When, about two centuries ago, the first gas networks started to be built in our cities, the bases for the present urban energy system were set up. At that time coal was the only fossil energy source used. A little more than a century ago the urban electric grids appeared, and coal was slowly superseded by oil and natural gas. Wood and charcoal soon disappeared; horses were substituted with cars and public transportation systems started to develop. At the beginning of last century the main cities of the western world were provided with a sewage system, a water network and a solid waste collection system. No more hard work carrying water from the fountains, no more epidemics, comfortable interiors with heating, cooling and electric lighting, an easier life at home with domestic appliances, and rapid mobility. A revolution in the quality of life. All thanks to cheap fossil fuels and to the technologies fed by them. Cities slowly changed, and learnt to metabolize fossil fuels, building up either an urban energy system based on them or an overall metabolic system that left no room for recycling: the saturation of the environment with wastes was not an issue. At the end of the process a new organism, the modern city, was born, suited to an environment with an infinite source and an infinite sink. The present urban energy system is designed on this assumption; for this reason, it is incompatible with the extensive use of renewable energy sources, in the same way that you cannot feed a lion with vegetables – it needs meat. Our task is to transform, with a sort of genetic engineering, our carnivore – the fossil energybased city – into a herbivore, the renewable energy-based city. Unfortunately we do not have two centuries in front of us, we do not have that much time; we must do it in less than 50 years. Fifty years to redesign the energy system of our existing settlements and less than 20 years to learn how to design in a different way all the new ones. Starting from the 1970s – after the first oil shock – the energy issue was introduced, bya few pioneers, in architectural design. Guidelines for low energy building design were implemented, and now they are becoming compulsory practice in all European Union and in some other countries of the world. Now is the time to introduce the energy issue to urban design, since the most significant energy savings can be obtained at this scale, by redesigning the energy system. This implies a change of priorities in the formal design of the urban layout and in the organization of the urban functions. But the Distributed Energy Resources (DER) approach must also be introduced, made of many small-scale interconnected energy production and consumption units instead of a few large production plants: a new web, the energy web . (Droege 2006). It is the only way to design new settlements (or redesign existing ones) capable of relying mostly on renewable energy sources, and implies an evolutionary jump towards a far more ‘ intelligent ’ urban energy system, because it is needed also as a distributed control system – made possible by the present development of information and communication technologies. The change in the energy paradigm is the only chance we have of coping with the present world trend leading to either an economical or ecological catastrophe, or both. It is not an easy task, because it is a technological change that implies a cultural change. It has to change the culture of architects and city planners, of citizens, of entrepreneurs, of city managers and of politicians. The fossil-based energy system developed spontaneously, under the contrasting pressures exerted by different social, economical and institutional actors; the new one must be guided by a strong political will. We have no time to wait for the spontaneous cultural change that would lead to the death of present technologies for individual mobility; we have no time to wait for a citizen to spontaneously degrade to a lower rank or to own a famous designer ’ s piece of furniture but we can upgrade to a higher rank and feel the desire to own a solar collector, or a mini-CHP, or a low-e window glass. These changes must be guided, by means of new rules in urban planning and building regulations, with incentives and penalties. Urban services are an integral part of the urban energy system: water and waste cycles, energy supply and transportation are all interconnected, part of a single system. In the past such urban services were, at least in Europe, owned by the municipalities; the present trend, however, is towards private ownership, which is averse to long-term investments. This trend should be reversed, since the change in the energy system cannot be done with a short-term approach. Again, a strong political will is necessary. The paradigm shift from a fossil-based urban energy system to a sustainable one will imply that there will be, in the market arena, losers and winners (many products must be excluded from the market and new ones substituted for them). This process must be guided too, to avoid dramatic social and economic events. Actually, such a revolution is not new to mankind, as we know that (Mumford 1934): ‘ Behind the great materials inventions of the last century and a half was not merely a long internal development of technics: there was also a change of mind. Before the new industrial process could take hold on a great scale, a reorientation of wishes, habits, ideas, goals was necessary. ’

Towards the Renewable Built Environment

BUTERA, FEDERICO
2008-01-01

Abstract

When, about two centuries ago, the first gas networks started to be built in our cities, the bases for the present urban energy system were set up. At that time coal was the only fossil energy source used. A little more than a century ago the urban electric grids appeared, and coal was slowly superseded by oil and natural gas. Wood and charcoal soon disappeared; horses were substituted with cars and public transportation systems started to develop. At the beginning of last century the main cities of the western world were provided with a sewage system, a water network and a solid waste collection system. No more hard work carrying water from the fountains, no more epidemics, comfortable interiors with heating, cooling and electric lighting, an easier life at home with domestic appliances, and rapid mobility. A revolution in the quality of life. All thanks to cheap fossil fuels and to the technologies fed by them. Cities slowly changed, and learnt to metabolize fossil fuels, building up either an urban energy system based on them or an overall metabolic system that left no room for recycling: the saturation of the environment with wastes was not an issue. At the end of the process a new organism, the modern city, was born, suited to an environment with an infinite source and an infinite sink. The present urban energy system is designed on this assumption; for this reason, it is incompatible with the extensive use of renewable energy sources, in the same way that you cannot feed a lion with vegetables – it needs meat. Our task is to transform, with a sort of genetic engineering, our carnivore – the fossil energybased city – into a herbivore, the renewable energy-based city. Unfortunately we do not have two centuries in front of us, we do not have that much time; we must do it in less than 50 years. Fifty years to redesign the energy system of our existing settlements and less than 20 years to learn how to design in a different way all the new ones. Starting from the 1970s – after the first oil shock – the energy issue was introduced, bya few pioneers, in architectural design. Guidelines for low energy building design were implemented, and now they are becoming compulsory practice in all European Union and in some other countries of the world. Now is the time to introduce the energy issue to urban design, since the most significant energy savings can be obtained at this scale, by redesigning the energy system. This implies a change of priorities in the formal design of the urban layout and in the organization of the urban functions. But the Distributed Energy Resources (DER) approach must also be introduced, made of many small-scale interconnected energy production and consumption units instead of a few large production plants: a new web, the energy web . (Droege 2006). It is the only way to design new settlements (or redesign existing ones) capable of relying mostly on renewable energy sources, and implies an evolutionary jump towards a far more ‘ intelligent ’ urban energy system, because it is needed also as a distributed control system – made possible by the present development of information and communication technologies. The change in the energy paradigm is the only chance we have of coping with the present world trend leading to either an economical or ecological catastrophe, or both. It is not an easy task, because it is a technological change that implies a cultural change. It has to change the culture of architects and city planners, of citizens, of entrepreneurs, of city managers and of politicians. The fossil-based energy system developed spontaneously, under the contrasting pressures exerted by different social, economical and institutional actors; the new one must be guided by a strong political will. We have no time to wait for the spontaneous cultural change that would lead to the death of present technologies for individual mobility; we have no time to wait for a citizen to spontaneously degrade to a lower rank or to own a famous designer ’ s piece of furniture but we can upgrade to a higher rank and feel the desire to own a solar collector, or a mini-CHP, or a low-e window glass. These changes must be guided, by means of new rules in urban planning and building regulations, with incentives and penalties. Urban services are an integral part of the urban energy system: water and waste cycles, energy supply and transportation are all interconnected, part of a single system. In the past such urban services were, at least in Europe, owned by the municipalities; the present trend, however, is towards private ownership, which is averse to long-term investments. This trend should be reversed, since the change in the energy system cannot be done with a short-term approach. Again, a strong political will is necessary. The paradigm shift from a fossil-based urban energy system to a sustainable one will imply that there will be, in the market arena, losers and winners (many products must be excluded from the market and new ones substituted for them). This process must be guided too, to avoid dramatic social and economic events. Actually, such a revolution is not new to mankind, as we know that (Mumford 1934): ‘ Behind the great materials inventions of the last century and a half was not merely a long internal development of technics: there was also a change of mind. Before the new industrial process could take hold on a great scale, a reorientation of wishes, habits, ideas, goals was necessary. ’
Urban Energy Transition
9780080453415
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11311/549716
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