Abstract - Resilient power for sustainable cities
The cost of disasters has been increasing exponentially since the 1970s – and cities are mostly
affected, which is not surprising since cities produce 80% of the world gross domestic product (GDP).
Since the majority of disasters are related to climate events, cities are also part of the root cause,
since they generate 75% of our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Mayors, acting locally on a short
feedback loop, view the challenges they face on a daily basis – it is about their constituents getting
sick, having clean water, being warm or cool, holding productive jobs, commuting efficiently,
surviving disasters. They see that a smart city needs, first and foremost, to be both resilient to face
increasing disasters and sustainable to reduce its environmental impact and to improve quality of life
– while being financially affordable.
Cities can’t function without electricity. It moves subways and trains. It cools, heats and lights our
homes and businesses. It pumps our water and keeps fresh the food we eat. And it powers the
technologies that are the foundation of a smart city. By implementing smart grid technologies such
as microgrids and distribution automation, electric utilities play a key role in making cities both
resilient and sustainable. Yet, many electric utilities do not partner with mayors to work on cities’
resiliency and sustainability challenges. A better approach is to see city policy makers as major
stakeholders and a driving force in modernizing the grid.
Have you talked to your mayor(s) lately?
Children of Ridgway School, Wellington, NZ, taking part in their annual earthquake drill - See more at:
While we do not have frequent earthquakes in Canada, this picture illustrates the importance of
preparations and drills to prepare our communities for catastrophes. When I was a little boy, I
remember doing very similar drills, but it was in preparation for a possible atomic bombardment.
While nuclear bombs are no longer a big concern, earthquakes and floods are major and growing
issues for our cities.
Photo Credit: D. Johnston
Total economic damages (US$ billion scaled to 2014, all continents) caused by natural disasters are
Note the zero origin on the ordinate axis.
Cities are also home to over half (54%) of the global population (a rapidly growing number) and are
responsible for about 80% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP). Therefore, it is not surprising
most of the damages occurred in cities.
Cities also consume somewhere between 2/3 (67%) and 3/4 (76%) of total global energy and generate
about 3/4 (75%) of global carbon emissions. By contributing so much to climate change, cities are, in
very large part, causing their own problems.
Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Mitigation of Climate Change report, 2014.
Credit: CRED/OFDA International Disaster Database – www.emdat.be – Université Catholique de Louvain – Brussels – Belgium.
Urbanization is concentrating risk in fewer urban areas. These are the cities most exposed to climate
changes, essentially rising sea levels.
In North America – NYC, Miami, New Orleans. In northern Europe, cities that were built on reclaimed
land. Major exposure in Asia.
In 30 years, seven billion people will live in urban areas. Communication, energy, waste, transport will
all need to function. In planning for increasing population, city decision makers are faced with
increased complexity and uncertainty to anticipate the needs. They cannot fully appreciate the risks
they are running. They do not always know how to prepare responses to eventual crisis.
The insight here is that cities will need to be both resilient to face increasing disasters and sustainable
to reduce their environmental impact and to improve quality of life – while being financially affordable.
While resiliency and sustainability tend to be synergistic, there can be trade-offs. For example, lean
production tends to reduce waste, but may increase the risk of supply chain disruptions. In such cases,
companies must improve their agility and reserve capacity. So, let’s define resiliency and sustainability
and see how it applies to cities and their power infrastructure.
Credit: Nicholls, R. J. et al. (2008), “Ranking Port Cities with High Exposure and Vulnerability to Climate Extremes: Exposure Estimates”,
OECD Environment Working Papers, No. 1, OECD Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/011766488208
The need for a transition to a sustainable society is becoming ever more urgent – sustainable from
the environmental, social and economic perspectives. The productive capacity of the planet is
already stressed in meeting current demand for energy, goods and services, while billions of people
remain mired in poverty, lacking even basic hygiene.
I took this photo in Miur Woods, in California, just North of San Francisco. These redwoods may be a
thousand years old and a hundred meters tall. This is still young for redwoods as they can live up to
2200 years. Being long-lived and large, they play a significant role in the carbon, nutrient, and water
cycles of the forest, helping to support an abundance of plant and animal life. This is a sustainable
ecosystem, although under increasing pressure now, with extreme heat waves, droughts, more
wildland fires, coastal flooding and erosion, and other forms of habitat destruction among possible
scenarios in the coming decades.
Photo Credit: Benoit Marcoux, personal collection, Looking up Miur Woods, California, 2007.
Resiliency is defined as "the capacity to survive, adapt, and flourish in the face of turbulent
change" (Joseph Fiksel, Ohio State University, Center for Resilience) – i.e. adaptive capacity.
I took this photo on a beach in Aruba. The famous Divi Divi trees are Aruba's natural compass, always
pointing in a southwesterly direction due to the trade winds that blow across the island. While this
was a nice sunny day, one can imagine that this tree has seen its share of storms and hurricanes, yet
it is resilient and it managed to survive.
For cities, strengthening resilience today is a prerequisite for achieving long-term sustainability in the
Photo Credit: Benoit Marcoux, personal collection, Tree on a beach, Aruba, 2005.
Example: Assessment of city practices regarding water:
• Bottom-left: Land reclamation: The World Archipelago, Dubai, neither resilient nor sustainable,
especially with rising sea.
Photo Credit: NASA
• Bottom-right: Desalination: resilient, as we will have a lot of sea water, but not sustainable given
the cost of energy.
Photo Credit: Starsend (Photograph) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
• Top-left: Rainwater harvesting: sustainable as it uses little resources, but not resilient as
susceptible to drought and climate change.
Photo Credit: SuSanA Secretariat (Rain water harvesting Uploaded by Elitre) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via
• Top-right: Coastal wetlands (mangrove forest): Both resilient as they protect the coast from
erosion and sustainable as they naturally grow and regenerate.
Photo Credit: Benoit Marcoux, personal collection, Mangrove Forest, Martinique, 2014.
The resiliency-sustainability diagram is based on the work of Joseph Fiksel, at the Center for
Resilience, Ohio State University (firstname.lastname@example.org, 614-226-5678). It was presented to me by a
friend, Jean-François Barsoum, Senior Managing Consultant, Smarter Cities, Water and
Transportation at IBM. Since I focus more on smart electricity, our areas of focus are quite
complementary and we exchange quite a bit on how technology can us help make a more
It is interesting that city mayors are acknowledged to be at the front line to take us toward a more
When disaster strikes, first priority is to respond to the humanitarian crisis, which makes for great
Photo: Flying over the Superdome aboard Marine One, President George W. Bush surveys the
flooding of New Orleans on Sept. 2, 2005.
Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans on August 29, 2005. Over the next several days, with limited
power, no plumbing, a shredded roof and not nearly enough supplies to deal with 30,000 evacuees,
the Dome would sink into chaos. It became a symbol of how unprepared the city and country had
been for a storm experts knew could arrive.
Photo Credit : the Executive Office of the President of the United States, White House photo by Eric Draper
President George W. Bush says goodbye to New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin Friday, Sept. 2, 2005,
before boarding Air Force One for the return trip to Washington D.C., after spending the day touring
the Gulf Coast and those areas left devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
This is a powerful photo, don’t you think? President Bush goes away after showing compassion and a
few photo opportunities, but the mayor stays behind to try to clean things up.
Photo Credit: the Executive Office of the President of the United States, White House photo by Eric Draper.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City calls mayors “the great pragmatists of the world’s stage”
– mayors view the challenges they face on a daily basis through resiliency and sustainability lens – it
is about their constituents getting sick, having clean water, being warm or cool, holding productive
jobs, commuting efficiently, surviving disasters.
Waste, water, energy, transportation, zoning and building policies -- those are the jobs of mayors in
Photo Credit: Wikipedia.
NYC was not the first city to be flooded. Here is Paris in 1910.
Incredibly, there were no victims.
But there were 15,000 victims to the heat wave in France in 2003.
The Public signs in Paris that reads: "To find a Parisian victim of the heat wave, dial the following
number" – we are more dependent as ever on our infrastructure.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia.
Here is another one, Québec City over a hundred years ago.
Photo Credit: L.P. Vallée / Library and Archives Canada / C-087039
I do not know what would happen if we got that much snow now. Because of our increasing
dependence on complex infrastructure, we are more dependent than ever in the power
infrastructure. A single power transmission line survived the 1998 ice storm in Montréal; the city was
within 2 hours of running out of water. At this moment, Montréal was clearly not a very smart city.
Cities can’t function for long without a resilient electricity grid. It moves subways and trains. It cools,
heats and lights our homes and businesses. It pumps our water and keeps fresh the food we eat. And
it powers the technologies that are the foundation of a smart city.
At the same time, the grid can be transformed into a sustainable infrastructure from the
environmental, social and financial perspective.
Let’s get back to the Resiliency-Sustainability diagram.
In the 1880s, Nikola Tesla invented the 3-phase, 60 Hz (or 50 Hz) technology that was commercialized
by George Westinghouse, who was then competing with Thomas Edison. The same technology is still
used today. We now want to take it toward a more resilient and sustainable future. As such, we have
been implementing into the electrical grid technologies that render it increasingly resilient and
(The slide builds up quadrant by quadrant)
Less resilient – less sustainable quadrant
• Traditional grid is primarily powered by central fossil fuel plants, that are neither resilient nor sustainable.
• Surprisingly, even some modern approaches also are in this quadrant:
• Residential PV are typically tripped during an outage (not resilient without storage) and their high cost (when not
subsidized) are not sustainable.
• Cellular networks are also susceptible to outages. Depending on applications, they may contribute to sustainability.
More resilient – less sustainable quadrant
• Diesel generators are the traditional way to have backup power during outages, but not sustainable because they are expensive to
run and use fossil fuel.
• Undergrounding distribution feeders also improve resiliency (Vista switchgear shown).
• More interesting are cogeneration and Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plants that make better use of residual heat of industrial
processes, sometimes from a renewable source such as wood.
• Meshed field area networks, initially designed for military applications and now being deployed by leading utilities, are more resilient
than cellular networks and, because their applications may help integrate renewables, can improve sustainability (SpeedNet shown).
Less resilient – more sustainable quadrant
• The grid is also powered by large hydro plants and wind farms that are more sustainable but susceptible to transmission problems.
• Smart meters also help promote a more environmentally sustainable future by enabling better control of loads and helping energy
conservation. Although smart meters improve observability of the grid, they do not directly make the grid more resilient, and many
groups of the society opposed them (without scientific reasons).
• Home automation products, like the Nest thermostat, help consumers control and reduce their energy consumption.
More resilient – more sustainable quadrant
• Many smart grid technologies contribute to making the grid both more resilient and more sustainable.
• Remote control of switching devices speed up restoration time and reduce operating costs.
• Advanced protection systems (IntelliRupter and TripSaver II shown) make the grid self-healing, reduce operating costs and help
integrate distributed generation.
• Energy storage systems enable islanding during outages and help smooth out fluctuations in renewable generation.
• Co-generation: By D. Sikes (Flickr: 2008-12-27-6533a.jpg) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
• Nest thermostat: By grantsewell [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
• Diesel generator: By Lissia Martinez (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
• Manic 5: By michelphoto53 (Manicouagan) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
• Solar panel: By Steven Lek (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
• Cell tower: By Tony Webster (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
• Tracy plant, M-Series operator, SpeedNet repeater: by Benoit Marcoux, own work.
• Others: Purchased arts, S&C.
Melbourne, Australia, state of Victoria, was named the world’s most livable city by The Economist
magazine. It indeed is a very nice city, very walkable, and with great public transit and a beautiful
The smart energy for smart cities vision has a number of economic, regulatory, organizational and
technical barriers that inhibit its current development. Alignment between stakeholders is not so
easily achieved due to the varying business models of cities, utilities, and private stakeholders in the
smart energy market, which may or may not run in parallel with each other. At the same time, as the
smart city concept introduces the need for cohesion across different city sectors and functions,
technology and standards for interoperability lags behind these conceptual goals.
Despite the existence of many economic, regulatory, organizational, and technological barriers,
integrating smart cities and smart energy technology is a growing area of interest for cities, utilities,
and private stakeholders. As the global smart city model pivots around the notion of sustainability and
reducing carbon emissions, it has become a critical driver of microgrids and, more generally,
Distributed Energy Resources. (ref.: Navigant research, Smart Energy for Smart Cities, 2015)
I believe that if you are a utility challenged by sustainability and resiliency agendas imposed on you,
mayors should be your new best friends.
• They are employing sustainability as a framework to tackle the immense challenges facing their
• They need a resilient power grid, or nothing works;
• They are decisive and accountable actors, close to their constituents, using their administration's
agility to respond to issues today in a way that is just not happening nationally and internationally;
• They need you as much as you need them.
So, have you talked to you mayors lately?
Photo Credit: Benoit Marcoux, 2014.