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Role of renewable energy in city development strategy

Cities provide opportunities, economics of scale and a future with more choices. However if they are not properly planned they are also blamed for causing  environmental catastrophes, for marginalizing communities, for diminishing the quality of life of the poor. Proper city planning requires the assessment of its natural assets and its environment.


The world has experienced unprecedented urban growth in recent decades. In 2008, for the first time, the world’s population was evenly split between urban and rural areas. More developed nations were about 74 percent urban, while 44 percent of residents of less developed countries lived in urban areas. However, urbanization is occurring rapidly in many less developed countries. Cities and peri-urban settlements must be prepared to meet the challenge of unplanned
settlement or slum formation. If proper planning is not carried out they suffer from the greatest problems to humans caused by rapid urbanization, including intense
pressures on resources, slum formation, lack of adequate services such as water and sanitation, poor planning and degradation of farmland. Over 90 per cent of
slum dwellers today are in the developing world. China and India together have 37 per cent of the world’s slums. Developed countries have about 6% of their  populations living in unacceptable housing conditions, says the report.

City Environment Integration

Grave consequences may result if urban environment of the city is misused. Environmental resources are assets to a city. It becomes less costly to avoid environmental degradation than its consequences or repairing its damage. Inadequate waste disposal leads to the spread of disease. The use of biomass fuel, coal for cooking and heating in a confined living space can produce toxic fumes that damage lungs. It is estimated that 800,000 people die prematurely each year due to urban air pollution. A city can not disregard its environment if it is to grow and develop in the long term. Concerns about carbon dioxide emissions may discourage widespread dependence on coal use and encourage the development and use of renewable energy technologies.
Energy systems planning could enhance the competitiveness of local industry, while solar water heating, district heat and power systems micro-cogeneration (combined heat and power systems) and methane production all benefit the local economy.

An ecological footprint is the area of ecologically productive land required to provide the resources consumed by a city and to absorb the wastes it generates  expressed in terms of hectares per capita for a specific year.

Carbon Footprint

A carbon footprint is the total set of greenhouse gas emissions caused by an organization, event, product or person. Greenhouse gases can be emitted through
transport, land clearance, and the production and consumption of food, fuels, manufactured goods, materials, wood, roads, buildings, and services. For simplicity of
reporting, it is often expressed in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide, or its equivalent of other GHGs, emitted.
The mitigation of carbon footprints through the development of alternative projects, such as renewable energy or reforestation, represents one way of reducing
a carbon footprint and is often known as Carbon offsetting. Carbon footprint is a measure of the impact of our activities on environment and particular in climate
change. The carbon footprint is a measurement of all greenhouse gases we individually produce and has units of tonnes (or kg) of carbon dioxide equivalent.

Sustainable Energy
Sustainable energy is the provision of energy that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Sustainable energy sources are most often regarded as including all renewable energy sources, such as solar energy, wind energy, hydroelectricity, geothermal energy, bioenergy etc. It usually also includes technologies that improve energy efficiency. Renewable energy resources, such as wind, solar and hydropower, offer clean alternatives to fossil fuels. They produce little or no pollution or greenhouse gases, and they will never run out.

Solar energy
The sun is our most powerful source of energy. Sunlight, or solar energy, can be used for heating, lighting and cooling homes and other buildings, generating electricity, water heating, and a variety of industrial processes. Solar thermal energy systems collect the sun’s radiant energy and convert it into heat. This heat can  be used for household and industrial purposes and also to drive a turbine and produce electricity. Solar PV Panels (Lantern, Home system, Solar Street Light) are good decentralized power generation sources.

Wind Energy
Wind is the movement of air that occurs when warm air rises and cooler air rushes in to replace it. Wind energy is captured by wind turbines and used to generate  electricity. For many centuries, wind power like water power has provided energy to pump water and run mills and other machines. The availability of sites with sufficient wind (at least 20 km/h) limits the widespread development of wind farms.

Water flowing downstream is a powerful force. Water is a renewable resource, constantly recharged by the global cycle of evaporation and precipitation. Flowing
water can be used to power water wheels that drive mechanical processes. And captured by turbines and generators, like those housed at many dams around the
world, the energy of flowing water can be used to generate electricity.

Biomass Energy
Wood is the most common source of biomass energy, but other sources of biomass energy include food crops, grasses and other plants, agricultural and forestry
waste and residue, organic components from municipal and industrial wastes, even methane gas harvested from community landfills. Biomass can be used to  produce electricity and as fuel for transportation or to manufacture products that would otherwise require the use of non-renewable fossil fuels.
Improved Cookstoves: The use of Improved Cookstoves helps to meet out the rural energy needs with low emission level. It enhances the local entrepreneurship in  villages.
Installation of such stoves will help to conserve the forest since the wood is used as fuel for cooking. There is an estimated potential of 120 million improved
cook stoves in and so far about 36 million units have been constructed in India. Biomass Gasifier: Crop residue can be burnt and help to generate heat and energy.

system for heat and power generation helps in reducing CO2 as well. The cost of producing a kilowatt of electricity from woody biomass ranges from 7¢ to 10¢, which is competitive for electricity production that presently has a cost ranging from 3¢ to 13¢. Approximately 3 kcal of thermal energy is required to produce 1 kcal of electricity.

Biogas Plants: This is already established and proven technology for gas generation. Apart from cooking, biogas can be further cleaned and filled in cylinders to be  used as fuel for automobiles just like CNG in urban areas. There is a potential of 12 million family size biogas plants in India and about 4 million have been installed.


Using solar electric technologies for its production, hydrogen has the potential to serve as a renewable gaseous and liquid fuel for transportation vehicles. In addition
hydrogen can be used as an energy storage system for electrical solar energy technologies, like photovoltaics. Hydrogen fuel cells used in rural and suburban areas
as electricity sources could help decentralize the power grid, allowing central power facilities to decrease output, save transmission costs, and make mass-produced, economical energy available to industry.

Other sources of energy like Geothermal and Ocean Energy can also be explored. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), Govt. of India has  sanctioned the Solar Cities programme under their 11th Five Year Plan with an objective to help Urban Local Bodies guide their cities towards becoming “Solar Cities”. About 60 cities and towns across India have been selected for the programme. So far, based on proposals received by the Government from various States, ‘inprinciple’ approval has been given to 48 cities to be developed as solar cities in the country. Out of these, sanctions have been given to 37 cities which have engaged consultants for preparation of Master Plans.

Very recently state of Kerala has selected 14 municipalities in the State to switch over from conventional electricity to solar energy to light street lamps and the pilot project is expected to complete within three months.


BY: Dr. Anil Kurchania & Mr. Chirag Shah

Dr. Anil Kurchania is Professor, Department of Renewable Energy Sources, College of Technology and Engineering, MPUAT, Udaipur. Mr. Chirag Shah is an Independent Renewable Energy Advisor

2012/09/28 by Gloria Llopis