From energy usage and storage to affordable housing and living costs, large metropolitan cities face a barrage of complex problems that require innovative solutions. While such compounding factors may point to a bleak future in these areas, significant efforts have been underway to harness new technology, energy, and real estate models to develop solutions to such social problems.
In California, an energy crisis has loomed large in recent years. A longtime leader in pursuing clean energy solutions, California has set robust renewable energy goals, including generating 50 percent of electricity from renewable resources by 2050. However, the effort to fast track these goals have put a strain on energy providers, which have been forced to pivot from power line maintenance and safety checks in order to meet these new green standards. This has led to rising electricity costs and power shortages (including rolling blackouts), and has exacerbated California's already acute wildfire concerns.
Where the energy providers have struggled to keep up, the private sector has worked to fill in the gaps. Businesses, alongside investors like me, have set their aim on sectors like machine learning, energy storage, and computing. One new technology being proposed is grid-scale energy storage, which stores the electricity generated by any utility-scale producer. Usually paired with thin-film photovoltaic (solar panels) and on/offshore wind to generate power, these systems are now at either price parity or cheaper to build than existing coal, nuclear, or gas. While the Duck Curve model reveals the challenges that renewable energy has with matching the demand of the electrical grid, this technology is currently the best new solution to store more electricity in a way that is cheaper while mitigating environmental damage. Startups such as Energy Vault have shown that grid-scale energy storage – unlike hydro storage –can be built anywhere, generate minimal environmental impact, and lower the cost of storage ($60 per MW compared to tesla megapacks that cost roughly $300/kwh).
Another considerable issue facing residents of urban areas is affordable housing, a concern that has clearly worsened since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rising housing costs coupled with changes to how and where we work has paved the way for a residential exodus from economic and social hubs like New York City. In New York City, temporary departures have become grown permanent, with families increasingly leaving the expensive urban core for the suburbs. Though Los Angeles faces a similar set of issues, it appears to remain stable as one of the only major metro areas where a spacious residence with access to city amenities can be owned.
This is where real estate companies like Starcity have been working toward a solution. Starcity develops properties in LA and San Francisco into co-living multifamily housing with communal kitchen and living spaces. With a focus on the 35-and-under demographic, co-living offers rent reductions as high as 30 percent, which is often the difference between affordability and unaffordability for many residents. This innovative model allows families to live near and take advantage of high-opportunity areas with strong schools and plentiful job markets.
The last six months have been difficult for many Americans. Between the unprecedented pandemic and deep recession, significant problems abound in our major metropolises. But Solution-oriented companies and people are hard at work using innovative technology to develop solutions And while some problems will be more difficult to solve, innovations in energy usage and storage, and housing and development will go a long way toward building an equitable, prosperous future for our country's great cities.