How smart cities will play a role in sustaining Asia's growth

by Jose M. Galang

Posted at Apr 22 2013 10:37 AM | Updated as of Apr 23 2013 03:09 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Building smart and green cities will be an important part of an energy management agenda of Asian nations, including the Philippines, for the region to achieve its “Asian Century” vision of rapid growth towards becoming the main driver of the world economy.

New urban centers developed through clever planning and design, a new Asian Development Bank report says, will deliver significant energy and environmental savings critical to sustaining that growth.

The report, which forms part of the Asian Development Outlook 2013 released last week, argues that the region’s future expansion—which is expected to improve living standards and lift millions out of poverty—will need huge amounts of energy.

From 28 percent in 2010, Asia’s share of global GDP, under the Asian Century scenario, will nearly double to 52 percent by 2050. That will mean an additional 3 billion affluent Asians that will push up Asia’s share of world energy consumption to as high as 56 percent as early as 2035, ADB estimates show.

“Energy consumption that more than doubles under the Asian Century vision poses a colossal challenge,” says the ADB report. “Either it secures adequate energy supply or economic growth suffers accordingly.”

Still, even if Asia is able to secure enough physical energy supply, the ADB report points out “there remains the question of whether it can do so while safeguarding environmental sustainability and ensuring affordable energy for all.”

The ADB report, written by Minsoo Lee and Donghyun Park of the ADB Economics and Research Department and Harry Saunders of Decision Processes Inc., identifies three pillars of energy security for an “achievable energy future” for Asia: adequacy and reliability, environmental sustainability, and affordable access.

Environmental issues discussed in the report include consequences of global climate change. It says that damage inflicted by Asia’s projected energy future affects not only the local environment but the global climate, and if developing Asia continues to rely on fossil fuels, its energy-related carbon emissions (ignoring other greenhouse gas emissions) will more than double over the forecast period.

For the Philippines and other countries similarly vulnerable to climate change like Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, there is a risk of losing 6.7 percent of their combined GDP by 2100 if temperatures change as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts, says the ADB report.

The report discusses gains from green innovation and among several strategies it cites for saving energy is the development of smart cities. During the current growth era, it says, there is an opportunity for emerging new cities to substantially redefine urban design—into one that applies knowledge of mobility patterns to create compact, walkable neighborhoods and shared-use mobility and thoughtfully agglomerated office buildings, among other essentials.

Careful urban planning, the report says, can take advantage of cogeneration opportunities, in which waste heat from power generation can serve the heating and cooling needs of commercial buildings and households if the geographic configuration is compact enough.

For example, in Incheon, Korea, large waste collection and disposal systems in urban centers are employed to generate electricity from waste. Malaysia, in another exampe, has installed gas district cooling systems that boast system efficiency at 75 percent, or almost double the 40 percent for systems driven by electric motors, the ADB report points out.

“Smart cities may rely on telecommuting and telepresence to minimize travel costs, design work flows that allow teams to work asynchronously toward flexible work hours, provide real-time information to enable more efficient consumption and travel patterns, establish on-demand and real-time control of materials and energy flows to residences and businesses, and remotely control industrial and commercial processes,” the report says.

Moving toward this new growth paradigm of smart and green cities is a matter of considerable urgency if the Asian Century’s promise is to be realized, says the report.

From 1980 to 2010, the report notes, Asia added more than a billion people to its cities, pushing urban densities higher than in the rest of the world. Asia has 8 of the 10 most densely populated large cities in the world, including the top three: Mumbai, Kolkata, and Karachi, in that order.

In 2010, Asia was home to 12 of the world’s 23 megacities, or just over half. This rapid urbanization—projected to be at a faster clip than that experienced by North America and Europe—is expected to continue, bringing Asia’s urban population from the current 43 percent to 50 percent in 2025.

Considering Asia’s large population, the strong urbanization trend will continue thereafter, opening the door to a new growth paradigm if the process is properly managed, says the ADB report.

The implementation of green and smart cities in Asia will require a major shift in urban planning, the report says, adding that additional public finance will be needed for the higher upfront capital and maintenance costs.

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