Powering future cities in the UK

Sacha Deshmukh, Chief Executive of Smart Energy GB says there is huge potential for smart energy systems in urban areas to be part of the “smart city” revolution.

London is one of 11 UK cities where electricity demand is forecast to grow faster than average. Image credit: Alexis Díaz Martín [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons.
London is one of 11 UK cities where electricity demand is forecast to grow faster than average. Image credit: Alexis Díaz Martín [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons.
  • Updated: 20 July, 2016
  • Author: Sacha Deshmukh, Smart Energy GB Chief Executive

Two-thirds of the world's population will be living in cities by 2045.

Hollywood has long imagined a dark future of gargantuan metropolises with mega-buildings and hovering vehicles.

As the London skyline surges upwards, such visions are fractionally more plausible.

But in truth, we don't know exactly what the "megacities" or "metro-cities" of the future will look like.

We can, though, start to forecast some of the demands that urban planners will have to respond to in the decades ahead.

Sacha Deshmukh is chief executive of Smart Energy GB
Sacha Deshmukh is chief executive of Smart Energy GB

The energy question

If our cities grow and develop in the way that many experts forecast, how much energy will we need to power them? Where will this energy come from? How will it be distributed, stored and accessed?

A new report for Smart Energy GB by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) begins to answer some of these questions.

We asked Cebr to assess trends in energy demands in major UK-cities and produce city-level forecasts of energy usage over a 20-year time horizon.

The findings are striking, and highlight the challenge but also the opportunity for the smart cities of the future.

Currently – due to energy efficiency measures and greater interest in energy saving – electricity demand is falling. This is expected to continue perhaps until 2025.

But between 2025 and 2035, the analysis shows a sustained increase in electricity demand, due in part to an expected surge in electric transport use.

A smart city grid

Our energy system must be ready for the day in the not too distant future when millions of people come home from work and plug in their electric cars at the same time.

This will create new pressures on our existing grid and generation capacity at particular times of day.

We also need to plan for increased use of renewable energy which will bring the challenge of intermittent energy supply. Electricity flows when the sun shines and the wind is blowing, but falls suddenly when it doesn't.

City planners and developers are starting to think as much about energy storage and "peak shifting" of energy demand across the day, as they do about integrated transport and advanced building design.

Smart meter opportunity

As set out in the National Infrastructure Commission's Smart Power report published earlier this year, the smart meter rollout will play an essential role in making our cities ready for the future.

Smart meters will generate new data to inform our future energy infrastructure, allowing suppliers to manage increasingly complex demands and flows of energy as electrification becomes ever more dominant.

The rollout will provide a platform for innovation and the "internet of things", with an increase in the number and variety of smart appliances communicating energy needs through the connected home.

Smart meter data could also help local organisations identify pockets of fuel poverty, for example by alerting council officers when households "self-disconnect" because they can't afford to heat their homes.

The challenge for cities

Our Cebr research forecasts that electricity demand in 11 cities (Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham, Cardiff, Sheffield, Bristol, Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow and London) will grow faster than the national average.

This is a major challenge.

But the arrival of smart meters, delivering smart data, provides an enormous opportunity for local authorities, working with energy suppliers, community groups and innovators, to create urban areas that are more responsive to the energy demand of citizens and systems.

Many cities – like Bristol, Manchester and Nottingham – are already doing so, bringing their smart city visions to life with concrete initiatives. The other cities in our report have also made big strides forward.

But I hope everyone in local and city government will now raise their eyes to a more distant horizon, and think afresh about the energy challenges we all face.