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Using Activity-Based Modeling to Simulate Urban Resource Demands at High Spatial and Temporal Resolutions


Address correspondence to: James Keirstead, 407 Skempton Building, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Imperial College London, London, SW7 2AZ, United Kingdom. Email:


Urban metabolism is an important technique for understanding the relationship between cities and the wider environment. Such analyses are typically performed at the scale of the whole city using annual average data, a feature that is driven largely by restrictions in data availability. However, in order to assess the resource implications of policy interventions and to design and operate efficient urban infrastructures such as energy systems, greater spatial and temporal resolutions are required in the underlying resource demand data. As this information is rarely available, we propose that these demand profiles might be simulated using activity-based modeling. This is a microsimulation approach that calculates the activity schedules of individuals within the city and then converts this information into resource demands. The method is demonstrated by simulating electricity and natural gas demands in London and by examining how these nontransport energy demands might change in response to a shift in commuting patterns, for example, in response to a congestion charge or similar policy. The article concludes by discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the approach, as well as highlighting future research directions. Key challenges include the simulation of in-home activities, assessing the transferability of the complex data sets and models supporting such analyses, and determining which aspects of urban metabolism would benefit most from this technique.