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Jun 25, 2020

To remain resilient, cities must lead energy transition

Life in cities comes with distinct appeal, which includes increased levels of connectivity needed for economic growth; better opportunities in education, employment and personal development; as well as access to an array of social services meant to improve the quality of life.  

As drivers of global growth, urban areas are important focal points for economic growth. The 2019 Kenya Housing and Population Census reveals tremendous urban development- with Kenya’s share of urban population standing at 32% and cities playing a more prominent role in the country’s economic productivity. Taking into account current trends of urban growth, half of the population in Kenya will be living in cities by the year 2030. 

The allure of cities as centers of growth with socioeconomic and technological advantages however presents immense challenges like congestion of people, which leads to increased demand for food, housing, health, education and transport. The provision of utilities- energy, water, sanitation, communication and security must also bother authorities in whose hands the management of city affairs are placed. 

As hubs of economic activity, propelled by intense industrial production, cities generate 80% of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) according to World Bank estimates. This level of productivity means appetite for energy is on the upswing- driven by the need to meet commercial, industrial as well as residential needs. It is no wonder therefore that cities gobble up to two-thirds of the global energy uptake, while contributing to 75% of greenhouse gas emissions.  

Urban residential and commercial life is largely driven by energy. Transport networks, and communication systems, health and recreational facilities, buildings, just to mention but a few, require adequate, reliable and secure supplies of energy. A slight interruption in supply generates immediate and far reaching effects – from slight inconveniences to loss-making in industry and threats to life in hospitals. A power blackout in India in 2012 affected 700 million people in multiple states, alongside the capital New Delhi, and showed just how a power loss can be an inconvenience to entire areas and communities. Trains failed in their hundreds, along thousands of miles from Kashmir in the north to Nagaland towards the eastern border with Myanmar. Traffic lights went off, causing gridlocks in major cities including New Delhi and Kolkata. Surgical operations were cancelled across the country while electric crematoriums stopped. These are a few examples of monumental inconveniences caused by the power outage.

As cities grow, so should their competitiveness which can be achieved through sustainable consumption and production practices by improving efficiency and eliminating wastes. To achieve this, cities will need to harness their human, economic and intellectual potential to spearhead the development and deployment of urban energy technologies. 

Homeowners and businesses can be made to understand that there is financial motivation when savings are made through adoption of renewable energy systems and energy efficiency practices.  Measures such as enforcement of building codes and the use of energy saving appliances are also key. The demand for energy must also be slowed down. This can be achieved, say, in transportation by setting up infrastructure necessary for walking and cycling, while developing efficiency of public transport to make them more attractive. 

Transitioning to renewable technologies and energy efficiency practices is the surest path towards a carbon-neutral world that will live a positive impact on our planet.   

By Vincent Ogaya

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