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How to build for sustainable urban energy and water systems

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+ 20 summit committed member states to launch a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as follow-up of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) after their 2015 conclusion (D. Griggs et al, 2013). The SDG framework aims to reduce poverty, improve human well-being, and create sustainable production and consumption patterns, as captured in a set of targets for the year 2030.

The implementation of programs to reach these targets is to be carried out from international to city scales for worldwide prosperity in the long term. The sustainable provisioning of energy, water and material resources for growing and developing populations and the subsequent processing and management of waste and pollution are recognised as fundamental issues for human society.

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Figure 1. Sustainable Development Goals

Urbanisation is taking place rapidly yet planning capacity in many cities is lagging behind. Sustainable city development is particularly important for low to middle income countries. Their pace of urbanisation is highest, yet their planning capacity is lower, leading to significant challenges in handling this growth while providing improved quality of life without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their demands.

Both water and energy are vital to the delivery of urban services. They are also interlinked as a nexus in urban design and operation. The impact of emerging technologies on the urban energy and water landscape are only known after widespread implementation, yet computer simulation tools can provide an additional means to ex-ante test their feasibility and whether implementation will be of significance.

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Figure 2. Hierarchy of the proposed decision making platform

My talk introduced the decision support system including methodology and software platform (framework shown in Figure 2) developed to plan resilient and sustainable development of urban systems, especially in water and energy sectors. The current regional demographics, infrastructure and economic information is used as input for the initial state of the focused urban system. Detailed spatial-temporal resource demand data, obtained by simulating a synthetic population, is further used to plan capacity utilisation and expansion by supply-side matching on an economic and environmental cost optimal basis, eventually aiming to explore the optimal design and operational strategies for residential, commercial, industrial, and other sectors with respect to water, energy and resource consumption.

The platform also allows flexibly integrating new technologies to test their feasibility of application in the studied regions. A pool of technologies can be formulised with technical, economic, environmental specifications. Moreover, long-term socio-economic scenarios are addressed in the urban system development through a real-time feedback loop. It is a valuable tool not only to help understand the overall energy-water landscape of the studied urban area, but also provide the material and energy balance of supply and demand from both macro and micro perspectives, which is used to propose environmentally friendly, cost effective and affordable sustainable city development strategies.

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Figure 3. Simulation parameters, map and agent activities on user interface.

Several use cases of the platform are demonstrated based on the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area (GAMA) city-region in Ghana, with a user interface illustrated in Figure 3. The outputs depict an overall resource landscape of the studied urban area, but also provide the energy, water, and other resource balance of supply and demand from both macro and micro perspectives, which is used to propose environmentally friendly and cost effective sustainable city development strategies. With successful initial applications in Ghana, this work is to become a core component of the platform as an open-source, data-driven, integrated systematic tool at social, environmental and economic domains to inform urban planning, investment and policy-making for city-regions globally.