What cities of the future can learn from their older peers

Masdar in the United Arab Emirates was conceived a decade ago as a zero-carbon city in a region otherwise dependent on fossil fuels. Only five percent of the 2.3 million square miles allotted have been developed, but what’s there is 75 percent solar-powered.

That could be too much of a good thing, according to the researchers behind a new study published in the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Review.

Lack of power diversity means that “Masdar could be in danger of getting locked into certain renewable systems,” while overlooking opportunities to generate other types of clean energy, notes the report’s co-author Peter Braithwaite, a civil engineer at the University of Birmingham in the U.K.

In that respect, a highly advanced, ambitious city like Masdar could learn a thing or two from its older, industrial-era urban peers. Birmingham, U.K., which is 400 years old, runs mainly on fossil fuels. But it has begun diversifying its power sources, turning, for example, to methane generated from sewage as a fuels source.

Although cities with older infrastructure may be slower to evolve, urban centers like Birmingham survive because of an ability to adapt—something new cities will also have to be able to demonstrate, Braithwaite says. “Cities have to be able to innovate, experiment, and adapt to changing conditions.”

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Photo credit: Foster and Partners

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