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Energy efficiency: the foundation to building sustainable cities

(Image credit: Image Credit: Everything Possible / Shutterstock)

Urban developers are being urged to sharpen their focus on the environmental footprint of their designs following this weekend’s Earth Hour initiative. After starting in Australia in 2007, the event is now held annually in more than 25 countries around the world. Earth Hour encourages individuals and businesses to turn off non-essential electric lights for one hour, as a symbol of commitment to the planet.

Reducing energy consumption in the places where most people live and work needs to be top priority. With more than half of the world’s population living in cities, a proportion that is expected to reach 68 per cent by 2050, urban cities need to look for every opportunity to take a cleaner, greener approach. 

Developers, governments, innovators and businesses have the potential to do just that. Environmental sustainable development draws on concepts of lower consumption and switching to green, environmentally-sustainable energy.

In many global cities, buildings are the largest consumers of energy, and as global warming increases, resource scarcity is fast becoming a reality. The development of new commercial and residential buildings – from high-rise apartment blocks to airports – therefore represents a significant opportunity to improve the environmental performance of cities. But that is only possible if these properties, as well as existing ones, use modern technologies to enable cleaner, greener and more cost-efficient designs.

Elevating the green in urban buildings

Globally, smart city technology spending reached $80 billion in 2016, and is expected to rise to $135 billion by 2021, according to International Data Corporation. This includes modern mobility solutions like elevators and escalators, which are playing an increasingly important role in creating sustainable – potentially self-sufficient – buildings.

Take double-deck elevators for example. Introduced in 2008 at China’s tallest building, the Shanghai World Financial Centre, four double-deck elevators, attached one on top of the other, transport visitors to a height of 240 metres at a record speed of 36km/h, where they also serve as a sky lobby. To achieve this speed, the elevators are fitted with special aerodynamic cladding for the cabs and doors, with the highest VDI 4701 Class A efficiency rating.

If we look at Barcelona, the Torre Agbar is renowned for its design, efficient land use and sensitivity to the environment. This includes a certification from BREEAM, a world-leading sustainability assessment scheme. Its elevators use a smart-routing system to optimise use and reduce energy consumption.

In addition to improving efficiency, elevators also function as power generators. Regenerative drives, which capture energy as the cabins slow down, can reduce a building’s energy needs by about 30 per cent. For example, the elevator in New York’s One World Trade Centre in New York, generates enough energy to power the building’s lighting system.

Smart building makeovers

The second factor impacting the future of sustainable cities is energy inefficient buildings. In their current form they simply can’t cope with our rising energy needs. And while new buildings are often the prime candidates for taking a greener approach to development, it’s important to understand that this can also be achieved in existing established buildings. Installing modern elevator technologies alone has the potential to cut energy consumption by 60 per cent.

For example, we partnered with a major US airport to modernise their escalators with the latest energy-saving technology. By automatically entering stand-by mode when they aren’t in use, the elevators save nearly 60 per cent of running energy.

In our rapidly developing cities, buildings and other structures often outlive their original purpose – but not their usefulness. Through adaptive reuse, old factory buildings can be converted into profitable residential, while commercial property and highway bridges can become public spaces.

The CHIJMES shopping and entertainment in Singapore, for example, preserves much of the beauty and architectural heritage of an old Catholic convent, while providing a modern public space for residents and tourists. But adaptive reuse isn’t just for buildings, it’s also for infrastructure. In Denmark, the Jaegersborg Water Tower in Copenhagen has been converted into student housing. Adapting older buildings to be fit for a different purpose also offers an excellent opportunity to upgrade technology to help ensure they’re as energy efficient as possible.

We should also consider that the financial sustainability of any building is largely dependent on energy consumption – replacing older elevators and escalators vastly improves a building’s energy scorecard and thus its cost effectiveness.

Looking ahead

Urban developers can do their part for sustainability by embracing new mobility technologies to improve energy efficiency in buildings. It’s our responsibility to inspire future generations of leaders for the environment. We can decide, today, the kind of world – and cities – generations to come will live in.

Earth Hour is a timely reminder to implement energy conservation measures in buildings if they are to make a meaningful impact within the next decade.

More about Earth Hour

Individuals, businesses and cities in 188 countries and territories worldwide joined Earth Hour 2019 to speak up for nature and inspire urgent action for the environment. As Earth Hour rolled around the globe, thousands of landmarks switched off their lights in solidarity for our planet. Through the global appeal of the world’s largest grassroots movement for the environment, #EarthHour, #Connect2Earth and related hashtags trended in 26 countries as people around the world generated more than two billion impressions to show their concern for nature. Individuals pledged their support for the planet, challenging world leaders to push the preservation of nature up the global agenda.

Peter Walker, Chief Executive Officer, thyssenkrupp elevator (opens in new tab)
Image Credit: Everything Possible / Shutterstock

Peter Walker is Chief Executive Officer, thyssenkrupp elevator.