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Data Spurs Resilience

Growing urbanization and extreme weather are making cities more vulnerable. In the next 35 years, an additional 2.5 billion people may live in mega-cities.

Growing urbanization and extreme weather are making cities more vulnerable. In the next 35 years, an additional 2.5 billion people may live in mega-cities, with some 90 percent of that increase focused in Asia and Africa, according to the United Nations.

The potential risk to these cities is amplified by the frequency and intensity of extreme weather. The reinsurance company Munich Re estimates that more than 1,000 climate events were recorded last year—that’s more than doubled since 1980. USA Today reported the United States lost $1.15 trillion from 1980 to 2010 from these events, and another trillion dollars may be lost in the coming years. In addition, the potential scale of disruption caused by energy system failures is compounded by the growing complexity of the energy systems required to support these new cities.

Making sense of how best to design cities to prepare for, and recover from, such events is one of expediency and pragmatism for policymakers, city planners, and businesses. What could be done to secure energy systems?

First, the very efficiencies of our energy infrastructure –the interconnectivity to all other systems – can also be a source of potential risk. By using a systems approach, we can connect parts of the system to improve productivity; and, when necessary, disconnect them to mitigate the social and economic impact of a major natural disaster.

Amos Avidan

Today, one of the promising opportunities of big data and information technologies is that we understand these issues better than ever before, which results in better decision-making. Data and technologies enable us to innovate and advance the field of engineering to plan for these disruptive events and design and manage energy systems with more resilience, sustainability, and with more predictable results.

Next, we can also help reduce the vulnerability of individual power sources by diversifying the energy supplies. The Ivanpah solar system in California’s Mojave Desert has nearly doubled the amount of solar electricity in the United States.  

Economic progress depends on society’s access to affordable and reliable energy. The potential impacts and implications of urbanization, changes in climate, and intense natural disasters have brought renewed attention to the importance of building resiliency into the systems that provide this energy. Future-proofing cities and energy systems will ensure economies and society remain viable and secure.

Dr. Amos Avidan is Bechtel senior vice president and manager of engineering and technology.

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