Flexible Solar Cells

Photo: Empa

The Previous Record was 17.6%

Scientists at Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, have made flexible solar cells made of copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) with a light-conversion efficiency of 18.7 percent, a new world record. This milestone, about 1% higher than the previous record, might seem like a small step forward, but when looked at in the context of constant incremental improvement, it is significative. What truly matters is the rate of improvement, and how it can be leveraged (1-2% multiplied by many gigawatts of capacity makes a huge different).

Photo: NREL

It’s all about money. To make solar electricity affordable on a large scale, scientists and engineers worldwide have long been trying to develop a low-cost solar cell, which is highly efficient, easy to manufacture and has high throughput. Now a team at Empa’s Laboratory for Thin Film and Photovoltaics, led by Ayodhya N. Tiwari, has made a major step forward. “The new record value for flexible CIGS solar cells of 18.7% nearly closes the “efficiency gap” to solar cells based on polycrystalline silicon (Si) wafers or CIGS thin film cells on glass,” says Tiwari. He is convinced that “flexible and lightweight CIGS solar cells with efficiencies comparable to the “best-in-class” will have excellent potential to bring about a paradigm shift and to enable low-cost solar electricity in the near future.” (source)

Flexible cells like these can be manufactured by ‘printing’ them with a roll-to-roll process, further reducing their cost, and because they are relatively light and flexible, they can be used in more places than the heavier and more rigid polycrystalline silicon cells.

If you like this article, you can follow me on Twitter (@Michael_GR) and Stumbleupon (THMike). Thanks.

Via Empa, Science Daily
More on Alternative Energy & Solar Power
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iSuppli Forecasts 15.8GW of Solar PV in 2010, 19.3GW in 2011


solar power cheaper than coal


Photo: Echo Energies

There was some good news last week. While Washington was busy holding the global markets hostage and placing billions in badly needed R&D funding on the chopping block, a new report from REN21 (the Renewable Energy Network for the 21st Century) showed that global investments in renewable energy jumped 32 percent to a record $211 billion, this despite a downturn in the economy and massive R&D cuts in clean energy.

It’s a little reassuring that progress marches forward, despite our nation’s best efforts to stop it. Solar in particular appears to be growing in leaps and bounds due in large part to a 60 percent drop in price per kW (kilowatt) production in just the past three years. In many regions solar power is getting competitive with coal power, and its price will continue to drop with the onset of a many new advancements in solar technology.

I’ve been keeping abreast of the latest solar developments happening at MIT, and over the past few months scientists appear to be having one breakthrough after another. Below I’ve listed five of the most impressive — taken together, these could mean nearly infinite solar energy, stored easily and safely at a fraction of the cost of burning coal:

1. Nano-templated molecules that store energy

MIT associate professor Jeffrey Grossman and others successfully created a new molecule called azobenzene using carbon nanotubes to structure the molecules so that they “lock in” stored solar thermal energy indefinitely. These molecules have the remarkable ability to convert solar energy and store it at an energy density comparable to lithium ion batteries. As Grossman says, “You’ve got a material that both converts and stores energy. It’s robust, it doesn’t degrade, and it’s cheap.”

2. Print solar cells on anything

An MIT team led by professor Karen Gleason has discovered a way to print a solar cell on just about anything, using low temperatures and vapor as opposed to liquid solutions that are expensive, require high temperatures and degrade the substrate materials. The resulting printed paper cell is also extremely durable and can be folded and unfolded more than 1,000 times with no loss in performance.

Photo by Patrick Gillooly, Courtesy of MIT

3. Solar thermal power in a flat panel

Professor Gang Chen has been working on a revolutionary new way to make solar power — micro solar thermal — which could theoretically produce electricity at 8 times the efficiency of the word’s best solar panel. Solar thermal usually requires huge arrays of mirrors that heat up an element to run a steam turbine. Chen’s system, which is about the size and shape of a typical solar PV panel, uses nanostructured thermoelectric generators that capture the heat differential created by the sun’s light striking the top of the panel. Because it is a thermal process, the panels can heat up from ambient light even on an overcast day, and these panels can be made from very inexpensive materials.

4. A virus to improve nano-solar cell efficiency

MIT graduate students recently engineered a virus called M13 (which normally attacks bacteria) that works to precisely space apart carbon nanotubes so they can be used to effectively convert solar energy. The virus acts, in a sense, as a tiny machining tool to pattern the nanotubes properly creating a jump from about 8 percent efficiency to 10.6 percent efficiency — a jump of nearly one-third.

5. Transparent solar cell could turn windows into power plants

The world’s cities are packed with miles and miles of glass. What if all that glass could be used to harness the sun’s rays while maintaining their transparency? This idea has been out there for a while, but current attempts have resulted in terrible efficiencies (less than 1 percent) and tend to block too much light, rendering the window useless. Electrical engineering professor Vladimir Bulovic has made a breakthrough that could eliminate two-thirds of the costs of installing thin-film technology by incorporating a layer of new transparent organic PV cells into the window glazing. The MIT team believes it can reach a whopping 12 percent efficiency at hugely reduced costs over thin film solar cells.

This is the stuff that Star Trek is made of, and it’s a shame that our elected leaders see little value in spurring the next generation of energy tecnology rather than preserving tax cuts for oil and coal companies who are currently making record profits while spending millions on Capitol Hill to fight the very incentives that would unlock a 21st century energy revolution.

Japanese paper cutting technique

Kirigami isn’t quite as well known as it’s flashier cousin, origami, but the Japanese paper cutting technique is already being implemented in innovative new technology designs. Next up for kirigami? Making solar power more efficient.Image result for Japanese paper cutting technique

Here’s the solar energy problem in a nutshell: Most panels sit on rooftops at a fixed angle. But the sun isn’t fixed: it arcs overhead from dawn to dusk. That means that for large portions of the day, even the most strategically placed solar powers are missing out on perfectly good sunlight. Even if your solar panels are designed to follow the sun, you have to tilt the entire panel for them to do so, which requires heavy machinery to do the heavy lifting on hundreds of pounds of solar equipment at a time.

Researchers on a team led by Max Shtein, a professor of materials science at the University of Michigan, have figured out a new way to make solar panels that follow the sun, maximizing the area in which its solar receptors are exposed to photons at all times of day. These flexible, amorphous panel strips are made of gallium arsenide that are cut in a kirigami-like fashion. The result is solar panels that, with just a little bit of force, ‘pull apart’ to follow the sun’s arc.

“It doesn’t take much force at all,” Shtein told MIT Technology Review, adding that while the approach is best suited for thin, flexible materials, it could work to make almost any solar cell up to 40% more efficient.

Although the University of Michigan has been been at the forefront of kirigami-based breakthroughs—it previously figured out a way to use kirigami to design flexible electronic circuit boards—this advance comes from a totally different team within the school. Looks like it caught a bug over there: what new use for kirigami will its materials scientists come up with next?

Too Much Light at Night Causes Spring to Come Early

Image result for night light cityFuture springs might arrive earlier than expected.

On Tuesday, scientists in the United Kingdom published a study charting the relationship between light pollution and the timing when trees produce buds. By observing four tree species, they found that on average, artificial light may cause trees to bud more than seven days earlier than their naturally occurring counterparts.

“It’s correlative, so we can’t prove anything. We can just show that there’s a correlation,” says Richard Ffrench-Constant, one of the study’s authors. The research was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Yet the study suggests that light pollution may be causing spring to come earlier. Or, at least, it’s tricking plants into thinking that spring is happening earlier.


Light pollution occurs when streetlights and other artificial light sources brighten up the night sky, disrupting ecosystems and obscuring stars. In fact, 99 percent of people living in the United States and Europe can’t see the Milky Way because of light pollution.

Light pollution contributes to climate change, too, by adding excess heat into the air.

“Lights have numerous effects,” Ffrench-Constant says.

The study showed that European ash trees tend to bud about five days earlier in brighter areas compared with darker areas. Other trees tested, including European sycamores, European beech trees, and pedunculate oaks, burst about seven and a half days earlier in brighter conditions. Smaller plants growing directly under streetlights could be more heavily affected, the study notes.

The scientists used data collected by citizen scientists from 1999 through 2011. They combined that information with data quantifying artificial light recorded by the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program’s Operational Linescan System during the same time period. The team also included air temperature data in the U.K., hypothesizing that the temperature of the air would correlate with budburst timing. But they were able to isolate light as a specific contributing factor.

If trees are budding earlier, this could have a larger effect on the surrounding ecosystem. Eric Vandernoot, the lab coordinator of the Florida Atlantic University Astronomical Observatory, says light pollution alters plant cycles. It throws their bud dormancy out of whack, along with their growth patterns and time when they drop their leaves and fruit.

Thomas Rötzer, a professor at Technical University Munich, says light pollution will cause trees to grow in the direction artificial light is shining on them, allowing leaves closer to the light source to take on more chlorophyll and thus develop a lighter green color.

In wildlife, an example of light pollution in action happens when moths fly toward porch lights, says Cheryl Ann Bishop, communications director of the International Dark-Sky Association. When moths are attracted to the light, their predators are, too. Then the moths get eaten and can’t serve their other natural purposes in that system.

“The bottom line is that the ecosystem is being disrupted,” Bishop says. “It’s not the natural order of things.”


Bishops adds that there’s more research on light pollution’s effects on wildlife than on plants. Ffrench-Constant’s study is the first of its kind, monitoring how night-time lighting causes earlier budbursts. Studies already exist on the relationship between rising temperatures and earlier budbursts, and it’s tricky to separate heat from light.

“You can’t really separate out factors that work on synergy, and most environmental effects are synergistic,” says Kerissa Battle, president and CEO of the nonprofit Community Greenways Collaborative, which works to restore ecosystems. “But statistically, you can isolate factors.”

Vandernoot says the research could apply to warmer climates in general, rather than just the U.K. It would be more pronounced toward higher latitudes, he says, because that’s where seasons are stronger.

Research on light pollution is so new, Bishop says, that scientists haven’t studied it extensively. Some effects could be positive, but most are negative.

“Yes, I think spring’s going to get earlier, by all measures,” Ffrench-Constant says.

In addition to sorting out the effects of light pollution, Ffrench-Constant says the study also proves the importance of citizen scientists.

“These kind of important scientific studies can be aided by citizens taking notice of what’s happening in their own backyard,” says Battle.

How Clothes Are Polluting the Food Supply

Image result for clothes pollution FOODEvery day, each and every one of us contribute to the ongoing destruction of the environment simply by participating in modern society.

Not only do people inappropriately dispose of drugs by flushing them down the toilet, the cleaning and personal care products we use and the clothes we wear and wash on a daily basis also contribute to the environmental pollution.

Indeed, the environmental impacts of our clothing choices are shocking, as studies assessing toxic effects of various fabric treatments (such as dyes, flame retardants and stain-resistant chemicals) to laundry detergents and the fabric fibers themselves need serious attention.

The Drawback of Fleece

Microfibers1 in particular have gained notoriety for posing a serious threat to marine life and migrating into fields and onto our plates. As noted by NPR:2

“The innovation of synthetic fleece has allowed many outdoor enthusiasts to hike with warmth and comfort.

But what many … don’t know is that each wash … releases thousands of microscopic plastic fibers, or microfibers, into the environment — from their favorite national park to agricultural lands to waters with fish that make it back onto our plates.

This has scientists wondering: Are we eating our sweaters’ synthetic microfibers?

Probably, says Chelsea Rochman, [Ph.D.,] an ecologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Toronto, St. George. ‘Microfibers seem to be one of the most common plastic debris items in animals and environmental samples,’ Rochman says.”

Microfibers Have Become a Very Significant Water Pollutant

Indeed, synthetic microfibers make up 85 percent of shoreline debris worldwide,3 and tend to be found in higher concentrations in beach sediment near waste water treatment plants.4

Water testing done by the Rozalia Project also showed microfibers are showing up in most water samples collected from the Hudson River.5 The fibers have also been found in both table salt6 and fish sold for human consumption.7

A 2015 study from the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) directly linked microbead plastics and man-made microfibers to the pollution in fish,8 and when Abigail Barrows — chief investigator for Global Microplastics Initiative — sampled over 2,000 marine and freshwater fish, 90 percent had microfiber debris in their bodies.

Near identical results have been reported by Amy Lusher, a microplastics researcher based in the U.K. who co-authored a study9 on microplastic pollution in the northeast Atlantic Ocean, published in 2014. There really does not appear to be any place on Earth that remains unspoiled by plastic pollution.

As Abby Barrows, a microplastics researcher for Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation told The Washington Post:10

“Working in this field of research … can be really depressing. I open up a box of water — it’s from some beautiful place in Palau, and it’s just full of plastics.

Or it’s from Antarctica, and I think there’s definitely not going to be anything in here. And it’s just full of fragments. I haven’t seen a sample that doesn’t contain an alarming amount of plastic.”

Microfibers Are Also a Potential Food Contaminant

Microfibers, which are more prevalent than microbeads (found in face scrubs and similar items), are particularly detrimental as the fibers are easily consumed by fish and other wildlife, accumulating in the gut and concentrating in the bodies of other animals higher up the food chain.

In one study, microfibers raised mortality among water fleas.11 In another, the presence of fibers were found to reduce overall food intake of crabs, worms and langoustines (aka Norway lobster),12,13 thereby threatening their growth and survival rates.

Making matters worse, these microscopic plastic fibers actually soak up toxins like a sponge, concentrating polychlorinated bisphenyls (PCBs), pesticides and oil in ever higher amounts as you move up the food chain.

Factors That Worsen Microfiber Release

Tests show each washing of a synthetic fleece jacket releases an average of 1.7 grams of microfiber, and may release as much as 2.7 grams.14,15,16 For comparison, a paperclip weighs about 1.5 grams.

The older the jacket, the more microfibers are released,17 and lower quality generic brand fleece was also found to shed 170 percent more over its lifespan than higher quality fleece.

Separate research18,19 published in Marine Pollution Bulletin found that the type of fabric also makes a difference in the rate of microfiber shed. In a comparison of acrylic, polyester and a polyester-cotton blend, acrylic was the worst, shedding microfibers up to four times faster than the polyester-cotton blend.

Different types of washing machines may also release different amounts of fibers (and chemicals) from your clothes. Tests show top loading machines release about 530 percent more microfibers than front loading models.20

Other factors that can influence the amount of shedding include water temperature, length and agitation strength of the wash cycle and the type of detergent used. Up to 40 percent of these microfibers leave the wastewater treatment plant and end up in the surrounding lakes, rivers and oceans. As reported by Fusion:21

“To get a sense of the macro-scale of this micro-problem, the authors calculated that a city of around 100,000 people could send anywhere from 20 to 240 pounds of microfibers into local waterbodies daily, which averages out to around 15,000 plastic bags.”

Potential Solutions

To address these problems, scientists are calling for appliance companies to investigate the effectiveness of adding filters to catch the microfibers.22 Wexco is currently the exclusive distributor of the Filtrol 160 filter,23 designed to capture non-biodegradable fibers from your washing machine discharge.

The problem with this solution is what becomes of the microfibers when they’re disposed of in landfills (the same issue that is raised if wastewater treatment plants install filters to keep the tiny fibers out of waterways). The fibers may simply end up entering the environment via another route.

Another novel potential solution — a waterless washing machine — was developed by Tersus Solutions in Colorado, with funding from Patagonia. It washes clothing using pressurized carbon dioxide instead of water.24

An even simpler strategy would be to wash your fleece and microfiber clothing less often. Patagonia is also looking for mitigating solutions, including product redesign to prevent the shedding of microfibers.

Polyester Downfalls Beyond Microfiber Pollution

Beyond microfiber pollution, polyester and other man-made materials have many other environmental drawbacks. As previously noted by Environmental Health Perspectives:25

“[P]olyester, the most widely used manufactured fiber, is made from petroleum. With the rise in production in the fashion industry, demand for man-made fibers, especially polyester, has nearly doubled in the last 15 years, according to figures from the Technical Textile Markets.

The manufacture of polyester and other synthetic fabrics is an energy-intensive process requiring large amounts of crude oil and releasing emissions including volatile organic compounds, particulate matter and acid gases such as hydrogen chloride, all of which can cause or aggravate respiratory disease.

Volatile monomers, solvents and other by-products of polyester production are emitted in the wastewater from polyester manufacturing plants.

The EPA [Environmental Protection Agency], under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act [RCRA], considers many textile manufacturing facilities to be hazardous waste generators.”

Even seemingly innocuous garments like jeans are often produced using a laundry list of toxic chemicals, including perfluorochemicals, phthalates and azo dyes. It’s not only man-made materials that are the problem, however. Even conventionally grown genetically engineered (GE) cotton is problematic due to the cotton industry’s heavy use of hazardous herbicides and insecticides, including some of the most hazardous insecticides on the market.

This is one reason why I strongly encourage you to choose organic cotton, organic hemp and/or wool items, ideally colored with non-toxic, natural dyes whenever possible. Organic fabrics will not be genetically engineered and subject to this onslaught of toxic exposures. And, while this will not solve all of the environmental problems related to the garment industry, it’s a step in the right direction.

Change Starts at Home

Benign by Design,26,27 a program created by ecologist Mark Browne, Ph.D., in 2013, aims to show clothing companies “exactly how textile wear leads to fiber pollution and ways to control their emissions.” According to the website, the program — which is supported by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — “developed a trade-off analysis system that rigorously and scientifically selects the most cost-effective material with the smallest impact; fabrics that emit fewer fibers and less toxic fibers.”

But while some companies are actively investigating ways to produce clothing that is more environmentally friendly, each and every one of us can contribute to the solution by buying less and becoming more conscious consumers when it comes to clothing.

As described in my previous article on “fast fashion,” the entire life cycle of a piece of clothing would ideally be taken into account before buying, as most of your discarded clothes actually end up in landfills, or are resold to third world countries where local clothing industries then suffer instead.

Westerners have a tendency to think we’re being generous by donating our cast-offs, allowing those with few means to get clothes they might not be able to afford otherwise. The reality is, the second-hand industry is struggling with an overwhelming amount of clothes. They cannot even house it all — which is why charities will only keep donated items in their thrift shops for a month before shipping them off for bulk liquidation.

There’s simply no shortage of second-hand clothing, so you’re not really doing the world any favors by routinely adding to the donation piles. If you really want to make a dent in the problem, give more thought to what you buy in the first place and curb your consumption.

Most Americans have enough clothes to outfit entire villages in some other countries. There’s little doubt that many would do well to absorb some of the life-affirming suggestions offered by the minimalism movement. As the director of environmental strategy for Patagonia told CBS in 2015:28

“People need to learn how to buy less and companies need to learn how to be profitable in selling less … Something has to fundamentally shift in the consumption world that reduces the pressure on the raw materials, which reduces pressure on the planet …”

Unsafe Air.

Clean energy is a key topic at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2017. Watch the session on Energy’s Clean Transition here.

An estimated 92% of the world’s population lives in areas where air pollution exceeds safety limits, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which has released new research showing where the worst – and least – affected places are.

Interactive maps highlight the magnitude of the problem: swathes of the world are coloured yellow, orange, red and purple, meaning air quality breaches WHO limits.

 Global ambient air pollution

Image: WHO

Parts of Africa, Eastern Europe, India, China and the Middle East are the biggest regional danger spots. The WHO says almost all air pollution-related deaths (94%) occur in low- and middle-income countries.

Large areas of developed countries including the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Scandinavian nations meet safety guidelines. But, as the map shows, much of Europe is breathing dirty air.

Even within countries, levels of air pollution can vary. In Italy, for example, air quality in the industrial north is particularly bad.


Have you read?


The dangers

The WHO’s latest research is its most detailed to date on outdoor air pollution by country. It shows around 3 million deaths globally are linked to pollution from vehicles, power generation and industry.

 Selected primary air pollutants and their sources, 2015

Image: WHO/IEA

However, indoor air pollution caused by smoke from cooking stoves or fires can be just as deadly, the WHO says. Together, outdoor and indoor air pollution were associated with the deaths of an estimated 6.5 million people worldwide in 2012. That’s 11.6% of all global deaths – more than the number of people killed by HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and road injuries combined.

The maps, based on data from satellites, air transport models and ground station monitors, show levels of particulate matter, such as sulphate, nitrates and black carbon.

Tiny particles, known as PM2.5, have a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers and can penetrate deep into the lungs and cardiovascular system, increasing the risk of acute respiratory infections and noncommunicable diseases, notably cardiovascular diseases, stroke, chronic lung disease and lung cancer. WHO guidelines state annual average concentrations of PM2.5 should be below 10 micrograms per cubic meter, but the vast majority of the world’s population is living in areas exceeding this limit.

“Air pollution continues to take a toll on the health of the most vulnerable populations – women, children and the older adults,” says Dr Flavia Bustreo, the WHO’s Assistant Director-General.

“For people to be healthy, they must breathe clean air from their first breath to their last.”

The WHO says its new research, based on a model developed in collaboration with the University of Bath in the UK, provides “even more confident estimates” of deaths linked to air pollution and will help monitor progress on tackling the issue.

“More and more cities are monitoring air pollution now, satellite data is more comprehensive, and we are getting better at refining the related health estimates,” says Dr Maria Neira, Director of the WHO’s Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.

“Fast action to tackle air pollution can’t come soon enough,” she adds. “Solutions exist with sustainable transport in cities, solid waste management, access to clean household fuels and cook-stoves, as well as renewable energies and industrial emissions reductions.”

General disclaimer:
The designations employed and the presentation of material on this map do not imply the expression of any opinion on the part of the World Economic Forum concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.

Sustainable? Southeast Asia’s Urbanization

Image result for southeast asia CITYCurrently, over half of the world’s population lives in urban areas, and that number is expected to continue to grow. The United Nations predicts that by 2050 over two-thirds of people will live in cities.

Urbanization has been a trend for a while in Europe and North America, but the shift is just beginning to take place in Asia and Africa. 90 percent of the increase in urban populations through 2050 is expected to come from those two continents.

Such a major shift (almost 1.5 million people a week) is bound to have major consequences. Are we prepared for such a momentous change in the way the world’s population lives, especially with climate changing already posing such pressing issues?

Sustainable Urbanization Initiatives

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is attempting to figure that out. ASEAN recently convened the eighth East Asian Summit (EAS) Seminar on Sustainable Cities in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

The United Nations (UN) is also endeavoring to do its part. In October, the UN held United Nations Conferences on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in Quito, Ecuador. The outcome of the conferences was the adoption of the New Urban Agenda, a plan for achieving sustainable urban development and housing during the next two decades through both public and private sector efforts.

Environment Effect

Global climate change is already a major concern. For ASEAN countries, continuing to develop and urbanize sustainably is a huge challenge. In order to confront this challenge in 25 quickly growing cities, ASEAN created the ASEAN Initiative on Environmentally Sustainable Cities (ESC).

ESC prioritizes low-carbon technologies and encourages cities to strive for a carbon-neutral economy. It also promotes responsible use of natural resources and waste-to-energy initiatives.

Private companies and city governments have come up with lots of creative solutions. In Thailand, waste is being used to make art. More developed countries like China use green roofs. South Korea operates electric buses.

If Southeast Asian cities are going to make the urbanization trend environmentally sustainable, businesses, citizens, and the government will have to continue to work together to come up with innovative solutions.

Economic Impact

Urbanization typically means economic growth and a growing middle class. Some fear that this new wave of urbanization may come without the usual economic development.

One analysis found that while Southeast Asian economies usually grew along with urbanization, the amount of the increase varied significantly across the region. Singapore, for example, is the fourth most advanced city on the planet with an economic output of $66,864 per person. Indonesia’s capital Jakarta, however, has an output of $9,984 per person, which is still larger than in the rest of the country.

The largest property developer in Southeast Asia, CapitaLand, reported significant revenue increases in 2016. Most of that revenue growth, however, came from residential property. Business and office rentals and development, it found, was lacking. This is causing the company to worry about an uncertain future.

While urbanization is leading to economic growth in ASEAN countries, that growth is markedly uneven across the region. Economic growth, too, comes with its own challenges, such as increased carbon emissions.


This large increase in urban population leads naturally to an amplified need for infrastructure in cities. This can pose challenges to local governments who are strapped for cash. More infrastructure can create more environmental problems as well.

Jakarta and several other ASEAN cities have only recently begun to develop adequate public transportation systems. This was possible mostly through donations from other countries and financial institutions.

Transportation systems don’t come cheap. Jakarta’s Sustainable Development Plan for its Metro Manila cost around 52 billion U.S. dollars. The plan is ambitious, though, and will provide numerous benefits for the city’s citizens including reduced traffic jamming, reduced emissions, and improved living conditions.

This is why more and more Southeast Asian governments are deciding to legalize ridesharing. Supportive governmental policies promote ridesharing as a way to decrease energy consumption. The long commute times and the high cost of car ownership, paired with the region’s high smartphone penetration makes the market promising.

But environmental issues sometimes create additional challenges for infrastructure development. For example, ground subsidence, a settling or sinking of the Earth’s surface due to removal of groundwater and other materials, has caused damage to infrastructure and buildings, as well as flooding.

As the populations of cities increase so does the need for infrastructure. This is an expensive but necessary investment that growing cities have to make.


Another major issue for fast-developing cities is housing.

The UN’s New Urban Agenda (NUA) attempts to address this need by promoting homeownership, as well as other tenancy options, such as cohousing. Housing policies, the NUA says, should be based on inclusion, environmental protection, and economic usefulness.

The public and private sectors must work together to provide adequate housing, according to the NUA. The government’s role should be to remove supply constraints, such as vague land titles or a lack of developable property.

ASEAN countries must create realistic and responsible housing policies if they are to take advantage of urbanization while doing so sustainably. They must ensure there is adequate access to land and housing that is also safe and environmentally conscious.

Social Changes

A less concrete effect of urbanization is social change. The daily lives of urban dwellers and the culture of the nation as a whole will be altered by the move to cities.

How this aspect of the shift develops may have a significant but difficult to observe the effect on whether urbanization can be achieved successfully, safely and sustainably in ASEAN.

As the trend continues to move toward urbanization in Southeast Asian countries, ASEAN cities will face significant challenges in completing the transition sustainably. It remains to be seen exactly how this shift plays out, but the outcome will be extremely important for the world’s population and for the environment.