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Never again!

The oil crisis of the 1970s forged a resolve for action and set an entire nation on the path of energy self-sufficiency. Today, it is showing the world how a structured policy-based approach, backed by concerted action in harnessing renewable energy, can pay rich dividends.

| | Nov 26, 2017 | 12:30 pm
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Iver Høj Nielsen

For Danes singed by the oil crisis of 1973-74, the memories are still strong. The mind’s eye can see. Iver Høj Nielsen still feels it, as he sits in the State of Green office in the Vesterbrogade area of Copenhagen one late afternoon in early October, describing the scenes that played out, 34 years ago. Of people covering long distances of a wintry landscape in ski boots, because they were not allowed to drive around in cars. “The oil crisis was the Danish point of departure,” he says with quiet dignity. Nielsen is Head of Press, State of Green, a public-private partnership initiative, founded by the Danish Government, the Danish Energy Association and the Danish Wind Industry Association, among other bodies.

Morten Kabell

For the young among the wind-swept pedestrians and cyclists in the bustling street outside the office, the oil crisis is not something they can perhaps relate to. There is nothing to recollect, no residual angst. Office is almost over for the day, and they are out to enjoy the good life Copenhagen has to offer, though it is gloomy and 10 degrees C. Elsewhere, outside the city, cars zip by on multi-lane highways. As Morten Kabell, Mayor, The Technical and Environmental Administration, Copenhagen, wistfully says, “Danes love their cars.”

And yet, he knows that at the core, Danes – old and young – care for the environment, are particular about renewable energy and are conscious about the need for curbing energy use. The ethos of green cuts across demographic profiles and other pluralistic aspects across the length and breadth of the country of over five million people. It is a way of life.

It was not always like this – it took the crisis to shake things up. The government met, and so did the people – and together, they decided the situation had to end. The crisis forged a strong national resolve… NEVER AGAIN. The country established a national plan to look for other sources of energy. It was already pumping oil and gas from the North Sea, but over the years, it realised that it would run out of fossil fuels and that it would have to find something else. So it used the revenue from oil and gas to finance the green transition from fossil fuels to wind, solar and biomass. “We have taken small steps since the 1970s, not big steps,” Nielsen says. And it was about going in the same direction.” In 2012, the country arrived at an Energy Agreement that it would be free of fossil fuels by 2050 and would 100% rely on renewable energy. Since then, it has zealously been listening to its inner voice and working towards that goal, embracing new trends and technologies along the way. Today, the talk firmly is of digitalisation.

All this has been possible, though, mainly because people bought into the idea. “In the 1970s, they started complying with the government’s demands, and there were incentives to invest in better homes and insulation,” Nielsen says. “And people could see when the windmills started coming around in their landscapes. It was fascinating to see that these windmills could do something good.”

The momentum has not abated. The level of taxation is high in Denmark, but the Danes, largely speaking, have taken it on the chin, saying they have a responsibility towards the community. “Water is expensive,” Nielsen says. “Energy is expensive. Wind power is cheap, but we put taxes on top, and so consumers appreciate the need to save water and energy, and they can also save money.” Copenhagen, Nielsen says, wants to be carbon neutral by 2025, and people are proud of that, and they don’t complain about paying the taxes.

Lars Schrøder

Broadly speaking, a strong culture of regulation courses through Denmark. It is hard on people, but they think it is okay. Lars Schrøder, CEO of water and wastewater treatment company, Aarhus Vand, describes regulation as a necessity. “In Denmark, we have a lot of regulation,” he says. “If you have water loss more than 10%, you have to pay taxes. In 1987, water loss was 10-15%. Now, it is 5-7%. We have told people how to make installations, and water consumption is falling every year.” People are able to see the change, and in such an environment, the carrots are welcome, and the sticks bearable. There is also pride in being frontrunners in the world, Nielsen says.

People view regulation as okay, because there is an underlying faith in the government – in the politicians and the bureaucrats. “The public administration is strong in Denmark,” Nielsen says. “We are on top of the Transparency International Index. And that is an important factor.” This is backed by maturity among the politicians, largely speaking. For instance, politicians cut across party lines to put the country’s energy policy in place. And 95% of the government supported the Energy Agreement in 2012. The result of the political cooperation is that five years on, the country has already achieved 27% of the targeted 100% transition to renewable energy.

The City of Copenhagen offers itself as a microcosm of political bonhomie, when it comes to energy-related issues. Kabell is Left Wing, but as Mayor, he has to work with Far Right viewpoints. “The Copenhagen system of government is quite unique compared to other parts of the world,” he says. “We have a system of collective leadership, and we don’t have one seat of power. We have seven mayors covering a portfolio each. You have full control over your portfolio but not over others. We also cover six different political parties, and mayor posts are determined by the size of political parties, so that creates room for compromise and learning.”

Kabell and his colleagues agreed on making Copenhagen carbon neutral by 2025 and are working towards that, because they all believe in the essentialness of curbing energy use. This kind of political maturity can be seen in Sønderborg, about 200 kilometres southwest of Copenhagen, where incumbents sitting across party lines agreed on ‘ProjectZero’, an initiative to make the city carbon neutral by 2029, and are actively working towards the goal (Click here to read: ProjectZero: Good for the climate, good for business).

Copenhagen and Sønderborg are ambitious and want to get across the carbon neutral line before the end of the 2020s, as opposed to the national target of 2050. It is this kind of aggressive green agenda and a strong federal conviction and framework that have acted as drivers for industry in the country. The strong political will, Nielsen feels, has helped companies like Danfoss grow and progress. “The government has challenged Denmark to find better solutions,” Nielsen says. “And companies like Danfoss have benefitted from the policy of energy savings. Our private sector is world class, because they have innovated. The research departments in companies have been challenged, and we have been to EU standards and now are five years ahead for building standards. It has given Danish companies a commercial advantage over other competitors.”

Kim Fausing

Danfoss has its headquarters in the town of Nordborg, on the island of Als, in southern Denmark. It is a sprawling facility and, in a nod to Denmark’s renewable energy drive, houses an inverter technology-integrated solar PV field, which produces 2.1 MW of electricity that powers 400 homes in Nordborg. Kim Fausing, its President & CEO, speaks of responsibility and of a bigger cause in being able to provide energy-efficient systems to cut down on consumption but without compromising on comfort. He also speaks of the task ahead of making green energy efficient. “Very often, we are producing energy when we don’t need it,” he says, “so the challenge is in combining current infrastructure with renewable energy.”

Fausing speaks of pride in being able to provide variable-speed drives to steer the motors to perform efficiently, so that on the hottest day of the year, they can contribute to cooling the house at the required temperature and, at the same time, take care of the fact that the system is over-dimensioned for 95% of the year. He speaks with equal passion about how Danfoss is working to strengthen the cold chain in farms, so they can produce from far away and ensure they keep food losses to a minimum.

Fausing is also leading an initiative for digitalising Danfoss and has his sights set firmly on Lean Heat – an IoT-based solution for collecting heating – and on Big Data, so as to be able to couple a climate system with some intelligence. “The strength is in combining it with the future,” he says. The challenge is in making sure to change our DNA to be successful in the digital transformation and to do things differently. When it comes to Big Data and to Lean Heat, you have to open up and partner, because you have no chance to develop on your own. We have smart engineers at Danfoss, and now we have to make them work with digital talents, who are in their 20s and 30s.”

Not too far away from the headquarters building is Danfoss’ production facility for making its thermostatic expansion valves, which the company proudly says, ensure that food is properly cooled and that there is indoor comfort in homes and offices. It is a bustling facility, cohabited by humans and robots. It completed 50 years of service in 2016 and, coincidentally, rolled out its 50 millionth valve.

The production process reflects Danfoss’ obsession with curbing energy use. “Owing to the nature of its activity, the facility has to recycle air more often than other places,” says Jan Petersen, Head of Visitor Relations CF-C, Danfoss. “We are using excess heat from the factory, and that has saved us 40% energy.”

The same zeal to saving energy is seen in the nearby town of Høruphav, in Sønderborg Municipality, where Danfoss cold chain technology is helping a supermarket capture waste heat, sending a message out that it is possible for the world to avoid wasting one-third of all food it produces, owing to poor cold chain management, inclusive of the energy-use profile. Petersen says: “It is about how we capture the heat in the supermarket without sending it to the atmosphere. The supermarket is using the waste heat to heat up the entire supermarket. It produces 70% more heat than it can consume, so it is supplying to the grid to heat homes in Høruphav. Earlier, the supermarket was having separate cooling and heating systems.”

In Viborg, which is the second largest municipality in Denmark, Apple would be doing what the supermarket in Høruphav is. Once operational, Petersen says, the US technology major’s data centre would be providing waste heat to 50,000 people in the city, where the demographic profile is 2.2 persons to a household; in other words, Apple would be providing heat to nearly 23,000 households.

Apple is coming to Denmark in a big way, as are Facebook and Google, attracted by the prospect of almost uninterrupted power supply, and this is what Denmark’s renewable energy policy has done for the country in giving it a monetary boost. As Nielsen puts it: “Seven per cent of Danish exports across all sectors are related to green energy.”

A key link in the renewable energy initiative is a reliable transmission network, to be able to integrate large shares of wind power, say. This is where Energinet comes in.

Carsten Vittrup

Energinet, based in Fredericia, a little over an hour away from Sønderborg, is owned by the Danish state. It owns and operates the overall electricity and Natural Gas transmission in Denmark. Its task is to integrate renewable energy and ensure security of supply in Denmark. “We have lot of experience in integrating wind power,” says Carsten Vittrup, Energy Strategy Advisor, Energinet. “The Danish electricity system today is approximately 40% wind power. Overall, we are 75% renewable energy in the electricity sector. By 2020, wind power must constitute 50% of the electricity consumption.”

Denmark has come a long way in renewable energy use. In 1985, the country produced nearly zero mega-watts of power from offshore and onshore wind power and solar PV projects. In 2017, it is producing over 6,000 MW from all three, with solar PV coming on board in 2011.

The Energinet ethos is to aim for two types of efficiency. The first is efficiency in conversion systems from solar, wind, wave, bio-waste, coal, Natural Gas and oil to power. The second is efficiency at the end-user level, and that is where the use of LED lamps and waste heat comes in, as is being demonstrated in Nordborg, Høruphav and the city of Sønderborg. As the country makes further progress with wind power and solar, the efficiency in conversion systems is expected to increase. As Vittrup points out, if the conversion efficiency of putting coal in a power plant is only about 40%, in the case of wind and solar, it is 100%.

The combination of the two efficiencies is a key reason for Denmark’s success so far in its mission of achieving energy security. Another important reason is the country’s strategic location, making it a geographic sweet spot for large energy transit routes from Norway and Sweden to Spain. This allows for a balanced allocation of renewable energy to all countries along the route. The strategic transit route, the combination of the two efficiencies and its relatively small size as a country allow Denmark to supply energy to its people almost without interruption. Considering a 10-year average, Denmark experiences 25 minutes of outage per consumer per year. To put things in perspective, Vittrup says, in Ireland, it is 330 minutes and in Sweden, it is 250.

If reliability in power supply is a reality, so is the favourable cost. “The more renewable energy flexibility we can get in, the cheaper it is to get power,” Vittrup says. Little wonder then that Apple, Facebook and Google are interested.

In Aarhus, a city of 350,000 people, other international clients are beckoning, with Aarhus Vand the cynosure of attention. The 100% city-owned company is the first wastewater treatment plant in the world that can have total energy neutrality. It delivers 15 million cubic metres of drinking water a year and transports and treats 32 million cubic metres of wastewater a year.

Wastewater treatment plants are large consumers of energy. As Mads Warming, Global Director, Water & Wastewater, Danfoss points out, they typically account for 35% of overall power use in a city. Powering them with renewable energy, he says, and complementing the initiative by using energy-efficiency devices to run the pumps can take them on the road to energy neutrality. “The key elements that have driven Aarhus towards becoming the first energy-neutral catchment area in the world are CHP and more drives in the moving parts,” Warming says. “You can do energy neutrality with digitalisation. And VSDs are the glue making it possible.”

Per Overgaard Pedersen

At Aarhus Vand, the “you can do energy neutrality” is a reality. Its CEO, Schrøder, the one who spoke about regulation leading to low water leakage rates in Denmark, says with understated pride: “We use only the energy we produce, which makes us energy neutral. We supply energy to others, which makes us a net-energy-producing company.” His colleague, Per Overgaard Pedersen puts the achievements in perspective by quoting numbers, including the 4.8 MW of power it generates from biogas every year and the 2.5 GWh it sold in 2016, owing to the surplus it realised. “The biggest incentive for us is that we are earning money on power,” he said. The District Heating provider [in Aarhus] is paying money on every kW of energy we supply. We are producing green energy.”

Naturally enough, international customers have come knocking, including from India. Aarhus is working with the western Indian state of Gujarat and with the municipality in Udaipur city, in the northwestern Indian state of Rajasthan. Though Aarhus Vand is a non-profit body, it is trying to change that by sharing knowledge and earning money in the process. It is also providing training in Zambia to optimise the operation of wastewater treatment plants. “In Udaipur, they did not have any power at all, and here we produce power, so there is a possibility,” Schrøder says. “Our system is rather easy to implement. It is not very costly to do so. We are sharing knowledge on how to plan the infrastructure.”

In the city of Aarhus, besides supplying energy to the District Heating facility, Aarhus Vand is looking to supply biogas to the giant, rumbling ferries that carry passengers and cars from the Port of Aarhus across the Baltic Sea, thus cutting short by approximately an hour the driving time from the city to, say, Copenhagen and to its Mayor of Technical and Environmental Affairs.

Kabell’s term in office will get over in December, and he is busy with his re-election campaign, but he has not lost sight of the task at hand. With 2025 as the target year for achieving carbon neutrality, his colleagues and he have arrived at the one-third mark, which would take them to 92% of the target. “We have eight years’ time to find the last eight per cent,” Kabell says.

Among other initiatives, Copenhagen has aggressively pushed District Heating as one of the solutions to achieve its 2025 target. Backed by political consensus, it started expanding its District Heating networks and telling property owners that they cannot have inefficient individual air conditioning systems. “Having the District Heating system means the individual owner does not have to carry individual heating,” Kabell says. “And the health benefits of having District Heating are much better than running individual systems. From a political point of view, the Health Affairs Department and the Social Affairs Department have seen the benefits of District Heating and have cooperated with us. There have been fewer particle emissions, because earlier, people were carrying petroleum up their individual flats for their oil burners.”

District Heating has found wide acceptance in Denmark. Petersen estimates that 64% of all houses in Denmark is heated using District Heating. In Copenhagen, District Energy has posted strong numbers. The Municipality-owned Hofor Fjernkoling plant in the city has over 60 delivery agreements and has a contracted chilled water supply of over 60 MW to customers within a densely populated three-kilometre radius. The potential is there for over 200 MW of supply in the city.

Henrik Lorentsen Bøgeskov is Director at Hofor. He says the plant and its reticulation network of 17 kilomtres of supply piping and 17 kilometres of return piping have combined to reduce carbon emissions by 70%. Explaining the process, he says, the plant directly pumps sea water, when the temperature of the water is 6 degrees C or less. If more than 6 degrees C, the plant uses electrical ammonia-driven compressors and relies on waste heat to power the systems.

The sea water intake is 4,000 cubic metres an hour and is made possible by using filters – rough, medium and fine – to prevent seaweeds and other sea-borne objects from entering the equipment and by using titanium heat exchanger to counter the corrosive nature of the water.

The Hofor model works, Bøgeskov says, because the plant has planned for diversty, and supplies chilled water to meet comfort cooling, process cooling and server cooling needs. Bøgeskov says Hofor has a lot of customers that need 24x7x365 cooling for servers, museums and other temperature- and moisture-sensitive installations. ”We supply to museums to remove the humidity to protect a Picasso, if we want to borrow one,” Bøgeskov says. ”We supply to shopping malls in summertime. For now, it is server customers. It is a very good business case to sell cold water in winter, because the cost of cooling is zero. Overall, we fit into the customer’s needs and have a product for their behaviour.”

Like other systems across the country, the Hofor plant fits into the macro picture of Denmark and where the country sees itself as going to not only achieve 100% carbon neutrality but also benefit from it in monetary terms. As Nielsen puts it, Denmark is a small country, and that makes it more manageable than others. But then, being small alone is not a passport to success – it needs rigour and discipline, two qualities Denmark has willingly embraced. The oil crisis presented some harsh realities, but instead of cowing down, the country rose as one to overcome adversity. And over a period of time, it turned the adverse circumstances to its advantage. That way, the oil crisis was a blessing in disguise, because it forced the country to become intensely competitive, which opened up opportunities to export technologies. “We see huge investments coming up in Dubai, and what you need is to compete in that market,” Nielsen says. “We have the solutions to compete in that, and there should be a chance that we can double our exports.

“The oil crisis taught us self-sufficiency. We can show that it actually works in real life. And the policy we are pushing since the 1970s is working, and we can move the country.”





The writer is Editor, Climate Control Middle East and Co-Founder and Editorial Director, CPI Industry.


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