Shifting Paradigms in Sustainable Infrastructure: Water, Energy, Transportation
Surapol USanakul @ stock.adobe.com
According to the International Energy Agency, energy requirements throughout the world are rising fast and renewables alone will not meet this increasing demand. At the same time, according to the World Bank, a billion people still live without electricity, hundreds of millions more with unreliable power, and 2.4 billion people without adequate sanitation. This poses a key barrier to economic development in emerging economies with severe threats to public health, agricultural and industrial production, as well as ecological functions, and biodiversity.
Efficiency & Closing the Loop
A circular economy aims to replace the current extractive industrial model by redefining growth in terms of positive society-wide benefits. It entails gradually decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources underpinned by a transition to renewable energy sources.
Carbon Upcycling applies this principle by reframing carbon dioxide as a resource instead of a waste product. CO2 Extractor Arrays, for example, could enable a closed-loop carbon-neutral fuel cycle in the construction industry. On the consumer-facing side, a new generation of Closed-loop Water Filtration solutions could decrease water usage without losing out on comfort.
Improved efficiency in heating, energy; and water management could provide critical steps during a more fundamental transition to policy, economics, and infrastructure that closes the loop. Conceived as decentralized grids in which consumers also function as producers, these systems could be more effective, more resilient to disaster, and would allow consumers to proactively participate in the shift towards sustainable energy use. Although blockchain technology shows a lot of promise in creating sustainable and democratic platforms, there is relatively concern regarding the astronomical energy requirements needed to ensure data integrity throughout these systems. Apart from the move to clean energy, technologies such as Proof-of-Stake Blockchain could help mitigate these issues by developing innovative solutions.
As one of the areas that use the highest amount of energy according to the European Commission on Climate Action, the transportation sector is responsible for almost a quarter of Europe's greenhouse gas emissions and the main cause of air pollution in cities, negatively affecting air quality and increasing acid rain, smog, and climate change. Innovation is steady and new forms of transportation such as Delivery Drones, the Hyperloop, and Self-driving Vehicles could reduce overall energy demand and pollution while creating an attractive shared value proposition for society. Cheaper, faster, and safer transportation with autonomous vehicles might impact the way urban centers expand and grow and could potentially trigger a trend of de-urbanization. Even as cars and trucks are engineered to burn less fuel, there are more overall vehicles on the road. As a result, the transportation sector has seen a smaller decline in emissions than other sectors.
The rise of new mobility business models offers hope with journey tracking apps and improved maps and traffic analytics, which could fundamentally change the mobility sector and collapse the divide between public and private transportation. Logistics is becoming more data-driven through Anticipatory Shipping and information could take precedence over the ability to actually move cargo. Although car-sharing promises to improve mobility and contribute to reducing CO2 emissions, short-term changes have seen mixed results, showing both positive and negative environmental effects.
The issues faced by our rapidly changing world are partially related to global warming but also deal with shifting usage patterns arising from social, political, and demographic pressures. They can only be effectively addressed through a combination of technology and collaboration between inter-disciplinary experts and practitioners as well as the affected populations themselves. Technology is no silver bullet: a functioning society that protects human rights with compliant drinking water, energy sources, and sanitation for all citizens is not a utopian dream, it is mainly the consequence of conducive conditions combined with competent resource management.