With the global population predicted to reach 9 billion by 2050, how can we provide energy to meet demand, where will this energy be sourced from and what challenges must be overcome to achieve this?
The human race has experienced an explosion in urban living over the past half-century - and there is no sign of it slowing down. Indeed, experts predict that three-quarters of the world's nine billion people will live in cities by 2050. But what will this future world look like, and how will it be powered?
One effect of global capitalism is more polarised societies, with extremes of wealth and poverty. This can be seen both on a worldwide scale and within cities. In line with this trend, it is estimated that as many as half of the new urban populations could be living in slums, with limited access to power for light and heat. How we will provide the energy required to take these people out of poor living conditions is a crucial consideration.
However, it is not simply a matter of supplying more energy, but also of providing the right kind of energy. As the problem of climate change becomes increasingly pressing, lower CO2 emissions must become a priority for us all, raising important questions about city planning and how we allocate investment.
If development is chaotic, we can expect cities to have sprawling mobility needs and inefficient energy consumption. Ideally, they will be more compact, with high population density and energy-efficient combined heat and power systems. The challenge is in achieving this smarter development while also accommodating the day-to-day demands of business and populations in cities that are growing quickly and organically.
The new urban growth is most notable in the rapidly expanding economies of the east. As such, special attention must be paid to how the Asian countries develop low-carbon or energy-efficient technologies.
It is clear that there are huge opportunities for industry in the development of big cities, yet there are also great risks. But, given the potential human and social costs of an urban population multiplying before technology and infrastructure catch up, energy should be a top priority for business and governments alike.