In the global effort to fight climate change, cities have some of the greatest potential– and the greatest imperative — to make a difference. With an increasing global migration into the world’s urban areas, which are expected to support at least two-thirds of the total human population by 2050, experts have argued that cities have no choice but to transition toward low-carbon systems if they’re going to remain sustainable.
Energy will need to be a primary focus of that effort. From the expansion of renewable energy sources to the adoption of cutting-edge energy efficiency and storage technologies, cities have the opportunity to drastically reduce their carbon footprints.
This is the focus of a new paper, published Thursday in the journal Science, that discusses the ways cities can integrate renewable energy, as well as energy-saving technologies, into the urban landscape. This can be a challenge, given that cities — with their closely packed buildings and dense populations — don’t always lend themselves to traditional renewable techniques. It’s not exactly practical to fit an acres-long solar panel array in the middle of Shanghai, for instance, or to place a 200-foot-tall wind turbine in downtown New York City.
But with a little creativity, researchers are developing new ideas and technologies specifically designed for city life. In the new paper, authors Daniel Kammen and Deborah Sunter of the University of California Berkeley have evaluated some of the most promising of these. Here are a few of the innovative solutions that may help cities lead the ongoing fight against climate change and the march toward a low-carbon society.
See-through solar cells
Although many forms of renewable energy may be useful for different cities around the world, solar is likely to have the most traction in the future. “In essentially every setting, solar — even in places that don’t seem as ideal as tropical sunny cities — is arguably the lead,” said Kammen, director of UC Berkeley’s Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory. “And that’s just because there’s now so many ways to deploy solar.”
Traditionally, solar panels have been limited to the roofs of buildings, where there’s space available and they’re likely to get the most sun. But now, researchers have developed transparent solar panels that can actually be mounted on the windows of buildings in order to capture even more sunlight. This design could allow buildings to generate even more of their own power from solar energy in the future.