Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
, the researchers evaluate a series of possible scenarios of future urbanization — including different potential outcomes in terms of spatial development — and estimated the energy implications of these outcomes.
Specifically, they looked at energy use for heating and cooling of buildings in different regions of the world.
According to their analysis, a trend toward more “compact” urbanization development and more advanced energy efficiency technologies would increase energy use by about 7 percent. But if development occurs in more dispersed manner, and technologies don’t advance in their efficiencies, energy use could spike by as much as 40 percent.
“I was surprised by the results: increasing urban density reduces energy use more than increasing energy efficiency in many developing regions such as China,” said Seto, Professor of Geography and Urbanization Science at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. “This means that cities have a lot at their disposal in terms of policies and strategies to reduce energy use beyond investing in new technologies.”
The study was led by Burak Güneralp
, a research assistant professor in the Department of Geography at Texas A&M University.
The researchers predict that China, Europe, and North America will account for the majority of future cumulative energy use for heating and cooling through 2050.