Megacity Energy Consumption: What’s the Solution?

Chances are that you live in a city. You might even live in one of the 28 megacities dotted around our planet, soaking up gobs of energy by the millisecond. More than half of the world’s population lives in big cities, and almost a billion people in a megacity (a city over 10 million people). Megacities are growing fast and keeping up with the energy that they crave has engineers, scientists, and politicians concerned.

New York City counts around 8.1 million people, but when you factor in the surrounding populations of the metro area, the total number comes close to 22 million. It’s a huge jump, but a more realistic representation when looking at the city’s energy needs. More and more cities are passing the megacity threshold – 25 years ago there were only 10, and it’s expected that by 2030 there will be over 41. China and India both have megacities, and it’s expected that the continent of Africa will eventually have a couple, perhaps even surpassing Tokyo.

When the issue of how to handle the energy demands of these megacities is put on the table, there are basically two paths of solution to explore: find a way to use less energy, or find a way to produce more energy.

A team of 28 researchers partnered with the Enel Foundation, a division of the Italian energy company Enel Group, is working on how megacities can cut down on their energy appetite. And it’s not quite as simple as asking everyone to switch from an air conditioner to a ceiling fan.

While megacities produce more wealth, they also produce more waste – they hold around 6.7 percent of the Earth’s population, but produce 12.6 percent of its solid waste. To reduce its energy consumption and waste, New York City might look up to Tokyo. Both cities use around the same amount of electricity, but Tokyo has a better water system, with only about a 3 percent leakage rate, compared to an average of 20 percent for most large cities.

On the other end of the spectrum, finding ways to produce more energy might be a safer route. One option that is generating a lot of interest, is space-based solar power. As we reported earlier this year, Japan is already working on technology for satellites that would collect energy from the sun and beam it back down to the megacities, thus reducing the amount of waste needed to make energy here on Earth. This of course would be extremely expensive, but with technology moving faster than it ever has before, this could also be a possibility.

Whether the answer lies in producing more energy with cheap electricity rates, using less, or far more likely, some combination of both, megacities are sprouting up faster than ever before and they’re hungry for energy.

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