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In Illinois, low-income families on average spend 13% of their income on energy cost, which is more than twice as much as the threshold for energy burden, disproportionately impacting low-income families with children, racial-ethnic minorities and seniors. At the same time, higher energy costs encourage conservation and efficiency. In general, the lack of energy access and security is one of the leading causes of poverty around the world and an impediment to economic growth. Thus, increasing energy access is a key component of sustainable urban development. Energy consumption is rising rapidly, driven by worldwide population growth, swiftly developing economies, improving global living standards and the rapidly increasing use of ever more energy-dependent technologies. By 2040, global energy demand is projected to grow by thirty percent based on a 2012 baseline.

Electricity demand is projected to increase by 69% with half of the additional demand supplied by renewable sources. Natural gas consumption will increase about 48% while the use of petroleum liquid fuels will increase by about 34%. Pollution associated with fuel combustion is one of the primary sources of air pollution and greenhouse gas generation. Energy burden (percentage of income spent on home energy) is also a challenge for impoverished urban communities. Consequently, urban sustainability initiatives need to include expanding affordable energy access through the cleanest and most renewable sources possible.

There are also continued need for use efficiency gains through smart meters and a variety of building and appliance upgrades. Other energy opportunities include accessing the natural geothermal energy, enhanced energy storage, and harvesting of waste heat (produced by electrical use and natural sources) that can reduce the overall electrical base load.

There is also a need to improve electric supply reliability via existent and emerging technologies in distributed generation(including renewables like solar), microgrids(including community microgrids), smart grid technology, “utility-as-a-platform” concepts, cogeneration, thermal storage, electric storage, and district energy systems. These technologies can significantly improve the dependability of the current electric supply system and will become increasingly important as variable generation sources such as wind and solar power are further integrated into the electric supply system. In addition, energy control technologies that would aid large and small electric customers in taking economic advantage of variable open market electric prices available due to electric deregulation could substantially lower the cost of grid supplied electricity and promote economic development.

Improving the reliability and affordability of energy access requires a holistic approach. The resource needs of consumers (e.g., residential, government, transportation systems) to the suppliers (e.g., utilities, developers) and sources for generating energy (e.g., renewables, fossil fuels, nuclear, waste), must be considered. All components of the system must account for safety, security, reliability and resilience. Policy, technology, and human behavior are critical considerations to solving these challenges.

CURES will be able to examine historic approaches to policy, best practices, and innovative ideas that are suitable to the regulatory climate of the locale being studied. Solutions can be evaluated and stakeholder input utilized to result in better outcomes. Work in developing economies or with natural disaster-damaged infrastructure offers opportunities for innovative solutions that are set in different paradigms of energy supply (e.g. decentralized, off-the grid renewables).

Increasingly, consumers are becoming generators of energy, where they also produce electricity on site for use during peak usage times to cut costs and sell back to the electricity grid when they are producing excess. Community solar, islanding of homes and industry, and overall greater diversity of electricity production typology requires new and emerging technologies that can bridge the gap between aging grid infrastructure and the growing number of distributed energy resources. As cities plan for a carbon free future, the transition away from fossil fuels needs to be addressed from all aspects including electricity generation, transportation, and consumer demand, as today they all contribute to a city’s electricity consumption through a largely fossil fuel-based infrastructure. An approach that includes short-, medium-, and long-term goals and objectives for the transition to cleaner energy future will require collaboration across various sectors and stakeholders, plus the identification and sharing of best use cases for new technologies.

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