“It is particularly ironic that the battle to save the world's remaining healthy ecosystems will be won or lost not in tropical forests or coral reefs that are threatened but on the streets of the most unnatural landscapes on the planet.”- Worldwatch Institute. 2007

Friday, 19 November 2010

How to Win the Ken Dale Travel Bursary

Step 1: Pick your Topic
Make it exciting and find an interesting place to research it. This will help your application stand out from the others and make it easier to be interesting when you get interviewed. Ask yourself if it is important to you (this is important because you’re going to be living it for a whole month), to your company (this is important because you’re going to be asking them to give you a month’s paid leave very soon – be prepared to be flexible with this – both in terms of timing and perhaps taking some holidays yourself), to your clients (see last point), to the industry (this is important because CIBSE are going to give you thousands of pounds to go on a free holiday) and to the world (this is important as it gives you a nice warm toast like glow inside, and allows you to be smug)

Step 2: Discuss your idea with your employers and colleagues, with your friends and with complete strangers. They will all have some input – some of it will even be useful. Google it and send emails to random strangers in other countries who might be interested in participating. Ask suppliers and manufacturers who have offices or factories in the countries you might be visiting. You never know where an amazing link might come up, or who will turn up trumps. Again – other people may not turn up trumps so ensure you have back up plans and alternative ideas. But don’t make your schedule so busy that you have no time to follow up leads when you’re on tour. Obviously you don’t want to do too much of this before you win but once you do win you need to do a LOT of it.

Step 3: Fill in the application form – this is very important. In it you need to explain your plan, give an idea of the route and places you’ll be visiting and lay out exactly why it’s important to all of the above people. Don’t worry about the detail at this point – there will be time to panic about that later.

Step 4: Forget about it until you get called for interview.

Step 5: Panic and throw together a presentation. It will be very informal so you don’t absolutely need to do power point but remember that they’ll be expecting a presentation from you at the end of it. So taking advantage of the opportunity to show off your presentation skills and drop in a mention of that performance you did recently at Ecobuild or Manchester Comedy Festival will not hurt. Avoid using the phrase ‘free holiday’.

Step 6: Forget about it until you get the email you’ve won.

Step 7: Get drunk or celebrate in another fashion – annoy your friends and housemates for weeks by going on about it. This way they will actually be glad when you do go, even if you haven’t got around to installing the central heating before departure. This would be the ideal time to locate your passport and any other travel essentials.

Step 8: Chose your transport (I would recommend folding bike and train, obviously) and book your tickets and some of your accommodation – this isn’t critical but I did it so that I wouldn’t have to worry too much en route and to make the most of the £1000 float which CIBSE let me have beforehand (sadly they don't just give you the cash in a big wad - you have to submit expense claims). So most of my trip was booked and paid for and claimed back before I set off meaning I didn’t end up out of pocket or not for very long and not by very much.

Step 9: Pack – bear in mind the weather and the places you’ll be visiting. Take a dedicated notebook with you to record interesting facts and observations – not an old diary. Make sure you have a good camera, with a case – and don’t leave it balanced precariously on top of your bike, especially if it’s your boss’s (trust me on this).

Step 10: Really really find your passport. Go. Have a lot of fun, write a blog, buy presents for your friends and send postcards - send one to me.

Good luck!

Saturday, 9 October 2010


I have a look round St. Paul’s Cathedral and take photos of the London skyline. I spot some green roofs and a PV array and some pretty good bike parking at Euston. As we spin northwards the sky gets bluer. It is a little known fact that we do have sun in Manchester, but we save it for special occasions and when I lift thebike off the train it feels pretty special to be back.
The sandbar is closed but Polomental is sitting outside eating onion bhajis. I give him his duty free which I managed to fit in by dangling carrier bags off each handle bars. Katface arrives, we get beers from the shop over the road and cut up the cycle chic stickers she got in Copenhagen so instead of reading ‘Hold my bicycle while I kiss your boyfriend’ so they say ‘Hold my friend while I kiss your bicycle’ and stick them on our bikes. The housemate arrives on the Pashley and we have another beer. There’s a lot of cars out, all getting wound up and angry with each other. It’s because the Mancunian way is shut, the big not-quite-a-motorway flyover route that generally stops this sort of scene. Katface suggests we ride it home so we cut past the barriers – easy on our bikes. There’s no roadworks going on yet – I think they’ve just put the bollards up and we fly along, four abreast with the sun shining overhead. This is home.

Kilometers 5030
Kilometers cycled 400
Countries visited 5
Transport carbon emissions 156 kgCO2

October 9th Presentations, Presidents and Lighthouses

So despite cobbling my presentation together on the train and not having a proper run through beforehand it went rather well. No one nodded off and I even got some laughs (and at the right places!) and had a few people come up and say well done afterwards which was very nice of them.
Then I had a crazy cycle back from London Bridge to the hostel. Before I was out of the station proper a taxi driver tried to kill me, and then shouted at me for it. I backed down and got out of his way (before he barged me out of it) and shouted ‘Oh I’ll be back in the UK then, welcome home’ after him. Even though I was up against the clock I stopped to take a series of photos of cyclists (and cars and buses and f**cking taxis and motorbikes) leaving the lights at the bottom of the bridge. It was pure chaos. The bikes were mostly at the front with a couple of motorbikes and everything else up against their back wheels like a great wall of metal death and when then pulled away I was amazed that no one died in the rush to barge past and overtake the cyclists. I know I know that they do it every day but you can’t just put a blue line on a map and call it a ‘cycling superhighway’ – you have to put the blue line on the actual physical ROAD as well.
As always in London, I spend more time pushing my bike than riding it but from St Pauls to Trinity House I do ride, with my camera phone in my pocket so I can take pics of everyone who tries to kill me.
Trinity house, where the presidents dinner is, is very posh but they are not at all sniffy about the newbike and happily let me chain it inside their railings. Inside is all sweeping staircases and chandeliers, a string quartet, huge paintings of famous royal types and ships - of course. It is the headquarters of the lighthouse association and we are treated to a potted history of the organisation and the building by a great speaker who tells it like he’s sharing gossip from last night about close friends as he namedrops monarchs and politicians, many long dead. Dinner is delicious, the wine is free and my dinner date is driving not drinking so I get to have his as well and by the time I have to get up to be given my award I’m on the port and brandy and look frankly wasted - on my photos at least. There is a professional photographer there who gets me to pose next to a ships bell with my certificate – I dread to think how badly they will come out.
At least by the time we leave the streets are empty. St Paul’s Youth Hostel don’t have a bikepark but they let me bring it inside. I’m woken by the bells and reminded of a hungover Katface in Copenhagen shouting ‘I don’t believe in your god, shut up and let me sleep’. But I quite like it, I have a lovely view and the breakfast is ace.

Friday, 8 October 2010

8th October Home Straight

I planned to have a final cycle ride through the Dutch countryside to the ferry but my nose starts streaming and my head aching and within the space of an hour I’m in the throes of a cold bad enough to make my nose red and sore from the tissues and something (air? mucus?) come out of my tear ducts when I blow my nose. So instead I get the train, via Rotterdam, paying an extra few euros to take the newbike on unfolded. At Hook of Holland I cycle round the quiet streets beside the ferry port. It has everything you’d expect in Dutch village – several bars, a coffee house and three massive cycling shops. I find a place that does mussels in a garlic sauce that tastes like all of the garlic in the world and hope this will cure my cold. I could cut through bank vaults with my breath by the time I’m done eating it. Despite this a guy on the ferry boldly strikes up a conversation with me – he’s a composer of operas and his friend’s dad worked out the solution to the travelling salesman math’s problem – I have heard of neither the operas or the maths problem and he doesn’t know what the solution was so I go back to putting my presentation together, trying to breathe away from the netbook in case I melt it.
Friday morning and I come off the ferry to be greeted by five wide lanes and ‘CARS ONLY’ written big beneath them. A sign tells me that Harwich ferry port wishes me a safe and pleasant journey’ which rings rather false as the road to the station is an A road with no cycle lanes (but plenty of trucks). The little road leading into a housing estate says beside it ‘No through road’ so I go down the big road grumbling and complaining under my (still smelly) breath. When I get there it turns out that the station which I need is back at the port but I’d missed the signs so I cycle back and chat to two other cyclists on the station (because we’re all riding bikes) – they’ve just returned from five months touring Europe. Without folding bikes they’ve struggled on trains, especially in France and Italy and tell me that the Czech Republic has amazing cycle tracks but crap roads – needs a mountain bike apparently but great apart from that and very cheap.
On the train to London I start trying to pick just a couple of case studies for the presentation but then start to just put them all in on the basis that I can always skip through them but will need more if I do a longer presentation at our office later. I start to realize just how much stuff I’ve got, how many places I’ve seen and how much I’ve learnt.
In London I get a City of London cycle map which shows me a special bicycle route to London Bridge. I fail to see what is special about it – there’s no segregated bike lanes and the traffic ignores me. Maybe Boris will be painting some on really soon.
But it’s not all bad – people are generally friendly, the bacon butty I get at Liverpool street is good. I don’t have to pay extra to put my bike on the train. At Balham it seems that Boris has been out with his paint can and they have have big blue cycle tracks, like Copenhagen.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

October 7th Rotterdam Climate Initiative

It’s easier to wake up than I expect, even after being up late, on the internet and then lying awake with my head buzzing. I’m up before my alarm for a short walk to Holland-Spoor station at the end of the road, past the bakery, the sex shop, the bong emporium and the abeya (the long black head to floor covering considered suitable by some muslims for ladies) fashion house.
In the world trade centre I meet with Paul, a colleague at a company we have professional links to and Nicole who works for the Rotterdam Climate Initiative. This came into existence in 2007 in the wake of the Clinton climate initiative. Media hype for the topic was high then and Rotterdam’s green mayor and government boldly decided on a reduction target for carbon emissions of 50% on 1990 levels by 2025. This was before any studies had been conducted into how feasible it would be – it was almost arbitrarily chosen as a suitably high target. The project and it’s sister scheme, Rotterdam Climate Proof have calculated that this represents a reduction of 46Megatons of Carbon emissions per year, and that 85-90% of this will have to come from the docks area. Currently the largest chunk of this (around 20MT) is expected to be a carbon capture and storage scheme being developed by E-on for a replacement power plant for which three gas fields in the North sea are being investigated for suitability – storage, as with nuclear is turning out to be the greatest challenge with this technology.
The latest elections have seen a shift to a more democrat/right wing coalition and so it is uncertain what funding will continue but they are confident that they have enough to continue the scoping studies that are underway. In four years time when the real work begins of ensuring that all the so-far voluntary commitment shown by various companies makes it into reality. The biggest problem they’ve faced, Nicole tells me, was an initial reluctance by companies – fears that their ‘level playing field’ was to be removed - but that over the course of the scheme they’ve come round to it and even started proposing initiatives of their own, or working in conjunction with competitors on areas outside of their area of competition (heat supply for example to industrial processes). The aftermath of the ‘climate hype’ has affected them too but they’ve learnt from this and are careful to present the scheme as a whole package that will see Rotterdam as a world leader on climate mitigation specialists, especially in the area of sea level rises. As I’ve been told by the people working in the domestic housing market government subsidies or support for low carbon initiatives is unreliable and no one can allow for it in payback calculations. The majority of the port companies look for paybacks times of less than two years on investment. This combination makes any sort of renewable energy take up almost impossible.
The Stadhaven, ‘city port’ area is the nearest bit of the part to the city and the target of a future large re-development scheme. After the meeting Paul drops me off there and I wander around taking photos of the architecture – there’s a few different styles from the ‘lets make it look like a spaceship’ and the ‘I went to Pisa for my holidays’ school.

Not because it looks particularly nice but because I want to put it on a card and send it to all my architect friends with the slogan ‘When engineers rule the world’

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

October 6th Viverion, Lochem

Tuesday night Justin and Milena cycle me across town to a great Indonesian restaurant. It looks like a café – small with little formica tables, no alcohol – but the food is exquisite, especially a smoky mackerel fillet with a red paste topping wrapped and steamed in banana leaves and little crispy crackers made with nuts, completely lacking in the polystyrene texture of prawn crackers, with a peanut dipping sauce drizzled in soy, also a pot of fiery but sweet chilli sauce.
They tell me that there is a law in Holland that in any collision between a cyclist and a car the car is automatically assumed to be the guilty party, even if the cyclist has no lights or is riding badly. It’s been in place for a couple of years now (with complaints from some people but a big reduction in accidents involving cyclists) although they half jokingly, half seriously say it might not be around much longer with Mr. Wilders (who is viewed by everyone I meet here with the same sort of affection we have for Nick Griffin) in power. Since the recent election he has seen fit, as one of his first moves, to increase the maximum speed on the motorways from 120 to 130km. Good to know he's on the case with the really important issues! Afterwards we go to a bar with 164 types of beer – worryingly I recognize most of them but reassuringly we only have two as on Wednesday morning I am up and out early for the train to Deventer, across the country on the East side.
At the station I’m met by Bas from Itho Vent again who drives me to Lochem to meet with Henk. Henk works for Viverion, a social housing provider, and he gives me some background to their market as well as a project that they have ongoing at the moment. Whilst he lists the increasingly tight building regulations and EPBD as a driver it seems that social housing organisations across the board in Holland have chosen to target higher levels of energy efficiency and renewable energy generation for their own reasons - partly in preparation for what is coming, partly for corporate social responisbility but also because they want to. The have a ‘Gentlemans agreement’ he explains to all meet certain targets by 2020 – zero carbon in new build and 25% reductions in existing stock. How they approach this is up to the individual organisations.
As part of this Viverion have a development of 500 houses and are replacing them all between 2006 and 2016. One part of this, a collection of 57 houses is to be a test site for different technologies. From an initial list of 15 solutions they have trimmed it down to 5 which will be implemented. They have their calculations for the energy improvements they expect to see but are especially interested to see what impact resident behaviour will have on the results. The entire cost of the additional items will total 750 thousand euros, a bill that, with no grant funding, the association will have to foot. Legally they cannot charge more rent for low energy housing – there was some discussions around this in the government last spring but now with Wilders in neither Bas nor Henk seem confident that it will be back on the agenda any time soon – he has other priorities (like ensuring that cars can drive more quickly I say – they nod and laugh and I feel quite smug at being so well informed and up-to the-minute). The five levels of measures are as follows:

1. Demand flow ventilation – this is Itho’s product – the concept of carbon dioxide sensors in each room and humidity sensors in the bathroom giving ‘intelligent’ ventilation that will respond to the location of the occupants to provide adequate ventilation. At a cost uplift of 3K euros per house this lifts them just above the EPC value of 0.8 (in line with current regulations) to an EPC of 0.66.

2. Mechanical vent with heat recovery and low temperature underfloor heating, cost 7.5K euros, EPC rating 0.55

3. Increased insulation, mech vent with heat recovery, low temp underfloor heating, ground source heat pump, heat recovery from shower water, some solar PV and solar shading. This gets down to an EPC value of 0.29 (Passivhaus would typically achieve 0.3) but at a cost of 30K Euros

4. At this point they move into passivhaus construction (extreme insulation and airtightness). Heating is provided in these through the ventilation and solar thermal, solar shading and shower water heat recovery are all employed. EPC rating 0.27, cost 36K euros, so a much greater cost for a small reduction.

5. Staying with passivhaus they then add sufficient PV to provide the hot water as well getting up to a total of 40K euros and achieving an EPC rating of zero.

The interesting aspects of this project are the creation of a project team in the early stages that included suppliers of equipment who, in return for their input, will not be value engineered out in favour of someone who claims to do the same product for a few quid less and representatives of the residents association. Henk feels that this will be what makes the project work – because the whole team started with a common goal and aim in mind and worked together to create the whole concept, before they split off into their traditional roles and financial responsibilities.
The other key factor is the time this process has taken. The project was conceived five years ago, it took three years to come up with the ‘long list’ of 15 solutions and another year to whittle it down to five, which is where they are now. Construction has just started and they will complete in October 2011. They are still working out how they are going to monitor things like customer satisfaction and behaviour and plan an initial monitoring period of two years so I reckon on not much less than a decade to have some really useful conclusions – it’s a long time but a lot of thought has gone in.
I ask about other aspects – water, transport etc but with it being an existing development they haven’t had to look at these, although Henk tells me it’s a matter done by the planners on new build.
I catch another train to Utrecht and then another to the Hague. I retrieve the newbike from the underground bike storage at the station – this is in addition to all the free parking areas they provide. It's safe and dry, open from 4.30 in the morning until 2 the next morning. And costs 1 euro 20 per day. They have a bicycle repair shop and hire bikes there too. I ride home, with my lights on, trying not to let the knowledge that car drivers will be in the wrong if they hit me make me any less observant. It’s dark by the time I’m back at base. Last day tomorrow – a last minute meeting with Rotterdam Climate initiative has been arranged at 9.30 tomorrow morning and then time to see if everything will fit back in my panniers and head for the ferry.

October 3rd – Itho Ventilation

I decide to cycle to Schiedam from the Hague as it’s just over 20km on nice flat flatness and mostly along a canal side. I get hopelessly lost in the Hague – partly because the directions Justin gives me are ‘Just get to the canal and then you can ride right down the side of that’. Hmmm…. problem being – which canal? When I finally find the right one (which is massive and was quite clearly THE canal) I’ve only 20 minutes to cycle the remaining 17km. So with that, and getting briefly lost in Delft and having to buy a map in Schiedam I’m well late by the time I roll up to Itho ventilation where I am met by Ton, Bas and Willem. In the UK Itho just do domestic heat recovery but over here they do whole house systems, integrated with heat pumps or solar thermal. We talk about the construction in Holland ‘Of domestic, that’s what we do, we know nothing about offices, don’t ask us’ they cheerfully tell me. They’ve chosen their market and they’re sticking to it and what they do know about, they know a lot. They have live monitoring of all their recent heat pump installations and show me a case on one which was running in cooling mode even in January. They thought this was a fault until they looked at the neighbours – all of whom had turned their heating up to 24 degrees. Conclusion? Thermal insulation between dwellings, not just acoustic.
After an informative couple of hours Bas helps me work out train times for the meetings he’s set up with me for the next couple of days with a passivhaus architect in Belgium and a housing association and Willem gives me a 2015 calander. They had them made to send to people as a reminder that the building regulations then will mean whole house ventilation becomes a necessity (code level four looms equally for us). ‘It’s to say – if you just want to build to the regulations don’t talk to us now, but come and talk to us in 2015’ he explains.
They’re concerned about me cycling back, possibly getting lost again and in the dark but I assure them that I know the way now and that we have dark in Manchester. I am rewarded by a bright orange and pink sunset on one side of the canal and a rainbow on the other. I do get lost, several times but I still find my way home past a Chinese takeaway where I order too much food without knowing what it is I’m ordering and eat it too quickly with a growling stomach and nicely aching legs.

October 2nd Dutch carbon emissions and the Waterboard

Holland is the smallest country I’m visiting, and the most densely populated (double that of the UK). It’s also got a low level of urbanistaion (only spacious Sweden has less) which is apparent on cycling along it’s flat roads through a relatively busy countryside with no great expanses of wilderness. Take all this into account and the fact that they’re practically underwater, it’s understandable that the Netherlands has the highest CO2 emissions per head of population (10.82tonnes/annum compared to our 8.32). They still beat us on percentage of energy generated from renewables (based on the last international energy agency figures which are for 2004) although we’re both so pitifully low that it hardly seems a competition worth having. Their carbon emissions per household are low though. This could be attributed to a large use of natural gas – their governmental policy for energy at one time was that they should use as much of their natural gas as possible before nuclear became the norm, when it would be worthless. Still getting by on their domestic reserves they have more recently decided that it’s price should be linked to that of oil and taxed it accordingly and so prices have climbed steeply over the last few years. The revenue they get from this is not channeled into subsidies for energy efficiency or renewables and so there is low uptake. From what I understand so far the subsidies sound a little like the domestic half of the low carbon building programme – a laughably low amount gone within hours of being opened to applications. Also feed in tariffs have no certainty with the government changing it’s mind too frequently to give anyone the confidence to install on their account.
Performance on other areas of sustainability seems patchy, especially waste and recycling. One area they excel, of course, is drainage. It seems crazy to me that a country that logistically speaking, ought to be under the sea, doesn’t worry about rising sea levels. There are Indonesian islands further above the waves who are already making mass evacuation plans for when it happens. ‘We have great faith in our dykes’ a Dutch friend tells me when I ask. Their Waterboard, I am told, is ‘older than the British Royal family’ (bet it’s not older than their combined ages) and ‘the oldest democratic establishment in Europe’, dating from the 9th century. They have some interest in rising sea levels it would seem as they’re investing one billion euros a year into researching it (per year for the next century), government funded. ‘Until the government changes it’s mind?’ I ask, thinking of the feed in tariffs. They laugh – no no – this is the Waterboard, they say how much they need, and they get it. They have the power to stop any project at any time, without question, although they don’t exercise it as a matter of course. It may be the case that engineers secretly rule the world in other places but here in Holland, it’s the Waterboard.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

October 1st Copenhagen to The Hague

I get on the train and find my carriage. I’m sharing (so far) with Alan, an eldery refrigeration engineer who has been on a business trip to Sweden. We chat a bit, he tells me about his wife’s cycling, then settles down to watch a film. I do some knitting and cut into my bottle of red. I share my crisps and he passes me a piece of orange.
After a couple of hours we’re joined by a Dutch couple. He’s done some Aikido so we chat about that whilst I sort out photos on my laptop. It’s only half nine so we’re not rushing to put the bunks out. Then another guy gets on who doesn’t want to talk but sits with a hand to his head like he has a migraine or something. I finish up what I’m doing on the netbook and set up the top bunk that I’m on. As soon as I’m done the new guy sets up the other top bunk without speaking to anyone. Once he’s in I ask him if he wants the big light out. He grunts and nods so we turn it off and put the night lights on. Below Alan and the Dutch couple say ‘What do we do with the boots then?’ and the smell finally drifts to the top of the carriage – it’s like he hasn’t ever changed his socks. After some discussion they put them outside.
Saturday morning – smelly feet man and refrigeration Alan have left – we get delayed and so don’t arrive at Amsterdam until lunchtime. Once again I’m impressed with just how easy it is to see a city by bike – within minutes I am away from the main tourist crowd of the central station and spinning along canal sides and little streets. On foot this would take me hours, and be a lot more tiring with my luggage, likewise public transport. The segregated cycle paths mean that I’m never in danger or getting in the way of cars. I wonder if the only reason that Amsterdam isn’t number one cycling city is that they don’t realize they do it – it seems as heavily cycled if not more and as well provided for as Copenhagen. The sun is sunny and the sky is blue and I stop for a beer and a burger which they forget about and so give me another beer to make up but as it means I’ve just had as much internet access as I could want for free it’s fine, and the guy at the next table is very complimentary about the newbike. After a bit of an explore I get another train down to The Hague where I’ll be based for the next few days. Justin, the brother of a friend has (been) volunteered to put me up – he lives in an old school building, originally squatted some thirty years ago and then bought from the council. Split loosely into about twenty units some of which are studios, some entire family homes it’s owned by an association. It’s a great place and my Justin is staying with his girlfriend around the corner so I have yet another amazing pad to myself. They take me to a party in the building – one of the family home set-ups. It’s a great space, open and airy and all the better for having been designed by the people who live there to suit their needs and wants exactly. They are at an interesting point in it’s ownership as the original loan is almost paid off, potentially major renovation looms but there is no clear agreement on what they actually want to do with it. Interesting times ahead I suspect but the host of the party tells me that although they don’t always respect each others opinions, they respect each other and so this will see them through.
Justin has a pile of books on cities – he’s a ‘sound artist’ (which is not the same as a musician) and so I’ve been looking through some. It reminds me how low lying so many of our cities are. If we’re to take some of the worse predictions for sea level rises into account for climate change mitigation perhaps we should all just be moving to the hills rather than pouring any more effort into current infrastructure.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

October 1st - Back through Malmo

I catch the night train again, going southwards this time from Stockholm to Malmo where I have an appointment with Li at E-on to talk more specifically about the energy at Western Harbour. They were invited to make some propositions, having their headquarters in Malmo and being the biggest energy company in the world. Although it’s interesting that energy was never the big issue with Western Harbour, more sort of just there for completeness with ecology and placemaking taking the forefront. It certainly wasn’t used as a selling point by the developers she tells me.She pretty much just wants to run through her presentation, including some little pictures of ‘How district heating works’ with little red lines going to a house and blue lines coming back but I manage to distract into talking about energy in Sweden more generally and the decision process and issues at Western Harbour. The electricity comes from one big wind turbine with a minimal amount from a small PV array located on one of the buildings at the entrance to the development. Likewise the heat comes form a district heat main run on waste incineration. Smaller contributions are made by a solar thermal array, located on the building beside the PV at the entrance and they have a water source heat pump as experimental installations, also a heat pump to provide district cooling and an interseasonal heat store in an aquifer below

Western Harbour again - solar thermal to the left, Solar PV shading to the right
It works well but the one on the other side of the Western Harbour isn’t performing – geology is a difficult science. Likewise they have a small sewage biogas plant which feeds into the gas main I’m surprised at this – in Germany I was told that district heating can’t compete with gas. In Sweden it’s a different story it seems and Li shows me some good graphs from Sven Werner which illustrate clearly that the reduction in carbon intensity of Swedish energy goes hand in hand with their move away from oil as main fuel for district heating. They also shows the long lead times from the decision to implement an energy choice (when they moved to nuclear from oil for example) to the point where the energy mix actually changes. But, as elsewhere the approach seems to be small but visible installations of experimental technology and relying on tried and trusted means for the main provision.
I ask about objections but it seems that the major objections to the scheme were from locals who were worried it would become a rich people’s playground that they would be excluded from and that the council has repeatedly made it clear that it will never become a gated community and that the public areas will remain public. This has been the case with the area become a popular place for people to hang out. I recall Tor told me this as well – that the new residents complain a lot about it. He sighed when he told me and I thought how tough it must be to be a planner – worse than an engineer because we only get noticed if we get it wrong whereas from a planners viewpoint you’ll always be in the wrong from someone’s perspective.
After my meeting with Li I get some food from a supermarket and go to sit on the harbour front at Western Harbour to eat it, hopefully upsetting the posh people by doing so. Then I go back to the bath house at the end of the pier, just because I can, before getting another train to Copenhagen for a sixteen hour train journey to Amsterdam.

Friday, 1 October 2010

September 30th - Hammarby Sjostad

Hammarby Sjostad (Hammarby Lake Town, pronunciation – don’t look at the Sjo, instead say Hoole but then put a guttural/Welsh/phlegmy sort of start to it and you’ll be about there) has some pretty well established areas and is still being built. Target date for completion is 2017 by which time it will provide housing for around 25,000 people within easy cycling or public transport distance of Stockholm. It’s as dense as Western Harbour in Malmo although feels a bit more spacious as they go higher and it covers a much bigger area. There’s variation between the structures, although again not as much as Western Harbour, with most of the accommodation being 3-5 story flats with generous balconies and shared gardens in between Transport is concentrated on the main drag from the city with little streets spreading outwards on one side of the flats – the other side opening onto wooded walkways or the waterfronts – these last being the nicest things about it. Boulevards and little moorings and decking walkways run the whole length, with piers that stretch into the lake edged with thick rushes. I see a lot of people out walking babies in buggies, feeding ducks and the little brown birds that jump in and out of the rushes and seem quite fearless. I meet Anna from Skanska who worked on the development when it was in it’s planning stages. She turns up on a bike and we walk around. The idea behind it seems to have stemmed, as with the Malmo developments from LAN21 agreements. A lot of thought has gone into how the residents will live there with access to local shops and transport planned out as well as leisure facilities – including a (winter only) ski slope immediately behind. The had to rush the new tram stop through as people moved in faster than expected and the authorities worried that if they didn’t then people would quickly form transport habits relying on cars which would be difficult to change (School provision was also a last minute rush – the demographic was expected to be older but has mostly been couples with young children). Making it easy to be green has been somewhat of a focus here. Waste chutes are provided outside each building for incineration, paper and compostables. The compostable ones have been provided with a key (people were chucking any old rubbish in apparently) and a sign thanking people for putting the right stuff in and saying how great the last lot was. Plastics and glass have collection points on each block and all are retrieved by big lorries from the main roads by suction – saving waste trucks operating within the neighbourhood areas. District heating is fed from a part waste-fired CHP plant – but the tower than I assume to be the flue is actually from the sewage works and it’s obviously high enough as I can’t smell anything from it. It’s an experimental installation producing biogas for combustion for energy generation. What with all of this, reclaimed heat from the wastewater and using the they reckon upon completion and full occupation they’ll be producing half of all their energy needs locally, with the rest being bought in. Walkign around it I’m reminded of Richard Register’s Ecocities book – what seemed upon reading a rather fanciful flight of the imagination as to how cities might feel in the future.
It’s pretty impressive but again, the most impressive thing is the marketing. Stockholm is ‘Environmental Capital 2010’ and although a couple of the claims in the brochure are tenuous the whole thing hangs together rather well. I’m sure there’s some element of a self-fulfilling prophecy here too – that telling people about how sustainable the area they live in is encourages them to behave accordingly – provided, of course, that it is made easy for them to do so.
The cycle routes are good, as they are for the rest of Stockholm and plenty of people are out using them – including enough chic to not beat Copenhagen but certainly give it a good run for it’s money. I’m a little travel weary today and overwhelmed by the size of it and so I find a park and play with the hoop – it’s looking a bit battered since the Christiania party with bits of tape peeling off. Maybe I’m not being very sharp but I have at least five people tell me off at Stockholm station – the first being a man who just says ‘You can’t take your bike that way’. I say that I’m going to Malmo and he says ‘Oh you can take it to Malmo but not that way’ and walks off. ‘thanks, thank you, that’s very helpful’ I shout sarcastically after him but then a lady comes up to me and asks if I need any help and explains that I’m trying to get through the barriers to the Metro and that the main station is through a different set of doors. Then I negotiate several train people who tell me I can’t take the bike on the night train until I’m fed up of explaining that it folds and goes in a bag and so yes I can, before I find my train. The guard gets off and scowls at the newbike. ‘You can’t…’ he starts, I make my surely by now internationally recognized gesture for ‘it folds’ and he says instead ‘Did you check in at the main hall?’ ‘Yes!’ I say. I don’t know – I must just have an air of stupidity about me today.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

September 29th Stockholm

620 km international train
12 km by bike

Tuesday night I kick around an increasingly cold Malmo, spinning out time at a few venues finishing with a Polish bar – where it occurs to me that eating egg, fish and onions before sharing a small train carriage with six others could be considered antisocial, but not until I’ve ordered. Never mind – my snoring will far outstrip smell in annoyance factor. It’s on the main square where several restaurants and bars spill out onto the cobbles. Most venues in Sweden have blankets on their outside chairs, very wisely. Here however, they’ve gone straight for the patio heater option – I count sixty at one place alone, all burning away brightly. And the really sick thing is – it’s still cold.
At the station I pass the last half hour before my train arrives practicing the hula hoop but people keep watching so I’m reluctant to try any of the new moves Katface showed me at the weekend in case I drop it or send it spinning off into someone’s head.
The train arrives in Stockholm just after 5. We can stay on until 7 but all my bunkmates seem keen to get off as soon as we get there and so, my sleep disturbed, I emerge into the Stockholm morning, blinking and shivering just after 6am. Hammerby Sjolstad, the development I’m here to see, is a couple of km out, through the old town – beautiful – all of the castlyness they didn’t bother with in Malmo clearly went into creations of palatial splendour up here. The entire city seems to be waterfront which makes directions easier as if you know which ‘island’ you’re on and which one you want you can just count the bridges. The cycling is good - they have over 700km of cycle routes in Stockholm - even if they’re not busy they are at least well used and I see enough cyclists to remind me that I don’t have an automatic link to anyone on two wheels and that grinning at them will only make me look like a nutter.
After touring Hammerby Sjolstad and even leaning how to pronounce it (see separate blog post) I go in hunt of a hostel. I can’t find the one I was looking for but wind up, unsurprisingly, on a waterfront - where they have boat hotels and even boat hostels so I book into ‘The Red Boat’ I am downstairs and the portholes look onto the street rather than the water and I am sharing with one other but the bunks are big, bedding is included and it’s a boat! I love sleeping on boats – I reckon that the small dark spaceness of it and the gentle rocking must be some kind of primitive womb fantasy - so I have a disco nap before heading out to the Stockholm Aikido dojo where I spend an hour and a half with Mats and about ten of his students throwing each other around. He teaches in English for me and gives me a copy of a book he’s written on Aikido basics, mostly in Swedish but with lots of photos and some English and a DVD copy of an interview he had with Saito Sensei. I try out my aikido joke with one of the ladies although I have to explain the whole concept of lightbulb jokes first but it gets a laugh and I suspect it will be translated and carry on it’s way around the globe.
Afterwards I realize it’s earlier than I thought so go out to ‘Charlies bar’ for some of the worst calamari I’ve ever had, really thick batter and so overcooked it’s like eating bits of deep fried inner tube but they have eighties pop on the juke box so I forgive them.

September 28th Malmo - How many architects does it take to design a development

km cycled 8

First stop this morning – Augustenborg. Built around 60 years ago this low rise housing development was struggling with a variety of social, housing, energy and flooding problems when it came up for refurbishment. It’s had a complete overhaul – external cladding and double glazing, balconies installed where there were none before, green roofs and a network of covered and open drain gullies leading to little streams to deal with the problems of flooding caused by all the hard surfacing.
Play spaces and public gardens have been created between all the flats with seating and barbeques with evidence of having been used and it’s predominantly pedestrianised with cycle tracks – or rather the little ‘cycle roads’ that I am finding everywhere. OK – so the flats are still fairly utilitarian and boxy but some of the cladding has been brightened up with coloured detailing and the green spaces are truly lovely. I meet an old woman with a very-groomed poodle who points out the green roofs and bird boxes on the little buildings (substations?) between the flats. The ubiquitous district heating chimney stands over it, as everywhere else I’ve visited this trip. And this I think is going to be the biggest struggle to get accepted in the UK.
A group of people with clipboards stop to admire a Japanese maple hanging over a bridge across a duck pond – some study group? It’s all very nice and well done and I like it and so when I head off to my next destination, Western Harbour I find myself wanting to not like it. I want it to be brash and plastic.
En route I stop at the museum next to castle (it’s not very castly) where they have an exhibition that Malmo put together for the Copenhagen talks. It’s very slick and probably informative if you haven’t heard it all before but I find it a bit patronizing. I’d have hoped that everyone attending the talks would’ve known a lot more than me and found it equally useless but given the outcome I may be wrong. They do great food though, even vegan – and where are your vegan friends when you find great vegan food? After lunch I head for the Turning tower – Malmo’s only skyline-breaking landmark.
It's nice – smaller and therefore a lot cuter than I expected and the development around it likewise. They had twenty three architects work on this because they wanted variation. Now I’ve been known to start sentences with the words ‘The only good architect is a ..’, and although I know some brilliant architects I generally roll my eyes at the mention of the profession. But maybe, I think, looking at Western Harbour, I’m looking at the future
It’s charming, it’s varied, it’s eclectic and interesting. Maybe we need more architects working on projects – not in charge obviously but getting on with what they do best and maybe another profession, some steady bunch of sensible types, pulling it all together. Any takers? It has a wide variety of housing types – packed closely but still with room for pocket parks that are more than a tree and a planter but actually feel like little gardens, with narrow streets at angles to foil the sea breezes and a volleyball court, gardens, plaza and winding tracks between trees where I see this little fellow.
The ‘Turning tower Gallery’ has some crap art, snooty restaurants and bleak furniture showrooms and there’s a big plastic surgery centre next door. I don’t know what that says about the residents but hey – it takes all types and the area is nice at least.
Just down the beach, across a big expanse of grass, is a pier with a restaurant and bath house at the end. Dating from the late 1800’s and recently refurbished it has a row of saunas and sea swimming pools surrounded by little wooden changing rooms, or just steps leading down into the sea itself if you prefer.
This is where I end my day. Copenhagen is wonderful wonderful, and Malmo is perhaps better marketed from a sustainability viewpoint than it really is, especially in energy terms but it has some nicely done developments, it’s little cycle roads away from the cars are a joy to ride, they have an anarchist kitchen serving bin dinners and you can sauna and swim naked in the sea every day. I like Malmo. I really like it.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

27th September Sweden Information

distance travelled by train 42km
by bicycle 5km

Of the countries I’m visiting Sweden has by far the lowest carbon emissions, either per person or per household. To put this in perspective and make it easy to see I’m going to give you a graph.
(Ah - no I'm not - blogger doesn't like that - I will work on this and see what I can do)
But imagine theres a graph there....So there’s Sweden in the pale green at less than half than most of the rest of us. Why’s that then? The main reason has got to be grid intensity – that’s how much carbon is emitted for every kWh generated which depends on how you make your energy. Sweden does best on renewable energy producing around 26% mostly by large scale hydro power. They also rely heavily on nuclear (37%) despite a referendum in the 80’s when people voted firmly against it. This meant that no new nuclear was built but now, with reactors coming to the end of their lives, the possibility of new nuclear appears to be back on the cards. They also have very tight building regulations and have had for years now.

Malmo, the most southerly city in Sweden lies just across the Oresund bridge from Copenhagen. Riddled with economic problems in the 1980’s and suffering high unemployment (25%) the city came up with a strategy to reinvent themselves as a ‘Green City’. Straight from the train I am visiting Tor at the council who has been involved with this process. I say I’ve just been in Copenhagen and he sniffs and says that Malmo has more km of cycle lanes than Copenhagen. They tells me they have visitors from all over the world, at least one person or group every week. I do get the feeling that he’s told a lot of other people what he tells me. He gives me several leaflets and an ‘ecoguide’ describing some of the more high profile projects undertaken, broken down into areas such as sustainable building, refuse and recycling and resident participation. They’ve done a really thorough job of documentation and I doubt I can add any more meaningful insights after an hours interview. I’m interested to hear that they’ve had a Chinese delegation who are keen to recreate the Western Harbour development in a new eco-city in China. This is Malmo’s principle flagship project – a mixed use renovation of an old industrial site, running on 100% renewable energy (mostly one big wind turbine) and comprising a good degree of resident participation. It seems that they’re not talking about the ideas or concepts behind it but just rebuilding an exact copy, regardless of local conditions, culture or wind resource. It baffles me that anyone can fail to get the point so badly. I ask how all this came about – whether it was one or two visionary characters (as it seems to have been in other locations) but he tells me it just came out the local area network agreements that followed the Rio Earth summit in 1991. Now we all have these – look it up on your local councils webpage, put in LAN21 to the search box. I’ve been told that in Trafford where I live some of the local cycle routes were a result of this (they re-did some of the roads recently and have not re-instated them) but in general it was as if we wrote them, and then said ‘ oh well that’s that done’ and left it. Whereas the Swedes, with a wonderful literalness actually took it seriously and got on with it.
Afterwards I go to meet Anders. He has worked much less time for the council – only a couple of years and rather than talk over the big picture he runs me through the project he is involved with ‘slaying the darlings’ of the City. Malmo is pretty damn windy and it seems that the City have decided that therefore wind should be their choice for sustainable energy, in the form of lots of tiny wind top turbines (nice and visible – a ‘green’ symbol). Anders has been trying to debunk this as an idea since a few weeks after his arrival and seems to have managed although they are still talking about a couple of demonstration ones. He shows me the one that Copenhagen put up next to their conference centre in time for the climate talks last November and shows what a bad location it is. (Tip – when in Malmo – don’t say anything about how good Copenhagen is) His project has now become a drive to get some bigger turbines up at the best locations, mostly away from the city centre. He runs me through a presentation he gave to some landscape architecture students regarding the technical possibilities and limitations of wind. He has challenged them to come up with a way of making the turbines enhance the landscape – not just be hidden in it. I ask about offshore – they already have a large windfarm – the Vattenfall wind power park, forty eight 2.3MW turbines south of the Oresund bridge, but his take is that they know that works and will probably do more of it but they want to see what they can do with onshore first This seems a bold and exciting move, especially trying to make a feature of them (provided they’re in the right place) but I’m not sure that there isn’t an element of reinventing the wheel. It’s nice to meet an enthusiast and he’s the first person to ask about where I’m from and what it is I’m trying to achieve and we get the SKM, CAT and CIBSE websites up.
I have to dash off as I agreed to meet Katface for a brew before she trains it back to Copenhagen. She has been around the city to the Castle (‘Rubbish – not even like a proper Castle, and windy’) to the Western Harbour (‘Deserted, oh and windy’) and the cycle lanes (‘Not as good as Copenhagen, and windy’). I tell her Malmo has more km of cycle lanes than Copenhagen and she looks disbelieving. Well it does seem sort of unbelievable – although they have a lot of completely separate cycle lanes and little cycle roads with cycle roundabouts through the centre of pedestrianised streets so maybe it is these they have more of 25% of adults here cycle and if we hadn’t just been to Copenhagen we would have been blown away by it.

I am late to meet Anna, my couchsurf host but she is still there and leads me off to an industrial unit that has been rented out by a community group and on a Monday night is turned into a people’s kitchen. There are sofas and tables all around, enough to seat over 100, and another room with a stage, posters all over the walls for various political, anti-capitalist, meetings and musical events and a piano that a couple of people turn up and play whilst we are eating. They have a gym in one room and a well equipped bicycle repair workshop in another. There is a table full of fruit and vegetables which have been retrieved from the cities bins but not used in tonights dinner for people to take. Anna gets some bananas and broccoli. It’s much quieter than normal because of a demonstration against the new, more right wing government so we get first dig at a great spread – stuffed peppers, bread rolls, roast vegetables, a ratatouille thing and some nutty bolognaise affair. More dishes are brought out and a huge bowl of fruit salad. It’s all delicious. We put a donation in the jar, wash our plates and head off into the evening dusk. Anna shares with two other ladies, and all three are very dynamic and socially aware. One comes in later, after the others have gone to bed, and I am sat at my netbook in the kitchen and says – ‘hey are you our couchsurfer? Great!’ and sits at the kitchen table with me and we put the world to rights.
And the sofa is really comfy too.

Monday, 27 September 2010

25-26th September - Copenhagen Weekend

Just a tiny bit of the green wave at rush hour Band in Christiania Sunday afternoon

km cycled – lots

We’ve spent the weekend cycling through Copenhagen, up and down the waterfronts and harbours, eating nice food in funky little cafes, looking at the architecture and the bikes and checking out Christiania. We find it on Saturday afternoon and walk around the central area. There’s a number of little stages, big buildings with murals on, lots and lots of colourful people, food and clothes stalls. We walk down ‘pusherstreet’ where several tables openly sell hash in big slabs, or by the joint. Unsurprisingly a lot of people look pretty well wrecked. But after a bit we suss out that this is their birthday party weekend, celebrating 39 years of its existence and it seems a bit more acceptable. We get out the travel hula hoop and have a lot of fun getting people to have a go. Katface discovers that if she says’ it’s easier if you take some clothes off’, people do! Later on, after eating falafel sandwiches, we wander out down a dirt path to a lake. The path winds around it for a long way, in almost pitch darkness. Little houses crop up in the darkness and small groups of people are sitting by the water. It’s like some magic garden and we’re not sure we’re allowed there but we want to see more. The near darkness is disorientating. It reminds me of a community in a little Portuguese village up in the mountains that I went to once but this is right in the city. We go back in the daytime on Sunday to see if it makes more sense. It’s huge, 85 acres apparently, homes around 1000 people and provides public spaces for many more. The little houses are a beautiful if ragtag collection of refurbished old military buildings, new builds from mostly recycled materials and a few temporary constructions. It’s been self governing since it’s inception with varying degrees of state interference and acceptance and is an amazing place. They have their own rules which include ‘No private cars’ (although this seems to only apply within the area as there are a lot parked immediately outside), ‘No violence’ (we don’t see any at all), ‘No hard drugs’ (a lot of people look stoned but it’s a party weekend but there doesn’t seem to be anything else going about). They have their own currency and they maintain their own infrastructure and provide kindergarten care within the community. Signs invite you to ‘park your bike here’ or ‘do walk on the grass’. People we speak to at the party who live nearby treat it as their back garden and love it. As a socially sustainable community it’s inspiring. We see a few houses with rainwater harvesting and a couple of dowmus composting toilets but the couple of allotments we see look overgrown and not very well tended. Water and power come from the grid, paid for from a central purse that the inhabitants pay subscriptions into. Apart from an old vertical axis wind turbine there doesn’t seem to be any on site energy generation. I buy a guidebook to give me some more information but I think I’ve seen and understood as much as I’m going to of such a complex place in a weekend and so we leave through teh main gate, passing under the sign that says ' You are now entering the EU' and head off to the Café Viking in the North Bridge area which is supposed to be hip. Sunday seems a quiet night for the Danes and by the time we’ve had a beer, updated this and the spokes blog and picked a picture of me looking as chic as I can to send to Mikael so we can be featured on Copenhagen Cycle Chic (I haven’t gone to the same lengths as Katface with her trilby, brightly coloured tights and matching cycling t shirts but I think it’ll do) everywhere is closing. Café N which we wanted to eat at has it’s chairs on the table as we go past and vegan options elsewhere look dire. But Wagamamas at Tivoli gardens (the large central funfair) is open so we have a great meal there and afterwards watch the fireworks over the rooftops.

Monday morning we get up early and cycle the green wave, flying through junction after junction of green lights with hundreds of other cyclists along Europe’s most popular cycle route. Then we catch the train over the Oresund bridge, out of Denmark. Katface goes back today, I have meetings with the town council and then my second couchsurf with Anna, who is going to take me to an anarchists kitchen and tell me about climate change and gender.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

September 26th - The Copenhagen Bicycle Rant (aka 'it's just paint!')

Cycling in Copenhagen is normal, but it’s not normalized. Rather - in Manchester (and everywhere else I’ve ever cycled for that matter) it’s been abnormalised, turned over the years into a weird subset of transport that no sane person would choose. I have no choice but to identify myself as a cyclist because it defines my whole relationship to the city I live in, the way I get around and the streets and people that I know. I can imagine a world where race, gender and sexuality are matters of no remark, I pretty much live there but I cannot imagine a place where I don’t have an automatic bond with everyone else on two wheels for no other reason than that’s who we are. But in Copenhagen there is none of that. There may be cycling sub groups who identify with each other but in general, as some girls at the Christiania party last night said ‘In Copenhagen everyone cycles, if you said I don’t cycle I’d be like ‘ what, you don’t cycle?’’ (insert face of shock, horror and disgust that you would expect if you announced you were into bestiality).
That said, and although every Copenhagener knows that they’re the number one cycling city, they don’t really go on about it – try and find a postcard of a bike – you’ll struggle. Talk to them about how great it is and they’ll look a little condescending – like you’ve just realized that everyone has legs.
Apparently what happened was that long long ago (like decades) they noticed cycling was in decline and decided to stop it by ‘spoiling’ the cyclists. This means that every junction has big blue cycle lanes across it and traffic lights just for the cyclists.
Fed up of people dumping their bikes anywhere they created big bicycle parks. To encourage people to use them they moved bikes that were parked in the wrong place (people don’t usually lock their bikes or if they do they don’t lock them to anything) BUT to make sure that doing this didn’t piss people off they would pump up the tyres, oil the chain and leave a little note apologizing for the move and asking people to use the new parking space.
Any kerb that you might want to drop off or go up has had a little ramp made of concrete so it’s smooth.
To encourage commuting there is the ‘green wave’ – routes into the city where if you come in at 20 km/hr (the average speed in the city for bikes) at rush hour then every light will be green.
At two locations they have bicycle counters which have a free air station. On Friday when we go past at 6pm I am number ten thousand and something (today!!!), even weaving home from Christiania last night at 3am we are in the 600’s.
Where they notice cyclists using a pavement as a short cut they don’t put up barriers or station police to book them – they paint an experimental cycle lane on the pavement. If it works they make it permanent. And where they have more cycles than cars – they shut the car lane and turn it into a bike lane.
And the result is... that everyone cycles, and moves things around by bicycle. Cargo bikes abound – not just the swanky bullits that we had a go of yesterday but lots and lots, especially the ‘Christiania bikes’ – a big box with the seat and handlebars behind. Kat falls in love with these and every few minutes draws my attention to another one or asks ‘ how much do you think they cost?’ or ‘how difficult would it be to get one home?’ or starts lengthy explanations of why she absolutely, definitely, needs one, cannot do without one and should definitely absolutely buy one. I agree. She got a trailer free with a second hand Pashley a few months back and it has been used for moving a wide variety of things by a load of people from beds, water butts, piles of garden waste, a tree, bin food, sound systems, bicycles and bicycle wheels to name a few.
But the point is that Manchester, like Copenhagen and most European cities was built pre-car and so is designed for this sort of use and can be relatively easily converted to this sort of layout with paint. I know, I know it’s more than that – it’s cycling culture and attitude as well but the actual practical aspect of it is just a few tins of paint. Of paint, for chrissakes.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

September 24th Kalundborg to Copenhagen

km by ferry 45
km by train 60
km by bike 35

Katface meets me at Roskilde train station and we cycle out to the Viking museum. They have five boats that were sunk in the bay around a thousand years ago which they have hauled up, stuck back together and used to learn how they made Viking boats. Then they built a replica of the biggest and sailed it to Ireland with a team of volunteers. It looks amazing. We learn a load of stuff about Viking boats and then dress up as Vikings. I am struck by how well the wood is preserved even after 1000 years under the sea, and the fact that it is displayed in a concrete building that will probably have crumbled in less than 100 - mental.

We get some lunch from a supermarket and I set about explaining why we should cycle the 30 or so km to Copenhagen. Katface is concerned that it might start raining and she doesn’t have waterproofs. I confidently explain that the cycle route goes along the edge of the road and that statistically roads and trains almost always run close together on the flattest land so that we should easily be able to change our minds and jump on the trains (I don’t know if this is true but I make it sound convincing). Katface says that more to the point her hire bike will be uncomfortable. ‘It will be much more heroic if we do cycle it’ I tell her, ’and we should be researching the cycling infrastructure outside the cities as well’. ‘But we’ve drunk half a bottle of wine,’ she says. ‘Well there then’ I say back, ‘We’ll drink the other half as we go’.
And so we do. It’s not scenic but there is a segregated lane right alongside the main road and the rain holds off. As we come into the outskirts of Copenhagen we are joined by more cyclists and more and more bikes appear outside buildings. I stop to photograph these and Katface smiles indulgently. She spent the day before in Copenhagen and met Mikael from Copenhagen Cycle Chic and has been thoroughly Copenhaganized. Closer in and there are many many more bikes than cars, filling the blue cycle lanes and lining every street. There are old bikes, new bikes, sit up and beg bikes and racers, bikes of every hue, battered old cargo bikes and shiny bullit bikes, bikes with whole families on them and whilst the cycle lanes in Germany made me grin like an idiot now I am just slack-jawed in amazement. Katface leads the way, ably demonstrating the Copenhagen ‘box turn’ that stops the people behind crashing into you and finds our hotel – a five storied town house on the main drag past the station with a mirrored hallway, courtyard for bikes around the back and a clean room, albeit next to one with a stag party, off out with the stag dressed in a blue cape and wig.
After showing me the infrastructure (separate blogpost – Copenhagen Cycle Rant) Katface takes me off to ‘What used to be the meat packing district’. It clearly still is but in between the industrial units are loud clubs, with thousands (I’m not exaggerating) of cycles propped up outside. We find one that appears to be on the roof of a supermarket. It has a red carpet but they don’t stop us walking in. Inside there is a bar and a series of small rooms off a corridor leading to what looks like a canteen with a band in, beyond which is the smoking terrace with astroturf. Everyone is beautiful, glamourous and very tall. There is a wall covered with mobile phones which spell out ‘What a Waste’, paintings of lego men in gimp suits, and a bouldering wall above the stairwell. It turns out to be some design house’s first birthday party and we hang out with the beautiful people, even taking to the dancefloor for some impromptu break dancing which goes badly and sees us both falling on our arses. We dance for long enough to make it look like we aren’t bothered and then move on to a smoky little bar on a corner where we talk to Mats who is surprised that Samsoe is considered renewable ‘as they have a cable connecting them to the mainland’. He’s excited about wave power and has even heard of Wave Dragon although he mixes it up with Pelarmis. He is a nano-scientist apparently and whilst he’s shorter than most of his countrymen he still towers over me.Saturday morning we go to Larry vs Harry, the cargo bike specialists to get a postcard for the courier. We meet Harry who lets us ride the pink bullit bike round the block – it’s difficult to steer and we both nearly crash it several times.
Then we go to see the little Mermaid, who is in the Shanghai expo until November but has been replaced by some ‘modern art’ by a Chinese artist – which is nothing more than a big screen with a live video link showing her in Shanghai (called ‘Little Mermaid – Remote’). We decide this is nonsense and I get my swimmers on and go and sit on her rock for a photo, to the amusement of a Chinese school group and a boat full of tourists.
Lunch is in the Laundromat, a great café that also has washing machines and does ‘Cuban toast’ which is a slab of pork belly topped with salsa, crème fraiche and roasted garlic. In the afternoon we cycle down to Christiania – the ‘free town’ set up by a group of anarchist squatters in an old naval base in 1971. It’s the day of their annual party so rather than any meaningful information about alternative societies it seems that the order of the day is live music. We decide that it looks like an all-nighter and so come back to the hotel for a sleep before heading out.

September 24 – Michael’s Low Energy House and a Goodbye to Samsoe

Samsoe km cycled 80
Samsoe km by car 40
Carbon emissions – zero (it was an electric car, powered by wind and solar)

The building regulations in Denmark recognize four classes of house – a standard house, low energy class I, low energy class II and Passivhaus standard, although the last is not certified by Passivhaus. In some ways the Danish Passivhaus standard is stricter, being based on gross external floor area, instead of internal and requiring an air tightness test in both directions (sucking and blowing).
To gain planning permission for one of the plots outside Tranebjerg a house must be minimum low energy class I. Michael’s house is a class II (total energy use, so not just lights and services but electrical equipment use as well, of max 58 kWh/m2/year) and has an air tightness of 0.8 l/s/m2 (better than passivhaus which is 1) underfloor heating fed from the district heat main and triple glazing. His EPC is a B rating and also contains the predicted heating energy use, but he says that he uses half that. We talk about energy performance certificates and it seems they’re taken a little more seriously in Denmark – partly because the cost of energy is higher. They are having a woodstove installed. He says that they don’t really need it but that it ‘feels cosy’.
He also has external shading (drop down canopies) for the spring and autumn – the sun is so much lower in Denmark than Austria that the real Passivhaus construction means overheating from solar gain in these seasons, especially with the solar glass which admits heat but doesn’t release it. The energy academy building is naturally vented but they have to override the ventilation in the summer and force the high level windows open more than the CO2 sensors would allow to cool it down.
Michael tells me that Danish studies show a 6-9% increase in cost to achieve Passivhaus standard, easily recuperated in energy savings, but admits that because energy improvements are not usually visible estate agents don’t value the houses much higher. Being a thatcher and a carpenter means he can do most of the work himself so it costs him less but money aside it seems he would go to the trouble anyway. Michael is passionate about building energy (the last house he had was 100 years old and he got it to a B rating) and he’s fired up by the workshop in Copenhagen the day before. He admits that the farmers on the island are very economically minded when it comes to energy but laughs and nods when I say that I think that Jan is more of an idealist that he likes to admit.
I ask what the typical owners of the low energy houses are – thinking that they’ll mostly be younger couples but he says that he and his wife are one of only three. The rest are older retired folk but then this is the population pattern on Samsoe. He went to a school reunion recently – out of 60 pupils from his year he is one of four who still live on the island.
The next morning I cycle down to the Ferry port at Kolby Kas in the dark. I meet a woman there who is returning to live on the island after 40 years away. I congratulate her on reversing the trend but she’s only coming back because of her aging parents.
I get a brew and go on deck to photo the sunrise over the lighthouse and the offshore wind array – all spindly spinning blades in the fog. They’ve doing some great stuff here, and I’m pleased to have visited. What I like most is that they measure everything – data is on line for the woodchip plants and wind arrays – and they make the knowledge available. In the energy academy they have a very ornate certificate signed by them and the mayor of a town in Korea promising to ‘exchange significant knowledge in the development of renewable energies wind and solar etc.’ It makes me smile – they do that anyway, to anyone who wants to listen, without having to sign something to agree to it.
But they’re not the most gregarious bunch and it’s not the most lively of places. In times past I’ve lived happily on a mountain top with only goats for company but maybe I have become something of a city chick these last couple of years. I’m excited at the prospect of wonderful wonderful Copenhagen and even more at having a buddy to share it with. Katface has come from Manchester and we’re meeting up for the weekend. She’s cycling from there to Roskilde even now to meet me at the Viking Museum and I can see the mainland looming out of the mist so it’s time to gather my things to disembark.

Cycling Samsoe – the South

South Samsoe doesn’t have as much to recommend it as the North in terms of scenery. It’s pretty flat, and predominantly agricultural. It’s harvest time and the September sun and the dirt thrown up by the ploughs create a low lying dusty haze across the landscape. The brown is broken up by occasional green and wooded hillocks of viking burial mounds, and fields of orange pumpkins. The maritime climate means a much longer growing season for delicate crops and so Samsoe has become the Halloween pumpkin supplier for all of Denmark. This leads to some problems with waste and rat control, but a biogas plant would provide an energy efficient solution to both. Acres of them are laid out across the brown earth, drying out in readiness for transportation to the mainland whilst overhead the wind turbines spin. Even close up they’re almost silent (the turbines that is – the pumpkins are absolutely silent) but even if they were noisier the locals would be unlikely to object – more than one in ten of them have a direct share in a turbine and the rest, thanks to the investment of Samsoe council own one indirectly. There was some disagreement as to whether the council were legally allowed to invest money in the turbines and it had to go to central government for ratification. It was allowed, but only on condition that any profits were channeled back into island based energy projects. The Energy Academy is one of these. I spend some time there this afternoon on the internet but the skeleton staff are shutting up shop early – the others are at a conference in Copenhagen or busy about their other jobs on the island. One of them – Michael – I am visiting later. He and his family live in one of the hundred low energy houses that were part of a special planning agreement on the outskirts of Tranebjerg and has agreed to give me the guided tour. Until then I kill time by mooching around Tranebjerg but there’s not much to see. Most of the stuff is imported in so I could get it anywhere else. There’s a couple of tourist shops full of locally handcrafted art and jewelry and if it were a lot cheaper or a lot better I would consider buying.
Right now I’m sat at a public picnic bench with a beer and a sandwich with only the netbook and newbike to stop me looking like a complete down and out. Beside me is a man with either an old and beautifully preserved, or retro Raleigh with a basket full of ‘fine festival’ beer, smoking roll ups who has just been joined by a lady in a cerise pink knee length coat with a butterfly brooch on a similar machine. There’s a lot of bicycles – mostly for practical reasons now, out of tourist season, including a few cargo bikes. But it’s time to go and look at the housing, and I seem to be attracting flying ants.

Samsoe - Energy Island

In 1997 the Ministry of Energy in Denmark announced a competition – they wanted an energy island – a demonstration area to show that a transition to 100% renewable energy could be achieved for a well defined area. The plans had to include community involvement and reduction of energy use in tandem with generation. Four islands and a peninsula took part and Samsoe, to it’s own surprise it seems, was announced the winner. Aero, who also entered and were much further along the line at the time were the favourites to win and have done pretty well for themselves too – despite losing. They have the worlds largest solar thermal array, including, I am told, inter-seasonal heat storage – which is where you stash the heat in the ground in summer for use in the winter, in a natural underground water pocket if you’re lucky enough to have one and in a big sand pit if you aren’t.
But winning the competition didn’t include any vast sums of cash for Samsoe to make it happen. It did provide some money for more detailed feasibility studies and made access to national subsidies and EU grants a bit easier but making it happen was still down to the islanders. There’s a great deal on-line about Samsoe including the report completed (see engineering links on the right) after the ten years that the original plan ran, so I’ll just summarise here. The original intent was:
- To reduce energy needs, especially for heating, through improved awareness and building improvements
- To address transport energy through public transport improvements and widespread uptake of electric car use.
- To provide heat via district heating networks and individual biomass installations for rural properties.
- To provide electricity by large scale wind generation, particularly a ten turbine offshore array at the south end of the island.
So did they get there? Well they are net carbon zero, or positive on a good year. With the off shore wind farm and two more onshore they produce more energy over the course of the year than they use in buildings and in transport on the island combined. The energy usage reductions have not been realized (although neither have they increased) despite falling population for all the same reasons as everywhere else on the planet. Even if you improve insulation and fit yourself out with more energy efficient equipment we all still use more energy (although arguably we have a better standard of living for the same energy use).
What I like about Samsoe, energy wise, is that it shows that it can be done, and it also demonstrates the size of installation, the quantity of resource (wind and growing area for biomass) required for even a modest community and the possibilities of community involvement. The last is especially interesting – Samsoe is an island of farmers and farmers I reckon are pretty much the same the world over – suspicious of outsiders, belligerent, very economically aware, and bloody minded. But they also not so risk adverse as some – when you deal with the variability that nature can throw at you every year you can’t be. And they have a love of big machines – especially those that save time, money or both. The take up of energy has not been linked to much development in other areas of sustainability (Everyone throws compostable waste in with landfill, some of which is buried on the island, some is shipped to the mainland, there’s very little take up of rainwater harvesting – although as it’s illegal to use it in toilets in public buildings in Denmark that’s hardly surprising, or organic farming methods and I am advised not to swim at the North of the island as raw sewage is still put into the sea in places) but the levels of public ownership and involvement in the energy schemes are as impressive as their scale. Of the offshore array, one is community owned, two are owned by farmers collectives, five were financed by the Municipality with a large loan which was equivalent to 30,000 Kroners, (about four thousand pounds per island inhabitant), leaving only two in the hands of the energy company or outside investors.

I spend some time at the Energy Academy – one of the few new buildings created with local labour rather than outside contractors. It’s a beautiful space – light and airy with several interconnected areas including offices, a mezzanine computer deck, an exhibition space, a seminar room, and a kitchen. All of these are open to each other but the walls are lined with a strawboard material that I’ve seen in a lot of places across Denmark. I assumed it was thermal insulation but it turns out to be acoustic. We’ve installed something similar on schools projects and I was skeptical of how well it would work but it really does. It goes against intuition that I should not be able to hear someone sitting a few metres away in an open space but when you think that sounds are waves then rough surfaces that break them up make sense. The academy is modern and slick although most of the staff are part time and currently engaged in getting more grants, projects or courses going to justify and maintain its existence.
I’m shown around by Jan who takes me, in one of the islands three electric cars, to see some of the sights. We visit his house where he has installed a solar PV array covering the whole roof, sufficient to drive half his heat pump. His primary interest is the controls and he has a smart meter than links to the grid and means he can check his generation output from anywhere. His neighbour has some PV also, but not as many.

Then we visit the hardware shop in Tranebjerg where the owner Ole is setting up a renewable energy display in his showroom. He has a preference for flat plate solar over evacuated tubes and is selling air to water heat pumps, with which he says they get a slightly better year round CoP than the manufacturers state (around 3 so still not enough to justify it on carbon terms with typical grid electric) which he puts down to the mild climate, although they do go below zero. He won’t sell air to air heat pumps because he thinks they’re wrong, and a waste of energy, especially for the holiday homes which he says are poorly insulated. Despite Jan’s pragmatism it seems there are some idealists on the island after all. He tells Jan that his neighbour was in buying more solar panels with a grin – I suspect he’s trying to goad him into competitively buying more himself (but he would need an extension to fit them on). Although they describe it as a ‘hardware store’ it’s a lot more than that and when the display area is complete will be more like an education facility. We also go to see a district heat plant that provides for Nordby and Marup. It has a large solar field that provides about 20% of the heating required (the mid summer base load) and a biomass boiler. The grass is long around the solar collectors because ‘the sheep are busy elsewhere’ at the moment.

This installation is owned and run by the same energy company that manages the offshore wind turbines and so is fitted with flue gas scrubbers to remove the pollutants – the community owned one at the south of the island doesn’t – they couldn’t justify it economically. Without large grants everything on the island has had to be carefully weighed up for affordability and payback times. They’d like a biogas plant to deal with some of the islands waste but it will have to be economically justifiable. To be fair – it’s the same everywhere and perhaps they’re just more honest than most when they say it’s all about the money. There is some evidence of the islanders, as people elsewhere, wanting to ‘do the right thing’ but it’s not the main factor. Jan tells me, ‘We aren’t ‘religious’ here’ (meaning environmentalism). Despite, or perhaps because of, this they’ve achieved their aims of 100% renewable energy, in a very short space of time, without major grant funding, using only available and well tested technology and with a traditionally difficult demographic.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Cyclign Samsoe - The North

Samsoe covers 114km2 and has a population of around 4,000, doubled over the summer with tourism. It had around 8,000 full time residents at one point but there has been a steady decline due to the lack of employment and the fact that between 15 and 18 children have to go to school on the mainland. A lot of properties here have been bought and done up as holiday homes. This has the benefit of ensuring that buildings are maintained which would otherwise have sat derelict but means that in winter whole villages are almost deserted. This explains the desolation of Pillemark where I am staying. I have the entire schoolhouse to myself and have only briefly met Birgitte, one of the owners, yesterday at breakfast.

The cycle route to here to Nordby has a road side cycle route from Tranjeberg (the capital, population 1000 and home to a tiny museum) to Marup, although outside of this the roads are so small and quiet it’s no hardship having to cycle on them. At one point the island narrows to a few hundred yards where the Kavnkanal is - a grassy trench that runs right across the island.

When it was excavated they found that it had been a proper canal, lined with wooden side. They originally guessed at it being a few hundred years old but carbon dating of the wood showed it to be circa 700AD, and so built by the Vikings. One theory is that this meant they could escape attackers on either side of the island by pulling their boats through the canal but most people I talk to reckon this doesn’t sound very like Vikings and think it was more so that when the wind trapped them in the Fjord on the East side they could still get out and go fighting and pillaging.

Beyond this the road runs through conifer forest – planted as part of an experiment to see what trees would survive best the sandy soil and sea air. There’s a lot of heather and mushrooms – more fly agaric than I’ve ever seen in one place, and this beauty, which I took home and ate in an omelet

Nordby, the northernmost village on Samsoe, is whimsical and twee. All low thatched cottages with colourfully painted windowframes, arranged around a central duckpond.

Beyond the village the landscape changes into compact rolling hills, a remnant of the ice age. Several short, steep climbs lead up to a little red and white lookout tower. The steps to the top have gone but an over-alled painter lets me use his ladder to get up so I can get a good view right over the island and out to sea to Tunǿ, an island to the west with maybe 900 residents and no roads.

Cycling back south I go off through the forest, having to get off and push because of the sand, to Kagsǿr Hag, a long thin empty beach that must stretch for four kilometers, backed with low lying bushes covered with bright red, fat rosehips. The water is cold but not as cold as I’d expected. Then I take the little road to Langǿr, where a handful of houses and a small marina sit at the tip of the headland at the top of the fjord that lies to the East of central Samsoe. This area is a conservation area, a big shallow bay with lots of sea birds, little islands and flat expanses of bogland. I go past the airstrip at Stavns and then back onto the main road to Tranejeberg to find a cycle shop with some chain oil before they shut up shop as the newbike has developed a loud squeak.