Asked to predict how we will live in the future, many envision ever-expanding cities packed with millions of people.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, suggests Axel Meisen, Alberta Research Council’s chair of foresight. And there is a good case to be made that it shouldn’t be that way if society is to manage its water, food and energy resources properly.
Meisen is involved with the council’s ambition to foster so-called “Next Generation Communities,” where people live and work with a minimal environmental impact, relying on local sources of water, food and energy.
Small towns and cities, such as Red Deer, are well-positioned to become Next Generation Communities and to shift away from the mega-urban development model that has evolved over centuries, said Meisen, at a luncheon by the Red Deer Rotary Club on Monday.
On the energy front, Red Deer is particularly well-placed to explore the potential of emerging technologies, such as geothermal energy. The technology involves harnessing the heat 10 km below the surface to produce steam that can be used to generate electricity.
A 440-metre-by-440-metre-by-100-metre slab of ground could produce enough power for a city the size of Red Deer, he said. Take an area 14 square km in size and enough electricity could be created to keep the lights on for 100 years.
“That’s a big potential and it’s carbon-free.”
Meisen said geothermal potential has been looked at closely in countries such as New Zealand and Iceland, where natural outcroppings have left water heated by the earth’s core closer to the surface. In Canada, no major geothermal projects are underway.
If geothermal technology is to be pursued, it will require expertise in drilling, fracturing underground rock formations and managing reservoirs — all common oilpatch skills.
“If Albertans are good at three things, it’s those three things,” he said.
Besides the potential to provide their own energy, smaller communities are better able to manage vital resources of food and water and could give them an advantage over big centres.
Agricultural irrigation is particularly susceptible to water loss, mostly through evaporation. It is estimated that 25 to 40 per cent of the water directed towards farm fields is lost before it gets there, he said. Food also falls by the wayside as it travels between farm and dinner table with as much as 20 per cent lost.
Communications advances, which allow people to work from home or to access health professionals, also removes major reasons people have traditionally sought out big cities, employment and services.