Over the last few episodes we’ve been talking a lot about the smart city. And about how to integrate technology into the future city in a way that makes life better for regular people. An emphasis on ubiquitous internet connectivity could allow for easier access to public goods and services. But all of those technologies depend on one thing:
Almost every plan for a smart city features a similar claim – that the city of the future will be powered by clean, sustainable energy. Now, a global technology race is underway to figure out how to do that. From next generation battery technology that can outperform lithium ion. And smart grids that allow for more efficient use and sharing of energy. But there are many competing technologies and vested interests in the design of the energy system of the future.
So to get some clarity about that system might actually function in the real world we reached out to Ryan Franks. Ryan is an engineer that has worked with businesses and municipalities to design and implement green energy projects.
Sustainable energy in the smart city
There are a lot of regulatory barriers to sustainable energy. And there are a lot of soft costs that are involved in permitting and interconnection. You’re talking about a new energy economy. We’re moving away from a very centralized plant structure that distributes energy through transmission lines. Smart Cities revolve around having energy produced very close to if not directly adjacent to the point where it’s consumed. It’s a completely different kind of mindset that has a lot of entrenched interests. And that’s hard to overcome that kind of inertia.
The economics of the smart city
You have all of these vested interests that have costs spread out over decades. Someone had to pay for transmission lines and power plants. If you look at any sort forecast for the cost of renewable energy sources, it’s rapidly decreasing. And it’s the only option that makes sense, really, in the long term for most locations around the world now to to develop new power generation. That has to be figured out and overcome.
Sustainable energy’s Achilles heel
Distributed energy resources don’t always generate electricity. The sun doesn’t always shine, the wind doesn’t always blow. So, energy storage is critical. You need something that fundamentally decouples the use of energy from the generation of electricity. And that plays into smart cities in a whole lot of ways. The costs have really decreased for lithium-ion batteries. There’s a lot of momentum behind that technology and that is really hard to change.
Will sustainable energy work in Innisfil?
“ I don’t see any sort of barrier whatsoever. Building a new power grid around solar or wind is totally doable. The problem is figuring out the right way to do it. And crucially, making the economics make sense.”