Suburban sprawl to power cities of the future

Jul 31, 2013

A city's suburbs could hold the solution to dwindling fuel supplies by producing enough energy to power residents' cars and even top up power resources, pioneering new research has found.

It is commonly assumed that compact cities, with built-up central business districts and densely-populated residential areas, are more efficient than the low-density suburban sprawl that surrounds them, which are dependent on oil for high levels of private transport use.

In a future with on suburban roofs and increasing use of electric vehicles however, experts have predicted that suburbia will adopt a valuable new role – transforming from a high energy consumer into a vital power provider for the city.

Newly published research, conducted by Professor Hugh Byrd from the University of Lincoln, UK, and collaborators including Professor Basil Sharp from the New Zealand Energy Centre and experts from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, challenges the conventional theory that compact urban form offers the best solution for a sustainable city.

Instead, the team of researchers highlight the potential of suburbs for harnessing solar energy, with detached suburban houses capable of producing ten times the amount of energy created by skyscrapers and other commercial buildings.

The findings also reveal that lower density housing in suburbia not only has the greatest capacity for collecting solar energy, but also the greatest surplus after its own energy uses have been taken into account to help out city centre loads.

Professor Byrd, from Lincoln's School of Architecture, said: "This study challenges conventional thinking that suburbia is energy-inefficient, a belief that has become enshrined in architectural policy. In fact, our results reverse the argument for a compact city based on transport energy use, and completely change the current perception of urban sprawl.

"While a compact city may be more efficient for internal combustion engine vehicles, a dispersed city is more efficient when distributed generation of electricity by photovoltaic installations is the main energy source and electric vehicles are the principal mode of transport.

"However, if this energy contribution is to be effective, controls of new suburban development may be needed that require the installation of photovoltaic roofing, along with smart meters and appropriate charging facilities for vehicles. City planners will need to make the changes necessary to control suburban development."

Funded by the University of Auckland under the "Transforming Cities" initiative, the research was conducted in Auckland, by evaluating the energy usage and potential for power generation across typical cross-sections of the city. However, the findings are also applicable to energy systems across 'new world' cities, designed and developed around the growth of the motor vehicle.

Professor Byrd said: "This research could have implications on the policies of both urban form and energy. Far from reacting by looking to re-build our cities, we need to embrace the dispersed suburban areas and smart new technologies that will enable us to power our cities in a cost-effective way, without relying on ever dwindling supplies of fossil fuels.

"It is more a case of building for the future – when the climate will be warmer, harvesting solar energy will be cheaper than the grid and emerging technologies will replace the . Particularly for city centre travel where longevity isn't an issue, electric vehicles will become increasingly more attractive as their price drops with mass production and the cost of fuel continues to rise.

"Photovoltaics on rooftops of course also have all the advantages of renewable energy systems, such as reduced carbon emissions, offsetting dependent on the electricity grid and long-term energy security, all of which will only become more important in cities of the future."

Explore further: How 'Christmas trees' can help improve hydrogen refuelling technologies

More information: Byrd, H. et al. Measuring the solar potential of a city and its implications for energy policy, Journal of Energy Policy (July 2013). www.sciencedirect.com/science/… ii/S0301421513005272

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Hybrid buses improve air quality in Hanoi

Jul 25, 2013

Siemens and the Vietnam Motors Industry Corporation (Vinamotor) are launching the first hybrid bus with a combined electric/diesel drive in Hanoi. The project is the first of its kind in Vietnam. The vehicle ...

Wind map shows untapped energy potential in cities

Apr 24, 2013

Putting a wind turbine on your suburban home may leave you disappointed but there is a large untapped wind energy potential in UK cities, say scientists. A new study has mapped the wind energy potential of ...

New technology to enable development of 4G solar cells

Jul 29, 2013

Professor Ravi Silva of the University of Surrey's Advanced Technology Institute has identified the range of combinations of organic and inorganic materials that will underpin new 4th generation solar cell technology – ...

Can Western Australia get smart on energy use?

Jun 20, 2013

A Murdoch University researcher has examined the benefits and challenges of adopting Smart Meters in Western Australia as the state's peak energy use continues to rise. ...

Recommended for you

Renewable energy companies use new clout in statehouses

19 hours ago

Earlier this year, Ohio became the first state to freeze a scheduled increase in the amount of electricity that must be generated by wind, solar and other renewable sources. The move gave advocates of repealing states' mandatory ...

America's place in the sun: Energy report sets goal

19 hours ago

A recent energy report said that America should build on the recent growth in solar energy by setting a goal of obtaining at least 10 percent of its electricity from solar power by 2030. "Star Power: The ...

Nevada, feds to study nuke-waste burial in state

Dec 23, 2014

Nevada and the federal government are agreeing to have a panel keep studying whether the U.S. will bury radioactive material from Tennessee at a former nuclear weapons proving ground north of Las Vegas.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.