Urban Electrification: Knowledge Pathway Toward an Integrated Research and Development Agenda
20 Pages Posted: 22 Aug 2019 Last revised: 10 Jun 2020
Date Written: August 20, 2019
This white paper is an outcome of a workshop on urban electrification*. It outlines a vision for advancing a research and development (R&D) agenda to thoroughly examine the characteristics and relationships among urbanization, electrification, and cities, including the imperative of shifting renewable sources for electricity. It uses a systems approach to trace current knowledge and identifies knowledge gaps on diverse and not yet connected elements of this emerging field, while calling for a more active collaboration among engineering, and physical and social sciences in the development of an integrated R&D agenda.
Urbanization and electrification are deeply transforming energy systems globally. In the United States and around the globe, cities are engines of development that spatially concentrate the critical human activities and transboundary infrastructures driving and being affected by energy generation, distribution, and use. This spatial concentration creates unique opportunities for electrification to advance multiple economic, social, and environmental goals; at the same time, it alters the distribution of risks and vulnerabilities in complex ways. Because cities are key players in this field, the choices urban actors make about how to implement electrification and achieve energy sustainability, resilience, and innovation will have tremendous implications for the future of electrification, and ultimately the sustainability of our global society.
A significant investment in an innovative and rigorous R&D agenda is needed now to examine how urbanization and electrification interact with each other and with other trends confronting cities. This agenda must include physical, engineering, behavioral, and decision-making sciences to accomplish five overarching goals:
i. Develop innovative and rigorous scientific approaches, including data, models, and tools to examine the multiscale drivers, attributes, and impacts of urban electrification
ii. Design generalizable science accurately representing socio-spatial and temporal differences across and within cities and their countries
iii. Analyze the implications of electrification across multiple sectors for the future of cities and of urbanization using projections, scenarios, and data-driven models
iv. Utilize a systems approach to analyze human behavior and decision making, together with social, economic, technologic, environmental, and governance (SETEG) conditions, defining barriers and enablers, pressures for and against energy transitions, path dependencies, and levers of change.
v. Identify and analyze the outcomes, actions, and options, to maximize potential co-benefits and minimize undesirable trade-offs.
* This paper is an outcome of the workshop on “Urban Electrification” held April 17–18, 2019, sponsored by NREL’s Transportation and Hydrogen Systems Center and the Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation of the University of Chicago. Around 30 participants were invited to create a rationale for a research and development (R&D) agenda that more comprehensively focuses on urbanization, electrification and cities. The main goals were to:
i. Analyze the state of the science and gaps in knowledge
ii. Develop R&D that integrates NREL capabilities with the social science methodologies
iii. Create a community of research and practice in this emerging field.
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