Episode 7 – Let’s keep the positive energy flowing

This month we are looking at three examples of positive transformation towards more sustainable communities. We picked three places that took matters into their own hands and decided to become greener and more sustainable, mostly within the area of energy production. Each of our examples is a rather individual case with special conditions that made a transition towards a more sustainable way of living easier, still some aspects can be adopted everywhere.

Follow us to Iceland, Bornholm and Lahti and find out what we can learn from them!

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Main PointS

Iceland: almost 100% renewable energy and 90% sustainable heating

  • 100 percent of the electricity consumed in this small country of 330,000 people comes from renewable energy. In addition, 9 out of every 10 houses are heated directly with geothermal energy. 
  • of course it has to do also a lot with their geography but let’s have a closer look

Geothermal heating

  • Iceland is often termed the “land of ice and fire” → GOT was filmed there a lot
    • Iceland lies on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, a very active volcanic zone that powers its geothermal systems.
  • Geothermal energy is a type of renewable energy taken from the Earth’s core. comes from heat generated during the original formation of the planet and the radioactive decay of materials.  [1] 
    • sounds difficult but it is not and has in some parts of the world already been used for thousands of years
  • for heating: a geothermal heat pump is installed around 10 feet underground. These pipes are filled with water or an antifreeze solution.  The water is pumped around the closed loop of pipes. These ground source heat pump systems help to cool buildings in summer and maintain warmth in summer. This occurs by absorbing the earth’s heat as the water circulates back into the building.
  • District heating is great because then houses or flats are not having individual heating systems but are connected which saves energy (By the way something most Nordic Countries have)
  • for power plants: Geothermal power plants use steam to produce electricity. The steam comes from reservoirs of hot water found a few miles or more below the earth’s surface. The steam rotates a turbine that activates a generator, which produces electricity. [2]
  • But this is not the only geographical characteristic which allows Iceland to be so independent by providing 100% of its own renewable energy [0]
    • Glaciers cover 11 per cent of the country. Seasonal melt feeds glacial rivers, which run from mountains to the sea contributing to Iceland’s hydropower resources. 
    • Furthermore, the country has tremendous wind power potential, which remains virtually untapped.
    • This has so much potential that they can even head sidewalks to melt snow, heat swimming pools and greenhouses

Iceland’s Transition [0]

In fact, until the early 1970s, the largest share of the country’s energy consumption was derived from imported fossil fuels.

 and they did not change because of the climate benefits but because it is also more expensive to get oil to the isolated island

it was a slow change, started by some entrepreneurs and then more municipalities also participated

but to fully change they needed governmental incentives:  a geothermal drilling mitigation fund in the late 1960s. The fund loaned money for geothermal research and test drilling, while providing cost recovery for failed projects. The established legal framework also made it attractive for households to connect to the new geothermal district-heating network rather than to continue using fossil fuels.

UN article if this transition is a unique example [0]:

  • the question is if this can be replicated in other countries?
  • also what I learned here: “Iceland in the 1970s was a small and peaceful State, there were barriers, and success was not assured. At the time, the country was emerging from centuries of poverty and foreign rule, lacking basic infrastructure and knowledge about the potential of its resources, as well as the experience in undertaking major energy projects. In fact, until the 1970s, the United Nations Development Programme classified Iceland as a developing country.”

And of course not every country has the same hydro and geothermal conditions, but what this article says, the world can learn several important lessons here:

  • Just as geothermal and hydro power generation made sense for energy transition in Iceland, local conditions elsewhere will determine which renewable resources are the most efficient and how they will be best exploited.
  • Iceland’s story is also a reminder that not only rich developed countries have the opportunity to overcome cost and internal barriers for a green transition
  • Establish cohesion and collaboration between municipalities, government and the public during early stages of transition. In Iceland, this dialogue fostered trust and a solution-based mindset in overcoming the aforementioned barriers.
  • A favourable legal and regulatory framework, along with government incentives and support, speeds developments. 
  • Long-term planning for renewable energy implementation, as with any industrial development, is important.
  • Showcasing every step of success is influential. The public participates in a transition that they understand and want. In Iceland, the municipalities that had gained steady access to geothermal hot water became powerful role models for others to do the same. Politicians also used “before and after” photos of the capital area to attract voter’s attention to the cleaner air that was the result of utilizing geothermal resources instead of fossil fuels.

Bornholm

 Bornholm quick facts [3]:

  • all heating and electricity productions is 100% renewable energy
    • production on the island itself covers 60%
    • rest is imported from Sweden through submarine cable
  • goal for 2025 to have all energy need covered by production on the island itself
  • In the future Bornholm could become an important part of Danish green energy supply -> especially energy from offshore wind turbines could be collected in Bornholm and then redistributed into Danish energy grid

Bornholm formulated 8 own sustainable development goals based on the 17 SDGs of the UN [4]

  • 1. Business 
    • To make sustainability a good business 
  • 2. Fact-based sustainability 
    • To document and keep track of our green transition
  • 3. Carbon neutrality 
    • To be a model, climate-friendly community at all times
    • 2025: 100% CO2 neutral energy production 
    • 2032: All waste on Bornholm treated as resources
    • 2035: 0-emission society
  • 4. Mobility 
    • To make all land-based transportation green
  • 5. Housing 
    • To make sustainable housing part of our cultural identity
  • 6. Food products 
    • To be a pioneer within sustainable Danish food products
  • 7. Nature
    • To make the protection of our natural resources vital to everyone’s bottom line
  • 8. Inclusion
    • To ensure that everyone on Bornholm is part of Bright Green Island

Bornholm could potentially also become a “Green refuelling station” 

  • in a year 60 thousand ships pass by Bornholm
  • the green energy produced on the island could be converted into green fuel for those ships

History/Development of Bornholm [5] :

  • Regional Municipality of Bornholm decided in 2008 to become 100% sustainable and CO2 neutral by 2025 (they are on the way to getting there)
  • similarly to Denmark’s organic food strategy, a range of different stakeholders were involved and everyone’s concerns were taken into account
  • in 2020 the Danish government decided to make Bornholm an “energy island” connected to the construction of a big offshore windpark right outside the island -> Bornholm as a hub for distributing the energy gained into the Danish energy grid and to further develop green energy solutions 

Bornholm as a special case [3]:

  • Isolated island in the baltic sea
  • Not too isolated from the rest of the country -> can participate in national energy grid
  • Has its own infrastructure and independent community (with everything a society needs to function)
  • This makes it easier to obtain reliable data on energy supply
  • This also makes it perfect to test the development of renewable energy and of sustainable/green development in general → test in on a whole society
  • Bornholm is proud to be a “test-island” for green development
  • Due to location in Baltic sea Bornholm is very feasible for offshore wind turbines

Similar to Iceland:

  • The conditions of Bornholm are not easily replicated elsewhere and the island has very feasible conditions for s strong green development
  • But we can also learn from Bornholm and that sometimes decisions on a county level that involve all stakeholders and the population of said county can go a long way
  • Bornholm as a a “test island” can hopefully contribute to a more general green development in Denmark and Europe

Lahti

The city of Lahti in Finland, which was named the European Green Capital in 2021. [6] 

Introduction to the city:

  • 8th biggest city in Finland (that means ca. 120.000 inhabitants)
  • 100km north of Helsinki
  • Situated right at a lake: Vesijärvi

History [7]:

  • in 1975 still a city of heavy industry, the lake was one of the worst polluted lakes in Finland
  • Often the wastewater from industry got straight into the lake
  • Starting in 1987 a project for the restauratin of the lake was started
  • This restauration project became the start for more research in the area and Lahti slowly became an important hub for environmental studies in Finland
  • in the late 90s more and more communal actions for green development are taken up, e.g. Environmental Week or
  • Lahti also has the first carbon neutral orchestra in the world 

What makes it the Green Capital [7][6]?

  • strong focus on circular economy: 97% of waste is reused, several local productions make use of the waste resulting from their production
  • Renewable energy: in 2019 Lahti shuts down coal power plant and now is using a bioenergy plant
  • Including the city’s population, e.g. through personal carbon trading scheme → app that visualizes one’s carbon footprint; first try in the world
  • Strong local identity:
    • e.g. the carbon neutral Orchestra
    • The ice-hockey team also aims to become the first carbon-neutral team in the world

What can we learn from it?

  • Transformation from heavy industry to a green city is possible
  • Involvement of many different stakeholders and the local population

Sources

[0] https://www.un.org/en/chronicle/article/icelands-sustainable-energy-story-model-world 

[1] https://www.twi-global.com/technical-knowledge/faqs/geothermal-energy

[2] https://www.nrel.gov/research/re-geo-elec-production.html#:~:text=Geothermal%20power%20plants%20use%20steam,more%20below%20the%20earth’s%20surface.&text=The%20steam%20rotates%20a%20turbine,a%20generator%2C%20which%20produces%20electricity.

[3] Bornholm is a green energy island –

[4] Welcome to Bornholm, Bright Green Island

[5] https://www.energiobornholm.dk/fakta-og-historik 

[6] https://www.euronews.com/green/2021/09/24/this-small-city-in-finland-is-leading-the-way-as-a-model-sustainable-city 

[7] The 360-degree turn towards sustainability in Lahti (greenlahti.fi)

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