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Dense cities in 2050: the energy option?

Panel: 4. Transport and mobility: How to deliver energy efficiency 

This is a peer-reviewed paper.

Raphaël Ménard, Elioth Groupe, Iosis, France


In 1989, a widely-publicised article by Newman & Kenworthy revealed the correlation between urban density and energy consumption linked to the car use. It summarized in a “logo-curve” the chaos of urban sprawl. In its apology, this paradigm of hyper density has most certainly over encouraged land speculation in urban centres, this phenomenon causing in turn urban sprawl. This paper re-examines this correlation: we assess the energy consumption loads generated by the use of the automobile and the productions due to renewable energies installed in urban areas. A prospective vision is associated to two major technological developments. Cars: 30 years after the publishing of the Australian article, the automobile industry has slowly started to initiate a change in energy policy: downsizing the engines, efforts to reduce weight, reducing friction, generalization of micro-hybrids, plug-in hybrids and the popularizing of electric vehicles. Renewable energies : for the photovoltaic market as an example, where one can expect in 2015 a crossover between the cost of production of photovoltaic electricity and the sales price of the network. As a result, the decentralized storing capacities made possible by the use of electric vehicles shall offer a more satisfying answer to the intermittency of renewable. More generally, annual production of renewable energies is in direct relation to the spatial extent of their surface. As a result, low density rimes with the potential for development of an increase in production (brought to the inhabitant of the urban area). The addition of these two phenomena is outlined and analyzed in this paper. Nearing 2040, it's very likely that the energy balance be more favourable for urban areas of low density (and for CO2 emissions as well). This tendency should therefore influence political incentives in order to develop first and foremost automobile efficiency and a decentralized production in those urban locations.


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