While cities command an increasingly dominant role in the global economy as centers of both production and consumption, this rapid urban growth throughout the developing world is outstripping the capacity of most cities and urban centers to provide adequate services for their citizens.1
While there is no ‘typical’ city in terms of their energy needs and energy use, they do have a lot in common. Cities run on energy and require land – their burning of fossil fuels and their contribution to land clearing combine to contribute massively to the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – they are also extremely vulnerable to energy scarcity, to energy price rises and health impacts of very poor air quality. In developing countries many urban citizens experience extreme energy poverty and their access to transport and so to urban goods is constrained.
While the energy transition challenges faced by developed and developing urban centers are fundamentally the same – to stabilize a growing hunger for secure energy supplies, avoid polluting and wasteful industries and power systems, and shun development paths that condemn citizens to high transport costs – urban centers in developing countries face additional challenges. These can include serious finance, governance, capacity and resource problems – and yet the fluidity of development and the rapid changes that are occurring may make opportunities of some of these challenges.
These cities, while they may have fewer resources than those in developed countries, are not so ‘set in their ways’ – they have the potential to establish new and different development paths.
“There is no doubt that it will be far less costly to avoid the outcomes of climate change, than to live with its consequences or to repair its damage.”
One of the more obvious opportunities for cities in developing countries is that of ‘leapfrogging’ – where countries skip inferior, less efficient, more expensive or more polluting technologies and industries and move directly to more advanced ones. In terms of energy planning, developing countries need not repeat the mistakes of highly industrialized countries in creating an energy infrastructure based on fossil fuels, but “jump” directly to renewable energy sources and more efficient technologies.
Some of the advantages of sustainable energy action planning:
Improvements in local air quality – Energy management initiatives are among the most cost-effective actions that local authorities can take to reduce the air pollution that causes serious environmental and health problems within their cities.
Financial savings – While many local authorities are faced with budget deficits, the appeal of saving money is often the starting point for municipal energy management initiatives. Improved efficiencies in municipal energy consumption offer plentiful opportunities for reducing operating costs.
New jobs – Inefficient energy systems represent important investment opportunities in the community, and such investments are among the most effective ways to create new employment. When energy management reduces expenditures on fuel and electricity, the savings can then be re-spent within the community.
Local economic development – The energy management industry itself is a growth industry and its promotion can be an effective component of local economic development strategies in the community. In addition, big business is increasingly considering the livability of a city an important factor in deciding where to locate – access to urban goods and transport efficiencies (and so spatial development and public transport provision) are critical to creating livable cities.
New partnerships – Utilities, private enterprises, financial institutions, and levels of government other than municipal are all pursuing energy management for various reasons. They have recognized that urban governments are well suited to deliver the type of integrated programes often required to achieve energy efficiency and renewable energy objectives.