Watergy In Megacities

Via Ars Technica, a report on how energy, water, and materials flow through the world’s growing megacities:

Over the last century, the explosion of the human population has been accompanied by the growth of cities worldwide. The increased presence of large cities presents unique global challenges regarding environmental sustainability.

Megacities, those containing more than 10 million people, are the largest metropolitan complexes in the world in the world. There were only eight of them in 1970, but there are now 27. Megacities are often perceived as having high levels of poverty and pollution, but the category also contains some of the wealthiest cities in the world. They are viewed as prime candidates for the generation of innovative, sustainable solutions to reduce global environmental burdens.

Recently, a team of scientists quantified the energy and material flows that power the world’s 27 megacities using their 2010 populations. This study was focused on understanding the use of energy, water, concrete, steel, and waste, as its authors tried to quantify the economic and physical characteristics that influence resource flows at multiple scales.

For context, the 27 megacities had a combined population of 460 million in 2010, equal to 6.7 percent of the global population. But they had a gross domestic product of 14.6 percent, substantially above what you’d expect from their population alone.

The cities’ water consumption was lower than the population would lead you to believe, at only 3.0 percent of global usage. Total water consumption is highest in New York (10.9 million MegaLiters),  which was followed by Guangzhou (9.8 million ML), Shanghai (9.75 million ML), and Los Angeles (6.2 million ML). In other megacities, water use ranges from 0.28 million ML in Jakarta to 4.19 million ML in Tokyo.

For most types of energy, usage was consistent with scaling laws observed for cities over a wide range of populations. Megacities consume 26,347 PetaJoules, which is 6.7 percent of the global energy use—roughly in line with the percentage of the global population that lives there. Megacities consume 9.3 percent of global electricity and 9.9 percent of global gasoline. Annual energy consumption in megacities for 2011 ranged from ~78 PJ for Kolkata to ~2,824 PJ for the New York Metropolitan Area.

Megacities account for 12.6 percent of the total global waste production, a number in line with their percentage of the global GDP. The higher economic activity in larger cities results in high quantities of goods and materials that eventually leave the city as wastes. New York has the highest solid waste production in both absolute and per capita terms.

The scientists were also able to gain some understanding of factors that underlie the energy and material flows through megacities. Scientists found per capita electricity use in megacities to be significantly correlated with urbanized area per capita. The team suspects that lower-density megacities like LA and New York have greater building floor space per capital, resulting in higher electricity consumption for lighting and other building applications. (Microscale analysis demonstrates that electricity is strongly correlated with building floor area.)

The rapid growth exhibited by megacities makes accessing resources a challenge. More than half of the 27 megacities grew by more than 10 percent over the 10 year period ending in 2011. Resource flows for many of the megacities grew faster than the rates of population growth. Six megacities exhibited a doubling of electricity consumption over that decade; nine others exhibited an increase in electricity usage that was more than three times the rise in population. Analysis also revealed that growth in electricity use and transportation fuel use are significantly correlated with growth in GDP, while water use and solid waste production are not.

Clearly these 27 megacities represent a large percentage of the global resource use. While the rapid growth in population may stress city resources, there is a clear need to develop sustainable solutions in the megacities.

This entry was posted on Friday, May 8th, 2015 at 6:19 am and is filed under Uncategorized.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. 

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About This Blog And Its Author
As the scarcity of water and energy continues to grow, the linkage between these two critical resources will become more defined and even more acute in the months ahead.  This blog is committed to analyzing and referencing articles, reports, and interviews that can help unlock the nascent, complex and expanding linkages between water and energy -- The Watergy Nexus -- and will endeavor to provide a central clearinghouse for insightful articles and comments for all to consider.

Educated at Yale University (Bachelor of Arts - History) and Harvard (Master in Public Policy - International Development), Monty Simus has held a lifelong interest in environmental and conservation issues, primarily as they relate to freshwater scarcity, renewable energy, and national park policy.  Working from a water-scarce base in Las Vegas with his wife and son, he is the founder of Water Politics, an organization dedicated to the identification and analysis of geopolitical water issues arising from the world’s growing and vast water deficits, and is also a co-founder of SmartMarkets, an eco-preneurial venture that applies web 2.0 technology and online social networking innovations to motivate energy & water conservation.  He previously worked for an independent power producer in Central Asia; co-authored an article appearing in the Summer 2010 issue of the Tulane Environmental Law Journal, titled: “The Water Ethic: The Inexorable Birth Of A Certain Alienable Right”; and authored an article appearing in the inaugural issue of Johns Hopkins University's Global Water Magazine in July 2010 titled: “H2Own: The Water Ethic and an Equitable Market for the Exchange of Individual Water Efficiency Credits.”