The Emerging Sustainable City Opportunity

Ed Note: This post is RP Siegel’s entry into Masdar’s 2014 blogging contest for a shot at a trip to Abu Dhabi.  If you’d like to enter, there’s still time.  Just follow these instructions.

How can cities contribute to the advancement of sustainable development and address issues including water, energy and waste?”

City skylineNot only is there much that cities can do to advance sustainable development, it is critical that they begin doing so. With 50 percent of humanity already living in cities and emitting 80 percent of all greenhouse gases, with far more arriving in coming years, as Schneider Electric‘s Mike Calise said, “the battle for our future is going to be won or lost in the cities.”

The good news is that cities are in a good position to win that battle. The concentrated population provides tremendous leverage. Retrofitting skyscrapers, for example, with systems to improve energy or water efficiency, can have the same impact as taking individual measures across entire neighborhoods or even small towns.

Look at New York City, where 82 percent of residents travel to work by public transport. That’s one reason why the Big Apple’s per capita energy consumption is lower than any of the 50 states.

The Smart Cities movement, spearheaded by companies like IBM, Cisco and Schneider Electric has injected advanced technology into the mix. Opportunities are plentiful in buildings, where, according to the IEA, 80 percent of the potential for energy savings remains untapped. Advanced building management systems integrate HVAC, lighting, security management and fire protection equipment, utilizing sensors to direct resources to where they are needed. All of this is enhanced by analytics that predict occupancy and weather conditions, taking proactive measures to prepare the building. Cisco now has the capability to discover, measure, and manage all devices connected to the internet, providing dramatic savings by turning off idle equipment. Smart meters help residents understand their energy usage details, allowing them to save energy and money.

Transportation options range from hybrid-electric buses, to car-sharing services, to smartphone apps that encourage people to walk, bike or use public transit. Schneider has smart charging systems for electric vehicles. Energy storage systems, either solar integrated, or vehicle-to-grid (V2G) will facilitate utilization of renewable resources. Smart parking systems can help drivers find parking spots quickly, reducing fuel consumption and time spent searching.

As for water, some 12 billion gallons are lost each day, costing up to $14 billion annually. It’s the 5 percent of leaks that occur in large-diameter pipes that account for more than half the losses. New technology like the SmartBall in-line acoustic leak detection technology can locate these leaks without shutting off the water. IBM’s Smarter Water initiative combines analytics with sensors to manage water resources, including a smartphone app that allows citizens to call in and report leaks. The system can anticipate problems including leaks and flooding that could potentially contaminate a city’s water system.

Finally, it’s not only advances in electronics that are pushing the sustainability envelope. Innovative bio-engineering has allowed Epiphergy to develop a potentially game-changing waste treatment system that can effectively convert food waste into energy in an urban setting. The system utilizes every scrap of food they collect, following EPA’s food recovery hierarchy of: feeding hungry people, feeding animals, making energy, and making compost to feed the soil. Because the micro-organisms quickly break down the organic material, the process is virtually odorless, making it suitable for inner city operation. Local operation is important, because it eliminates long distance hauling of all this material. A single, five-day process breaks down the waste stream from which animal feed, ethanol and compost are extracted.

Cities are not only filled with people; they are filled with imagination and opportunity as well. In our connected world, the time has arrived for cities to learn from each other and set the pace for the transition to sustainable living.

[Image credit: Andrew Hux: Flickr Creative Commons]


RP Siegel, PE, is an inventor, consultant and author. He co-wrote the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining romp that is currently being adapted for the big screen. Now available on Kindle.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.

RP Siegel

RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work has appeared in Triple Pundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering, and among others . He is the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP is a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 52 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP recently returned from Abu Dhabi where he traveled as the winner of the 2015 Sustainability Week blogging competition.Contact:

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