Bright lights, big city

Power technologies are helping enhance the upgraded infrastructures required to make the most of the global megatrend of urbanization.

The year 2007 is often referred to as the arrival of the “Urban Millennium” – the first time in history that more than half the world’s population lived in towns or cities, according to a report by the UN. This organization also projects that this figure is likely to rise to 60 percent by 2030. While the agricultural and industrial revolution changed the face of rural and urban landscapes in the 19th and early 20th centuries in the developed world, nowadays the global trend of urbanization is being most felt in the developing world; future estimates highlight that 80 percent of urban growth is to occur in Asia and Africa.

Urbanization can offer huge opportunity, both on an individual level through increased access to jobs, education, healthcare and housing, and on a national level, allowing states to transform their economies. According to a World Bank report, a key trait of urbanization is that so-called agglomeration economies improve productivity and spur job creation, specifically in manufacturing and services.

However the growth of mega-cities also brings such problems as greater poverty, social inequality and inadequate housing. The same report estimates that 130 million South Asians live in informal settlements. Improvements in infrastructure and urban services, as well as environmental conditions, could support emerging nations in realizing the full potential of urbanization.

In India, for example, metro systems are being developed in major urban areas across the country, for which a power infrastructure, including electrification and control and automation technology, has to be put in place. One of the most recently opened metros is in the city of Jaipur in northern India. Jaipur is among the fastest growing cities in the country and close to 80 percent of its population are not using public transport. The Jaipur Mass Rapid Transport System is expected to carry approximately 11,000 commuters per hour on each rail corridor when fully operational, reducing road traffic bottlenecks and lowering carbon emissions.

Another aspect that supports sustainable urban planning is that the space required for such electric infrastructure is being reduced, for example through compact switchgear. This allows planners to assign this precious land to other uses. The overall result of consistent sustainable urban planning, smart cities – which require a smart grid – are now being considered as a way to employ digital technology to enhance the quality of urban life. So while the bright lights of the big city can represent a new horizon for many, it is crucial that the right infrastructure is in place to make the most of this urban potential.

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About the author

Joanne Foster

I am Content/Editorial Manager for ABB’s Power Products and Power Systems divisions, based at the Group headquarters in Zurich. I’ve worked in publishing and corporate communications, in Germany, France and Switzerland, for the past decade.
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