak to off-peak periods to help ease periods of energy crunch.

Electricity generation is also expected to be much more decentralized. While renewable sources, such as wind and solar farms, help to ‘green’ the electricity industry, these facilities also tend to be situated miles away from dense urban centers. To address this need, sustainable cities can consider high-voltage direct current (HVDC) to transmit electricity over long distances – cleanly and with little loss. HVDC is also currently the only way to interconnect two heterogeneous power grids.

Conserving Water

Many cities today take their access to clean water for granted. Although currently ubiquitous in nature, water scarcity can be a reality if cities do not manage their water supply intelligently. Today, water-reuse technologies, such as those offered by Siemens, provide compelling answers to the problems of water-supply conservation, management and protection.

Siemens’ biological treatment, membrane filtration and separation, physical and chemical treatment and ultraviolet systems technologies are all helping to provide a sustainable solution to help preserve a municipality’s drinking water. Besides reuse, seawater desalination may also be a viable solution for coastal communities.

Technology, such as Siemens’ ultrafiltration membranes, provides cities with a pre-treatment solution for reverse osmosis. This solution is gaining popularity for its small system footprint. Additional reductions in footprint have been realized by Siemens through the development of an advanced desalination technology at its R&D center in Singapore. In a pilot system, Siemens has demonstrated an energy reduction of up to 40% compared to existing desalination processes.

The pilot system also aims to optimize the desalination process, as well as promote membrane development and module design that will yield a lower overall lifecycle cost for primary target markets like large scale drinking water plants.

Smarter Buildings

Buildings are responsible for 40 percent of energy consumption worldwide and make up approximately 21 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Sustainable cities must look towards the use of energy-saving solutions, such as efficient building insulation and modern lighting systems, to manage long-term energy sustainability.

Buildings can also be fitted with Green Building Monitor offered by Siemens, which collates information on power and water consumed in the building, the temperature and greenhouse gas emissions. The system provides businesses with a means to benchmark their green meter against industry standards. Consumption data can also be analyzed to seek potential for further savings.

Shaping Sustainable Cities of the Future

Urbanization is a prevalent trend that will continue to dominate the global agenda. The challenge today is for cities to remain attractive living and economic centers, offering the best opportunities that urbanization and progress can bring, while also helping to mitigate its negative impact. To secure long-term development, cities today and in the future must intelligently manage depleting energy and natural resources, and provide its population with reliable, safe and efficient public infrastructure and transportation.

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