Modern planners are building compact cities, believing tightly controlled zones are better for the environment.
New research suggests the opposite: urban sprawl might be a better option, with solar power fitted to suburban houses and the adoption of electric cars transforming the energy needs of a city.
Research in Auckland, New Zealand – the largest urban area in the country and a city built for the age of the motor car – shows that solar panels fitted to the average suburban home can produce enough power for that household, extra to charge an electric vehicle, and still generate enough watts to export a surplus to the grid.
Power for the urban core
Adopting a citywide approach to fitting solar panels and providing charging points for cars would enable suburban homes to provide most of the power for the city center as well as keeping the transport running, according to Hugh Byrd, professor at the School of Architecture at the University of Lincoln in England.
In collaboration with the New Zealand Energy Center and the University of Auckland, Byrd and his colleagues found that detached suburban houses typical of an auto-age city are capable of producing ten times more solar power than is possible from skyscrapers or other commercial buildings. The calculations are based on a detailed cross section of Auckland, which has skyscrapers in its business center but has most of its homes spread out over the surrounding countryside in an urban sprawl.
Although every city is different, the pattern of building in Auckland is repeated in many cities around the globe. Byrd’s idea: If planners insist solar panels be fitted to properties and charging points be provided for electric cars, then cities judged to be damaging to the environment could be transformed.
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