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The Significance of Urban Planning for Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Development of Cities

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Author:
Mila Pucar
Research Fellow at the Institute of Architecture and Urban & Spatial Planning of Serbia, Belgrade.

The increasing consumption of oil and gas has not only led to a decrease in fossil fuel reserves but also caused many unwelcomed changes on our planet. Serbia is being confronted with such issues on daily basis. Since the Country imports a major part of its energy resources, in future it will have to pay much more attention to the rational use of energy, as well as to the use of renewable energy sources (RES). As much as 62% of the total electricity produced in Serbia comes from coal burning (low-calorie coal of worst quality) and processing of liquid fuels, which says a lot about Serbia’s dramatic ecological situation. In Serbia, private households account for 37% of total heath energy consumption, whilst buildings in general are responsible for 50% of total energy use. Out of that, heating accounts for 60%, electrical appliances in households for 30%, and cooling and other needs for further 10%. 

 

Energy and environmental crisis has triggered a series of questions about which way to go. How could the use of energy from fossil fuels be reduced? What could be done in order to make buildings more energy efficient? How could energy production from RES be increased?


Cities are complex systems and mammoth energy consumers. Their gigantic consumption of energy, water, materials, as well as all natural and manmade means, has resulted in an unprecedented impact on Earth’s natural environment. Nevertheless, metropolitan areas also constitute economic, political and cultural hubs where knowledge and innovation flourish. Thanks to the wealth and capacities available in large urban settlements, the cities are in the position to take a leading role in developing and implementing measures to increase energy efficiency. Advocating smart cities, new technologies and infrastructures has its deep roots in science, as well as in practice.


However, the poor state of the environment highlights the necessity for a new approach to urban development that would take the ecological principles into account. Planning it should create conditions for the efficient use of energy in different types of inhabited areas and minimize energy transportation costs.


There is a substantial untapped potential for the rational use of energy consumption in cities. Thus, it is vital to: establish criteria for the principles of energy efficiency to be used in urban plans; create market and economic instruments for the evaluation and application of the principles of energy efficient settlements; and provide standards for assessment of varying scenarios and programs for energy-efficient buildings and residential areas.


Urban plans should contain methodologies, techniques and tools that would enable the implementation of measures to increase energy efficiency. Such approach should take into account the size and location of the city, its street geometry, movement of vehicles, building height, position of parks and water areas, industrial complexes, and dispersion of pollutants.
Technological innovations concerning energy efficiency, modelling, simulation, measuring, and similar, are becoming an integral part of urban planning practices. They have brought great changes into the design of our settlements and transformed the way we think about and understand the role of architects and architecture as a whole. The development and use of Internet, computer software, AutoCAD, 3D animations, and numerical modelling of building efficiency has created new possibilities in planning and projecting. Technological solutions employed in metropolitan areas can to a large extent answer increasingly relevant questions brought about by climate change. They can offer a response to new challenges, which range from natural phenomena, demands for expertise, needs for investments, impact of capital, or social and environmental requirements.


New technologies are gaining more space and recognition from experts from different professions engaged in the complex process of urban planning. When dealing with issues such as greenhouse gas emissions, infrastructure systems, energy efficiency, transport, or municipal waste, solutions should be based on available technologies and a complex aggregate of information, communication and regulation elements.


An urban planning method that would allow participation of experts from various fields could be a key clue to the aforementioned dilemmas. Such a mixed group of specialists could propose sustainable solutions to energy consumption and environmental protection. Today, this kind of integrated planning can be conducted thanks to the information and communication technologies, as well as to the simulation software providing an unlimited number of alternative solutions. On the one hand, this technique would enable systemic analysis of the use of various forms of energy in the conceptual stage of planning. On the other hand, it would allow us to calculate the project price and the time of return on investment at any point.

 

It is vital to remember that it is better to invest in the energy saving efforts rather than infurther power production and new power installations. Besides the fact that these preservation actions are economically justified, they also maintain resources, help us preserve the environment, and improve the quality of life.

Mila Pucar B.Arch., Ph.D.
Research Fellow at the Institute of Architecture and Urban & Spatial Planning of Serbia in Belgrade

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