BER launches Environmental System Science Program. Visit our new website under construction!

U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights

Global Scenarios of Urban Density and Its Impacts on Building Energy Use through 2050
Published: January 09, 2017
Posted: May 10, 2017

A scenario-based study provides a global analysis of future urban densities and their implications for building energy use.

The Science
This study uses innovative methods to understand how urban form impacts urban energy use and the quality of life for urban residents. The research provides a global-scale analysis of future urban densities and associated energy use in the built environment under different urbanization scenarios.

The Impact
Researchers, including scientists from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, demonstrated how the spatial configuration of urban areas affects energy use, which provides significant implications for global sustainability. The research demonstrates innovative methods for combining top-down and bottom-up analysis regarding urban form and incorporates these into long-term scenarios. The study helps to increase our understanding of the linkages between local- and global-scale energy dynamics.

Although the scale of impending urbanization is well-acknowledged, we have a limited understanding of how urban forms (i.e., the physical layout, spaces, and structures that make up an urban settlement) will change and what their impact will be on building energy use. This innovative study makes an important methodological contribution by using both top-down and bottom-up approaches and scenarios to explore the implications of urban form globally on a range of dimensions, including energy consumption both regionally and globally. In the scenarios in the study, energy use for heating and cooling by the middle of the century increased 5-40% over 2010 levels. Most of this variability is due to the uncertainty in future urban densities of rapidly growing cities in Asia and particularly China. Dense urban development leads to less urban energy use overall. The study also suggests that retrofits to the existing built environment that take place after markets are ready to widely deploy the most advanced renovation technologies could lead to more savings in building energy use than retrofits deployed today. With growing urban extents and urban populations, the work suggests that urban form is as or more important for energy use than increasing energy efficiency in developing regions.

Contacts (BER PM)
Robert Vallario
Integrated Assessment Research Program  

(PI Contact)
Leon Clarke
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Y.Z., S.Y., and P.L.P. were supported by the Integrated Assessment Research Program in the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. X.L. was supported by the International Postdoctoral Exchange Fellowship Program (2013), the Office of China Postdoctoral Council, and NASA Grant. K.C.S. and B.G. were both supported by NASA Grants.

B. Güneralpa, Y Zhou, D Ürge-Vorsatz, M Gupta, S Yu, P Patel, M Fragkias, Xiaoma Li, and Karen C. Seto, “Global Scenarios of Urban Density and Its Impacts on Building Energy Use through 2050.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, early edition. (2017) [DOI:10.1073/pnas.1606035114] (Reference link)

Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Multisector Dynamics (formerly Integrated Assessment)

Division: SC-33.1 Earth and Environmental Sciences Division, BER


BER supports basic research and scientific user facilities to advance DOE missions in energy and environment. More about BER

Recent Highlights

Jan 11, 2022
No Honor Among Copper Thieves
Findings provide a novel means to manipulate methanotrophs for a variety of environmental and in [more...]

Dec 06, 2021
New Genome Editing Tools Can Edit Within Microbial Communities
Two new technologies allow scientists to edit specific species and genes within complex laborato [more...]

Oct 27, 2021
Fungal Recyclers: Fungi Reuse Fire-Altered Organic Matter
Degrading pyrogenic (fire-affected) organic matter is an important ecosystem function of fungi i [more...]

Oct 19, 2021
Microbes Offer a Glimpse into the Future of Climate Change
Scientists identify key features in microbes that predict how warming affects carbon dioxide emi [more...]

Aug 25, 2021
Assessing the Production Cost and Carbon Footprint of a Promising Aviation Biofuel
Biomass-derived DMCO has the potential to serve as a low-carbon, high-performance jet fuel blend [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)