Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities—55 percent according to the Population Division of the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs—and this trend toward increased urbanization is expected to continue, reaching 68 percent by 2050. Urban life provides distinct advantages, including the connectivity that is essential for economic growth; greater opportunities for education, employment, and other drivers of personal development; and access to a wide range of social services that enhance the quality of life. In both the developed and developing world, cities function as economic engines, accounting for more than 80 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP).
For the cities of the future to thrive, however, they must address some of the most significant challenges of our time, including the need for infrastructure that is secure, resilient, and sustainable. Resiliency is particularly important in coastal cities, which are vulnerable to the damaging effects of extreme weather and rising sea levels.
These challenges are especially acute with respect to energy. All the elements needed for urban residential and commercial life—buildings, transportation systems, water and wastewater systems, communication networks, and more—require an adequate, reliable, and secure supply of energy. Any interruption in supply has immediate effects, ranging from simple inconvenience to potentially dangerous conditions in mission-critical facilities, such as hospitals.
The northeast blackout of 2003 affected multiple U.S. states and resulted in a loss of power for 55 million people. Weather conditions and technical problems in Ohio demonstrated how extensively a power loss can affect entire areas and contiguous communities. Another example is India’s blackout of 2012, which affected a staggering 620 million people. In South Australia, the blackout of 2016 was one of many cases of widespread power outages that were caused by weather, in this instance, storm damage to electricity infrastructure. And what about the energy shortage, in Belgium?