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Technology is the key to a green future

Sustainability is a theme high on the agenda of local authorities and town planners these days.

The GE-sponsored Forum for the Future Sustainable Cities Index, for instance, is significant proof that towns and cities across the country are redoubling efforts to be green, and there are examples of this everywhere.

In the last month we learned that Glasgow became the first British winner in a £50M competition to make cities better places in which to live, work and play. Meanwhile, Stoke-on-Trent City Council is planning to install solar panels in all suitable council properties as it aims to become one of the country’s first sustainable cities.

The fact is more than half of the world’s population lives in cities and it is estimated by 2050 that 75% of the world’s population will be urbanised. This places increasing strain on the planet’s valuable resources at a time where the financial pressures have never been greater.

Against this backdrop it is tempting to think that ‘green’ is likely to drop way down the agenda for many UK cities. Yet when one of our cities can beat entries from over 200 across 40 countries, it is clear that councils are still striving to achieve results in this area.

“It is tempting to think that ‘green’ is likely to drop way down the agenda for many UK cities. Yet when one of our cities can beat entries from over 200 across 40 countries, it is clear that councils are still striving to achieve results in this area”

At GE, we believe the world is at a defining moment and we all have a responsibility to transform the global infrastructure to ensure a more sustainable future for generations to come.

Our vision for the future is one where clean, efficient, decentralised energy using a smart electricity grid will deliver power efficiently to millions of homes.

In this future we do not suffer from water shortages, waste is seen as a resource, citizens’ travel and healthcare needs are all taken care of by efficient systems and everyone can live in sustainable cities with green spaces, clean air and a high quality of life.

Is this a Utopian view you may ask? At GE, we believe it is genuinely achievable by focusing on a number of key areas.

Buildings account for up to 40% of global energy use, so smart cities must create ‘smart homes’ − buildings that generate as much power as they use.

The current power grid must be modernised to link intelligently with new technologies and energy sources to eliminate inefficiencies and reduce carbon emissions. Key to this is the Smart Grid, which helps to improve electricity productivity, manage costs and mitigate environmental impact.

Water shortages are increasing on a global scale. We need a two-pronged approach to water preservation. We must minimise fresh water use by maximising water reuse while simultaneously connecting demand to supply.

In 2010 transport accounted for almost one-fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions in Europe. Given its strategic importance for economic development there is a growing focus on public transport as a way to improve citizens’ quality of life.

An effective strategy should include embracing the latest technology in freight and passenger locomotives as well as new developments such as electrical vehicle charging stations − an area where GE is working to accelerate global deployment.
Creating a truly sustainable future is no easy task, but, by applying the latest technologies, working in partnership and sharing best practice we can create smart cities that meet the demands of the future, today.

  • Mark Elborne, is GE’s UK president and CEO

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