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A New Approach To Balancing Economic Development And Sustainable Energy Infrastructure

A New Approach To Balancing Economic Development And Sustainable Energy Infrastructure

Author:Mithsuishi Heavy Ind. 


At the Innovate4Climate event in Singapore in June, politicians, financiers and developers explored the best ways of financing innovative climate-smart development. Infrastructure, and energy technologies in particular, must be at the heart of any sustainable development plan. As economies grow, particularly in Asia, so too will cities, spurring the need for new infrastructure.

But what works in one city to move toward sustainability — socially, economically and environmentally — will be very different from what works in another.

Customizing a plan

If there’s no universal approach to improving people’s lives through economic development while simultaneously protecting the planet, what’s the best way to proceed?

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) is working on one solution with researchers at the University of New South Wales in Australia. MHI’s Key Index Approach, which focuses on energy, aims to help governments, investors and developers identify the most sustainable way forward for each city or region. The result is a bespoke plan based on environmental, societal and economic priorities. It scores different mixes of energy infrastructure and technology based on a city’s social, economic and environmental priorities.

Socially, these priorities may include health and education statistics and access to things such as public transportation. Economically, they may include the electricity price and trends such as digitalization. And environmentally, the issues are likely to include carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, energy consumption and the ratio of renewables in the energy mix.

Using the Key Index Approach will help city planners, developers and investors identify the best balance of investment in infrastructure and the appropriate mix of technologies to achieve the city’s goals.

For a city with an index weighted toward environmental priorities, the Key Index recommendation might be to favor an investment strategy that leans heavily toward renewables, albeit with support from complementary infrastructure to ensure security of supply.

In other words, if a city opts to install large amounts of solar panels and wind turbines to meet its environmental priorities, it will also need to make sure there is sufficient quick-start generating capacity — such as gas turbines — to balance electricity supply when renewable generation fails to meet demand.

Meanwhile, a city more focused on economic growth in a coal-rich region may be more likely to receive a Key Index recommendation of a modern ultra-supercritical coal plant with carbon capture and storage (CCS) to boost job creation.

The Key Index Approach in action

MHI and the University of New South Wales are still working to define the precise methodology of the Key Index Approach, but broadly there are three steps to creating a city’s Key Index:

Step 1: Evaluate and visualize


  • Develop three indices for society, economy and environment that are weighted based on a city’s priorities.
  • Input publicly available data (such as health statistics, employment records) and visualize the indices to see how the city currently performs.
  • Evaluate the balance of societal, economic and environmental priorities for that city.


Step 2: Understand the gap and evaluate the effect of implementation


  • Set the target indices for the city.
  • Simulate future indices based on the city’s development goals and potential implementation of energy infrastructure.


Step 3: Propose the recommended actions for sustainable development


  • List the high-quality energy infrastructure that should be prioritized.
  • Link this to the city’s own development plan.
  • Monitor publicly available data and measure the city’s progress against its target indices and overall Key Index score.


A tool for global progress

The Key Index Approach is a scientific way for cities and regions to plan their infrastructure and then measure its effectiveness in more than purely economic terms, ultimately helping create progress around the world. It uses publicly available data to rank different social indicators and combines them with MHI’s expertise as a technology and infrastructure manufacturer to show a sustainable way for each city to meet its growing energy needs.

At this early stage, MHI is working solely with the University of New South Wales to establish the initial framework for the index. However, the company is continuing to speak with other public and private organizations that may be interested in collaborating on the index’s development.

Ultimately, MHI hopes to use the Key Index to partner with developers, investors and other organizations to guide future development of sustainable energy infrastructure.

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