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Danish scientists makes model for CO2 neutral cities

Danish scientists make model for CO2 neutral cities

If Danish politicians want to make their contribution to solving the problem of carbon footprint, there is now a ready-made solution they can follow. The research says they can reduce Denmark’s CO 2 emissions by seventy percent by 2030, focusing their efforts on Jutland.

The three researchers David Drysdale, Henrik Lund, and Brian Vad Mathiesen from Aalborg University have developed a model for green conversion, which has been tested and developed in Sønderborg.

danish scientists

The model provides an overview of technologies that can be used in cities, municipalities, or even at the state level, as well as how to design a coherent energy system. It could mean, for example, that a city can altogether avoid using fossil fuels — a goal many believe to be unachievable.

To understand why the researchers’ model is a help at all, you need to know that today there is a tendency to look at different areas separately and suggest solutions and improvements for each one separately: to cut back on electricity consumption in private homes we can do this; to use fewer fuels in transport do that; reducing our consumption of heat in the industry can be achieved this way.

In the new model suggested by the researchers, all areas are combined so that one can see an entire city and its institutions’ energy consumption under one hat. The model is freely available as a scientific article in the journal Energies.

The entire energy system must be interconnected

You should imagine that when there is heat in excess of a warehouse in a local business, it can be passed on to your home for further use instead of wasting resources.

When wind turbines or solar panels on the roofs of the city generate a lot of electricity, the excess energy must not only be lost, but distributed and stored in office buildings, houses, and cars. Energy distribution should operate all the time with the simple aim of keeping fossil fuels out of the accounts in all sectors, in all buildings and at all levels of the local community.

The model thus provides a recipe for how to use technology to reduce energy consumption, answering a few more questions at the same time: how energy can be green and how to control CO2 emissions along the way.

Another significant finding in the research is an overview of how the energy system is put together today. This could mean, for example, avoiding investing blindly in wind turbines at a time when one could instead find energy elsewhere where it is in surplus.

Brian Vad Mathiesen, who researches sustainable energy and green conversion at the Department of Planning at Aalborg University, explains that the problem today is that all cities will be CO 2 neutral and establish renewable energy. But at the same time, there is a whole transport and industrial sector, which may not have the same objectives or which will be ignored.

“If all cities just strive to turn on buttons to call themselves CO2- neutral, we will not have an interconnected energy system. Then we will have too much renewable energy at a time when we can’t use it.”

Brian Vad Mathiesen concludes that we need to look a lot more integrated at what resources we have available, how much we consume, and how we can connect consumption and production in a much better way.

Researchers have made a big difference in Sønderborg

A city of Sønderborg has become a proving ground for the researchers’ model who tested and developed it there. From this point of time, it seems that the work on the research has helped to shed light on all the different paths one has to go to achieve the goal of becoming a CO 2 neutral city.

Sønderborg’s green transition is curated and led by a public/private collaboration ProjectZero with Peter Rathje as its director. 

danish scientists

“Many of us from the practical world say ‘let’s keep it simple,’ but sometimes it’s just not simple. It is complicated to get citizens, businesses, and other stakeholders backed up, and there is a need to look at it from many different perspectives,” explains Peter Rathje.

He reported that they needed someone who could handle the complexity of the project so it could be done in real life. And the researchers have played a huge role in doing so.

Peter Rathje adds that Sønderborg is in constant contact with researchers, also from DTU and the University of Southern Denmark, consistently working towards the goal of being a CO 2 neutral city in 2029.

According to ProjectZero, Sønderborg has reduced its CO2 emissions by almost forty percent since 2007.

All cities have to work hard 

The principle of research from Sonderborg does not even have to be limited to a city. 

The research suggests that similar work could be done on a municipal or national level. It would have the advantage, for example, for two cities located side by side allowing them to avoid both investing a lot of money in a new biogas plant. Instead, they could share the cost of constructing one using it simultaneously.

Whether municipalities and the state also decide to join the initiative in implementing the model, it is crucial, according to Brian Vad Mathiesen, that cities individually take a step in mapping how much energy they need themselves and how they can find it in the most efficient and green way.

“If we are to achieve the goal of reducing Denmark’s CO 2 emissions by 70 percent by 2030, it is necessary to cooperate locally and take the effort needed to make a smart energy system stand up. It needs to be rooted in local players, businesses, the local population, and the city council so that the transition is started,” says Brian Vad Mathiesen.

Among other things, cities have the advantage that it is easier and faster to make decisions and that a charismatic fire soul can quickly make a big difference.

The city of Iceland has already changed

If you think it generally sounds like a somewhat obscure or utopian project to plunge into the cities of the country, Iceland can be a great example and a wonderful inspiration to gain for this challenging task.

Here, the city of Akureyri has been through a maneuver that is very similar to that proposed by researchers at Aalborg University.

danish scientists

Today the buses in Akureyri run on old cooking oil from people’s kitchens. The organic waste from the city is composted and scattered on the farmers’ local fields instead of fertilizers, and the amount of plastic thrown out has significantly reduced. Ten years of targeted works in this direction together with many other initiatives has made Akureyri almost CO 2 neutral.

A lovely extra detail that can butter up politicians: the efforts in Akureyri have even created more jobs and brought more money in the municipality’s coffers.

Scientists from Iceland and Sweden have studied the experiences of Akureyri so that other cities can learn from them. The conclusion is in line with Brian Vad Mathiesen’s research that city planners should look at the entire city and take into account all the material that comes into the city so that you use and recycle everything as efficiently as possible.

We have to get going now!

If the politicians seriously think that Denmark should be 100 percent green by 2050, it is imperative that the work of creating green cities gets started now, notes Brian Vad Mathiesen.

“It can’t be done without it. It simply cannot,” states the professor. He adds that it takes “little special knowledge” to use the researchers’ model and get things connected properly.

danish scientists

Brian Vad Mathiesen believes it would be really good if the model implementation was supported from a national level and funds were allocated to help make strategic energy planning locally.

Senior scientist Kristian Borch from the Technical University of Denmark agrees that cities need to become self-sufficient as soon as possible. He calls it an Old Norse mindset that cities should require more renewable energy than they can produce themselves, as it is sometimes aired.

It also seems from the model from Aalborg University that it can technically be possible for a city to become 100 percent green, says Kristian Borch from DTU Management.

“That’s my conclusion after reading the study. So let’s get started!”

Attention: More challenges await

However, there are some aspects that go beyond the purely technical possibility, adds Kristian Borch:

“We are talking about people in such a system not being able to charge their electric car at times when they want to, but instead when it is optimal for the system. Such a thing can become a problem because we have not researched the whole social side of such a project here.”

He continues explaining that people in Denmark have a strong belief that if they have the technology, the market will probably do the rest. But that does not happen, because then they would not have stalled in the transition they are at the moment. Massive changes are needed, and it is not enough to get the technology in place.

According to Kristian Borch, his department at DTU is probably the only one who researches social aspect and possible challenges in this kind of change — and according to Kristian Borch, the department has been severely cropped. It risks leaving politicians with an extra problem when they want to reduce Denmark’s CO 2 emissions, the senior researcher says:

“The solutions are there. It’s the challenge to get them implemented. You forget that at a time when everyone is screaming for solutions without knowing what it will mean to people.”

None of the politicians who should be interested in such an important issue has given a commentary: neither climate minister Dan Jørgensen, the Danish Energy Agency, the Association of Municipalities, nor Minister of Education and Research Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen.

The Aalborg researchers’ project in Sønderborg has been supported with research funding from the EU’s SmartEnCity, which in turn has been supported by the EU’s Horizon 2020.

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