“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

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.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

September 20th Viborg to Samsoe

September 20th Viborg to Samsoe
By cycle 32 + 6km
By train 80km
By Ferry 30km

It’s grey and overcast in Viborg so rather than the planned cycle ride around the lakes I decide to get going to Arhus. I’m cycling from there to the ferry port at Hou, only 30km or so but if it’s going to rain I’d rather be able to take my time so I can miss the worst of it. There’s a lot of people on the train, again, including two large groups of school children. I don’t think I have ever seen a school trip using the train in the UK.

The route out of Arhus along the edge of the sea is very pretty but the road soon turns inland and begins a long steady climb. It’s 20km to Odder with little opportunity for hot drinks which would be welcome. It’s not too cold but the rain is persistent. About half way it really starts to tip down so I hide in one of the excellently designed cave-like bus stops and eat crisps and apples until it slacks off.
Odder is a little town, about the size of Chorley and like most places I’ve seen in Denmark, outside of Arhus, very quiet. I get a brew in the Retro café. I ask if they have cake. The woman looks worried and says, ’Cake?’ then ‘Apple cake?’. ‘Yes please,’ I say and she brings me some chopped nuts and crunchy cereally stuff in a bowl with apple sauce on top, finished off with a big dollop of cream. The only other customer says something to her that I understand to be along the lines of ‘That’s not cake you mad old bat’, but good naturedly enough. She nervously asks me if the cake is ok and I reassure her it’s great and just what I need after cycling form Arhus. She shakes her head and blows her cheeks out. Apparently that’s pretty mad, cycling from Arhus.
I start to get cold and my leg muscles are seizing up. I fancy the next 8km to the ferry port at Hou about as much as a poke in the eye with a sharp stick and so decide to get it over with and hole up in a café when I get there. The rain keeps going all the way to Hou which turns out to be not much more than a village. It’s predominantly detached dormer bungalows in little gardens, a lot of them have wrinkly tin roofs, presumably well insulated beneath. The ferry port is just a little building on a car park and I have two hours to wait. I find a café which is shut and then one that is open. They both have optimistic quantities of outdoor seating. Maybe the Danes are just a tough bunch. They have heating indoors though – an electric bar fire. Even though they have the door open I don’t mutter darkly about energy waste and carbon implications. I just sit down gratefully and order some more tea. It’s the end of the tourist season so the ferry is almost empty. Saelvig, the ferry port on Samsoe is only a handful of houses. I follow signs to Pillemark, where my hostel is, a 6km ride to the middle of the island. It looks very like the English countryside, smaller fields than the mainland with crab apples in the hedgerows. When I get to Pillemark it’s empty and silent as the grave. It’s tiny – less than a hundred houses I reckon. Maybe one in ten has a light on but that and the cat at the bus stop are the only signs of life. After riding through several times I can’t see anything that looks like a hostel. It’s dusk and I’m wondering if I should ride to a bigger place in the hopes of a pub or something. I go and sit with the cat in the bus stop to see if there’s any unsecured WiFi around.
I try not to scare him when I walk up but he’s delighted to have the company and rubs around me, rolling on his back and noseying at the laptop. No WiFi but I remember that, in a fit of uncharacteristic organisation, I’ve put all my receipts in a folder. I find the one for the hostel and it gives the address as the School house, which I’ve already passed. I go back to it and walk up to the door. No answer. So I try the handle and it opens. I step into the cloakroom. There are coat hangers on every wall. Pegged to one is a piece of paper with my name on. It directs me to a small white room with a made up bed and tells me to make use of the kitchen and TV room. I locate the first and rummage around hopefully to see if the last residents have left any food but no such luck, only salt and pepper, some elderly paprika and dried garlic. I’m dammed if I’ll find myself unable to rustle up a meal of some kind. Down in the village I noticed a couple of farm stalls with honesty boxes. I go back to these and get some potatoes, tomatoes, onions, eggs and parsley.
. Without oil I’m resigned to boiling the veg, cut quite small so they take on the paprika flavour better until the tomatoes are mushy and then stirring in the egg at the last minute. With plenty of seasoning on it’s not half bad. The only thing lacking is a friend to share it with.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Denmark Facts and Figures

Denmark was hit hard by the oil crisis of the 1970’s as back then 99% of their energy was imported. Their first energy strategy in 1973 put security of supply at the top of the bill. This target has been achieved in spades – in 1997 they became the only EU country to be self sufficient in energy and in 2008 they produced 30% more than they used. About 20% of this is renewables based, particularly wind, in which they lead the world. Home to Siemens Wind Power and Vestas Wind Systems the Danes control some 42% of the global market for wind turbines (2005 figure) and were the first country to establish offshore wind. District heating has also been promoted through national energy strategies, 42% of it fuelled by waste or biomass, with connection in some areas compulsory. The only exception to this is extremely low energy housing (typically 75% less energy use), also energy from waste with the proportion of their electricity generated from this only being exceeded in the EU by the Netherlands.

Increased domestic production has gone hand in hand with increased energy efficiency, driven largely in the domestic market by high taxes on energy. The building regulations call for and averaged wall floor and roof u value of 0.16 (Compared to the UK 0.24 and the German Passivhaus standard 0.1)

And the result of this? They have an average annual carbon burden per household of 5.65 tonnes (UK=5.99) and per person of 9.38 tonnes, slightly better than Germany but still more than the UK. I don’t know why this is – one possibility that springs to mind after today is the predominance of detached homes. Another possibility is the rural nature of much of the country which requires car use for most people – although I’ve seen very few of them out on my travels.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

September 19th Skive - Viborg

Cycled today 36km
I can seriously recommend Jutland for a cycling holiday. The roads are smooth and mostly empty. The cars that are there give you plenty of space and there's a few hills, enough to get me standing on my pedals a few times but not enough to make me get off and push. The weather stayed good, bright sunshine and less wind than the last couple of days.

The route out of Skive towards Viborg across the edge of the estuary

I did the journey in one hit - there were only a couple of small places en route and they were empty. I arrived into Viborg in time to see the marathon runners. It made me think of the runner and having promised him I'll do the Edinburgh marathon next year. Even though the start of training is a few months away yet I felt a bit sick in anticipation.

Big road - little road. One for cars, one for cyclists. It's that easy.

I found my couchsurf host, Mona or rather she found me. She lives right in the centre in a beautiful flat with wooden floorboards, high ceilings and an eclectic decor. I have a whole room to myself with a comfortable mattress on the floor.
We went for a walk around Viborg and Mona told me the Town's history and acted as the perfect tour guide. It has beautiful gardens, two lakes, lovely medieval architecture and an embarrassment of churches (originally it had 14 and 4 monastries). In the Cathedral the entire interior is painted with images from the bible. The story goes that the artist spent ten years just doing the sketches and used all the townsfolk as models. There is a naked Eve and this caused a big stir with people rushing to see it first when everything was finished to see who it was.
My favourite story is of the wheel on the tower of one of the buildings. It was put there to attract storks (they like to nest on them) but they never came. The Mayor, who's idea this was, (ten years ago) was so disappointed that he dressed himself as a stork with red tights and a big yellow beak and went and sat on it himself.
The Latiner Garden, named for the latin language school (the white building) who's teachers were given it so they could grow food to eke out their wages. It's divided into four one of which is the 'Snapsgarden' full of planst used to make snaps (like scnapps) more palatable
Mona confesses she know nothing anout construction or energy which is a relief. I was going to write about Danish energy laws and building standards but I am having the day off thinking about it instead - I think that was probably why my head hurt this morning to be honest - not the potten pilsner at all. Back to it tomorrow.

Sunday Morning

So the tall ships, although beautiful, turned out to be a rather sedate affair. The hotel reception shuts early on a Saturday (???) so the newbike was securely locked in the bicyle shed. I walked up to Skive instead and found the 'Potten' bar - next to the old town hall - it used to be the town toilets, hence the name, and is long and thin with about a hundred chamber pots hanging from the rafters, including one behind the bar with Hitler's face at the bottom. I meet the mechanics from Friday night and a few locals including some school teachers who re-inforce what I've been told about people insulating their houses and everyone generally being more aware of energy over here. But then I also meet some lairy drunk lads who do the 'Wha??! Wha? arrrgh that's a load of bollocks, feckin hippies' thing which I've seen a thousand time in the UK. If they have the Sport over here, I know they read it. There's a good guitarist though with a nice voice doing covers. I get up and dance, despite being the only one. Down the road The 'John Bull English pub' lives up to it's name so I come back to the harbour.
Today there's still some wind but the sun is shining from a blue sky and I'm cycling to Viborg for my first ever couchsurf.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

September 18th - Niels and Jorgen and SkiveKommun

today by cycle 3km
today by car 30km
Transport carbon emissions for the day 6.03kg\CO2

I’m sat at the balcony of an apartment in the Hotel Strandtangen, overlooking Skive marina with a bottle of Tuborg and a slice of almond tart so disgustingly good that I’ve cut myself another slice before I’ve even finished the first. It has a mezzanine bedroom (and another one but I know where I’m sleeping) and Terence Conran wouldn’t turn his nose up at it.

I have a good reason for this.
Errrmm… they let me have it for the same price as a room? And from here I can see when the wooden ships start arriving so I can work up to the last minute, and it’s Saturday.

So this morning I met Niels and Jǿrgen outside the Town Hall, ‘the only building like this in the whole of Denmark – the whole of the EU’ and it very possibly is.
They are half of the council’s engineering team the other members being Michael Petersen, the boss, who is in Copenhagen this weekend with family but kindly volunteered his colleagues to come out on a Saturday and look after me, and Alexander (I think) who is the numbers man and has reams of data on all the systems they are about to show me. Between them they are responsible for all of the council’s buildings across the municipality, about 400 in total including 50 schools. Most of these have some form of renewable energy, at least solar thermal and biodiesel heating.

They take me into the basement of the town hall and show me the three biodiesel CHPs (25kW elec, 40kW thermal) which, combined with 273m2 of solar thermal collectors on the roof, does all of the heating and most of the electricity for the 5000m2 building. They also provide cooling, via an absorption cooler, for the server rooms and the politicians chambers (needed because they talk so much hot air presumably). They also have a heat pump which they use to create a 800m2 ice rink outside the post office between December and March. They have a 32,000 litre underground storage tank for rainwater which is used for toilet flushing, laundry and cleaning. This provides for more than half their water consumption. I ask about the vertical axis wind turbine on the roof and they laugh. ‘It’s a toy,’ says Niels ’the third one we’ve tried. The others were horizontal axis and were always looking for the wind. This one – it turns but it doesn’t give the output – they’re not for buildings.’ We look at the control panel and sure enough it’s putting out 410W, less than half of its1kW rating, despite the fact it is spinning furiously. The building is naturally ventilated (as are most new buildings in Denmark) with the central corridors on timers and the offices linked to CO2 sensors. It’s all controlled from the engineering office. People can modify their temperature by 2°C either way. ‘If they want more than that,’ says Jǿrgen ‘ they have to bring us coffee and cake!’.

Denmark has only got a feed in tariff this year, after us, since the first of June. And the tariff is only one for one, you get the same as you would pay if you bought it. This explains the lack of individual rooftop PV arrays. I ask about solar thermal but it seems that with the combination of district heat and technical problems with the systems ‘ OK they’re not rocket science but they can have a lot of problems. Drainback is good but it’s expensive’ people are put off. Also electricity is so costly that energy efficiency is always the first investment.
I tell them about the CIBSE conference three years ago, after the 40% house talk when it was reckoned that a reduction to 40% carbon emissions could be achieved on a typical house for a cost of between £7-21,000. The speaker finished up by saying ‘It seems like a lot of money but really how much is it? The price of a family holiday abroad? Of a conservatory? Of a new car?’ The first question afterwards was a guy who said he’d like to know how many people in the room, given £21,000 would choose a new conservatory over energy efficiency. In a room full of maybe 200 building services engineers, almost 80% of the hands went up. Neils and Jorgen are baffled. No no, they say, energy is expensive. You can buy a lot of insulation and new windows for that.

Up on the roof we look at the dry coolers and the one evaporative cooler, also run with rainwater.They clean it out every year and don't worry about legionella. They point out the site of the new five storey technik building where they plan to use ground source heat and an ORC plant to make electricity from heat (only requiring about 80 degrees apparently, refrigerant based, and coming in 10kW units. I’m unfamiliar with this as a concept – unless it’s got a different name). A large chimney is the local CHP running the town's district heating.

After they have finished showing me the town hall we drive to Skivehus School which has the biggest PV array in Denmark. Copenhagen had tried to claim this title but, they tell me, ‘Our boss waits to see how big theirs will be and then adds some more, so now this is the biggest’ And it is big -1700m2 with an addition 420m2 of solar thermal. After this Niels leaves us and Jǿrgen takes me on to Breum School. Until now he has seemed quiet but with the ebullient Niels gone he becomes more animated. Breum is a ‘typical’ school for the region he says although later admits that it’s not quite typical but a little better but that most of them will be like this within the next two years. It has a small (by comparison with the town hall) solar thermal array and a rapeseed oil plant.
They buy the rapeseed in very cheap locally. Jǿrgen says it’s very bad quality, pointing out the chaff that’s in with it through a little viewing window. The seeds themselves look like mustard seed. They pass through a grinder which extracts the oil and turns out the remaining solids in a thin cylinder – the same as wood pellets. The pellets are being burnt in a boiler but in the holidays they bag them up and sell them. The boiler is around five years old and so will soon be replaced, not because it’s near the end of its 15-20 year service life but because the newer ones are so much more efficient. ‘The new ones,’ says Jǿrgen ‘they are beautiful. I love them, I could marry one of them’. The oil is run through a gravity filtration system and then sold on. They can’t use it for the school boilers because it’s illegal to run on food oil, which rapeseed oil is classed as, if the electricity is being fed back into the grid. The Town Hall doesn’t feed back into the grid so that one can use it but most of the fuel for that comes from rendered fat from local slaughterhouses. A lot of the equipment they make themselves. ‘Everyday’, he says ‘ we have to invent something new. We cannot look on the internet because this has never been done before’.
I ask how they get away with using solar thermal on schools when they biggest output comes in the summer holidays, when it’s not needed. He looks at me like I’m simple and says that the caretaker will open the windows and turn the radiators up full on the last day of term. In another building they have a small biodiesel CHP but it doesn’t use the rapeseed oil, ever, because they feed in the electricity. They have three Viessman gas back up boilers but these are never used – it’s so expensive. I ask Jǿrgen if the school maintenance staff look after this lot but he tells me not. They do the day to day stuff but if anything breaks down they call him.

The rapeseed oil plant is part of the ‘not typical’ school and is something they won’t replicate. If they installed this on all the schools they could quickly bottom out the local market for oil. I ask if there is legislation to stop them doing this but it seems it is an ethical decision. ‘It would be wrong, it’s not the way we’re raised’. I don’t pursue it. Bad enough that he thinks we’re stupid enough to air condition buildings and heat our conservatories before insulating our roofs without him thinking we’re plain evil. Nobody in Skive locks their bikes.
I wonder how they have managed to make so much progress. The boss it seems is something of a visionary. For 25 years he’s been trying things, proving that they save money (they saved 68 million Danish kroner in the last year on energy bills) and then getting the go ahead to do more and more. ‘The only problem is his head,’ says Jǿrgen ‘it’s 20 years in the future. He comes up with things and then me and Niels and Alex, we have to make it work in the real world’.
That reminds me of someone.

There is a plan, Jǿrgen says, whereby the heating main could be fed into by everyone. That everyone who wanted could have a CHP plant and feed in heat and electricity. I think of Werner and his ‘democratic energy’ and Emoeke, who asked Andreus from the Stadtwerk if he could imagine a time when people would all own the heating grid (he looked baffled and shook his head). ‘Is this being discussed now?’ I ask, thinking it’s a council strategy for energy. ‘Yes,’ he tells me’ we are discussing it - us four. We think we can make it happen’. I believe him. And I think the world needs more visionary engineers who aren’t afraid to take a chance.

Anonymous comments authorised

I've ticked the box for anonymous comments, didn't realise I hadn't so thanks to Mike for pointing it out.So if you're of a mind to comment, you can.

September 18th - Good Food

The breakfast in the Best Western is proper hobbit affair. Cereal with milk, yoghurt, seeds, nuts and fruit (including prunes), chilled orange juice, leaf tea and proper tea pots, cold cuts and cheese with pickles and coleslaw, freshly baked loaves of bread, boiled and scrambled eggs and little smoked sausages, toast and ten types of jam. I try not to think about the waste and just enjoy it. My fellow diners are all elderly and rotund. I reflect that a lifetime of breakfasts like this has probably contributed to that and quit after two courses, snaffle some apples for later and go to pack up.
I have an hour before meeting Niels Erik Neilson at the town hall. I had considered trying to make it to the Danish Volkecenter, a Danish version of CAT but it is some distance away and seems to involve a boat trip so the chances of arriving before closing time are slim and tomorrow I have to be in Viborg by early afternoon. I hadn’t planned on another night in Skive – it seemed pretty dead last night, and the most exciting promise for tonight was the English pub which was advertising a ‘ladies rock night’. I found a café that did excellent steak with a mountain of paprika dusted potato wedges and pan fried veg, all in a paprika and mushroom cream sauce. I’d just started eating when I realized that the guys at the table next to me weren’t just talking loudly – they were trying to get my attention. They switched to English and asked if they could sit with me. They’d just sailed from Aalborg to be in Skive for the wooden ship race. This is an annual event and involves over a hundred boats and ships from big 20-man sailing ships to little one-man dinghys and two Viking long boats (full, presumably, of Vikings) There are expected to start arriving today after 3pm, wind (and rowing muscles for the long boats) power depending. Looking on line there’s not much about it apart from a brief note on the Danish tourist board page but flickr has photos of fireworks over a harbour which looks pretty special. And they have Vikings.

Friday, 17 September 2010

September 17th - Flensburg to Skive

5 km cycled
300 km by train
transport carbon emissions today 9.67kg/CO2

Flensburg is even wetter today. It alternates between a light drizzle and a torrential downpour which, were it warmer, would be like a monsoon. The newbike is heavy again with all my luggage and my legs protest at every up. I can’t find an internet café – the concept of WiFi hasn’t caught on in Flensburg so I send a couple of postcards and get to the station with plenty of time. I’m sad to be leaving so soon – I had forgotten this bit of traveling. Sometimes it is like a string of goodbyes.
I change at Arhus onto a Danish train – they have a cycle space and I wish I’d unfolded the newbike until half the country get on with their children and more luggage than they can possibly need. Two children sit next to me and eye up my crisps like they’ve never seen any before. My first two impressions of Skive (pronounced Ski-vuh) are a. it is windy and b. they are not expecting visitors. I ride around a bit, getting off to push when the wind is on one side. I find the town hall, with a little vertical axis wind turbine on and a school or community centre with a large PV and solar thermal array. The shops are open but the town has the feeling of being closed. There aren’t many cars, except for a brief dash at 5pm and no guest houses or B&B’s. I get to the point where not only am I lost and tired – which I can cope with perfectly well, but also hungry which doesn’t suit me. I find what appears to be the only hotel in town and it’s a Best Western, so I know it will be expensive and the money will mostly go out of the town, which doesn’t look like it can afford it. I dig out another of the housemates energy snack – a bliss bar – raw chocolate again. It lives up to it’s name and I go in, just to ask.
The receptionist quotes me €110 for the night, then when I pull a face she finds a ‘very little room’ for €87. I ask about other hotels or guesthouses and she looks up the local hostel (but warns that it’s a few kilometers out) for me on line and prints off its rates. I think this is very magnanimous of her but then she circles the cost of a room, and breakfast, and linen hire, and towel hire, tots it up and it’s around €77 euros. I wouldn’t need the last as I have a tiny techno towel. They do work although they don’t feel like it. But I’m starting to weaken and when she says she’ll knock me ten percent off I crack and go for it for the night. It is a small room but very nice. I’m reassuringly close to the fire escape (it’s my view), have an en-suite (with big towels) and free WiFi.
So now, having updated and uploaded and reconnected I’m off out to see if the few restaurants they had are open in the evening and see what trouble I can get into.

September 16th 2010 Flensburg district heating

Sunset over Kraftwerk - running on coal now but with plans for a shift to biomass

Thursday – and today I’m going to visit the Stadtwerk with Emoeke and Helge from Flensburg University. We’re not meeting until midday and so I spend some time writing things up and then cycle down to Flensburg. I take some photos around the harbour, hide from a thunderous downpour under some cycle rack covers and buy a stand for the newbike. The last is a bit of an extravagance but means that it won’t fall over or need balancing against my knee whilst I rummage in the panniers. The guy at the bikeshop even fits it for me and puts some air in my tyres. I find the university and Emoeke. She works on Klimapakt Flensburg. The story goes that having attended a workshop on energy efficiency a representative of the local housing co-operative asked if he could bring some more people to the next one. The organizer agreed, expecting a couple of other housing association people, but was taken aback when he brought nine others back with him including representatives of a hospital, the local transport operator, the Sparkasse bank, the university and local manufacturers. From this group the Klimapakt was formed with an ambition of achieving carbon neutrality for Flensburg by 2050. This was in December 2008 and the €5,000 put in by each partner has so far gone mostly into research. Emoeke’s Colleague Helge joins us – his PHd is focused on working out just where the current emissions come from. So far there have data from the utility company on energy use which they are happy is accurate. They are looking only at energy and transport. Water isn’t included as yet, probably because they have so much of it, I’m sure it doesn’t even rain this much in Manchester. Neither does it touch on any other areas – Emoeke is dismissive of ‘Sustainability’ and says she finds it a cheat. People claim that something is ‘socially sustainable’ or satisfies one aspect of it and then don’t think about the carbon. ‘When you focus on carbon,’ she says, ‘then you have something real’. Transport has been the subject of a benchmarking exercise but they are on the verge of carrying out a detailed survey to get a clearer picture. They have drawn a boundary around the town and so although they hope to influence people’s travel patterns outside of Flensburgs those miles will not be included in the 2050 target. Nor can they control the Danes coming over and driving. I suggest they pedestrianise the whole town and they look wistful. ‘I know a load of cyclists,’ I say ’When we’ve paved Manchester, we’ll come and give you a hand’.
They are both keen cyclists but have never heard of Critical Mass. They like the idea and say ‘We should have one in Flensburg’. ‘You should start one’ I say.
Paloma arrives from Artefact and we go for lunch – the first hot meal in a few days (I was even looking at the pot noodles in the supermarket last night and wondering if the coffee machine might be persuaded to do just hot water). Paloma doesn’t have a bike and it’s a couple of km to the Stadtwerk but it’s no problem. Emoeke belongs to the local bike hire scheme so with one phonecall we can detach a bike from the stand at the bus stop and we’re off across town to where Kraftwerk, the power station and the Stadtwerk offices are. Most of the pavements have cycle lanes but even those that don’t are wide enough to accommodate us and the pedestrians don’t seem to mind. Even on red lights I notice cars stopping for us to cross.

Left to right : Emoeke, Paloma and Helge

At Stadtwerk we’re met by Klaus and we sit and drink tea in his office looking up at a wall covered in a big map of the area with blue and red lines showing the extent of the town district heating system. One of the biggest in the country and certainly the most inclusive with hundreds of km of pipework and 98% uptake it stretches all the way to Glucksberg where Artefact is and even over the Danish border. It’s run from one central power station, a coal-fired fluidised-bed CHP. They also have four oil fired engines at dispersed locations to provide back up in the event of failure. At the moment they co-fire with around 10% RDF (refuse derived fuel) Under German law they can go up to 25% but above this they will be classified as a waste disposal plant not a power station. Even at the current levels they experience problems with high chlorine content which combines with the sulfur at high temperatures to become very caustic, eating it’s way through the machinery.
They began installing the network in 1969 when the gas mains needed replacing. They were running on town gas then as natural gas was not available in the region. This seems to have been the critical decision factor. Klaus says that they could never compete economically with natural gas but they can be cheaper than oil. The other key features he says are having one big central plant (both for the efficiency and for deliveries, and the harbour which means they can deliver the coal by sea. They have a plan to change over to biomass completely within the next five years. I ask how this will fit with the shortage of maize already being experienced by the small biogas farmers. It’s not a problem for them he says because they have a supplier of wood from the Baltic. I ask if he thinks it will be a problem if they need to compete with other towns for the biomass, perhaps when natural gas runs out, but he says there are no big towns in the vicinity, and anyway, they all have natural gas.

After an hour we go out to look at one of the 95 substations where the high pressure, high temperature supply (the red lines on the map) is exchanged to the secondary supply. This is a relatively small one, serving around 35 houses. The heating systems are fed direct from the main at 73-95 degrees (dependant on the season) but the domestic hot water is provided via little plate heat exchangers in the houses. The heating main water is dyed green so they can tell if it leaks into the drinking water supply but this is not such a problem as the opposite happening. Especially down at the harbour where the water pressure is high the drinking water sometimes leaks into the heating main and this is a problem because it’s undetectable and not being distilled causes corrosion in the pipes. Emoeke translates but I understand more then she does and she thinks my German is better than it is but it is only because I understand how it works and know the English terms for things like expansion vessel, and motorized valve.
Back in his office Klaus gives me an English version of a report on the German biomass legislation (of which he is one of the authors) and a fabric bag with a memory stick, pen and notepad all with the Stadtwerk Flensburg logo on. I get him to pose with Emoeke and I in front of the district heating map, which he reluctantly does, and give him a ‘be proud love Manchester’ keyring.

Klaus show Emoeke and I some district heating mains

We cycle back across town and I go for a drink with Paloma before we say goodbye.
Back at the youth hostel it’s too early to settle down and ‘Compass Bearings for a Course Change’ is pissing me off by telling me lots of things I know but offering no real solutions other than everyone needs to be happier with less and work on building social capital and lots of other worthy and right-on stuff which I agree with but I wonder if the authors have ever met anyone from the real world. Certainly the obnoxious man from the train would laugh in their faces.
So I take a walk through the woodland trails out the back of the youth hostel. It winds down to the sea and comes out at a big road. Crossing this takes me to Sonwik harbour – a waterfront housing development offering ‘Modern living in the maritime style’. What must be hundreds of apartments line the coast overlooking the boats in the harbour. The only retail outlets are a couple of yachting shops and some swanky restaurants. There’s nothing to suggest that the inhabitants, when they come, will work within it.
At the harbour I look out across the bay at Kraftwerk. A wall of coal stretches from a massive ship to the 180m chimney stack of the main plant. I find a seat at the end of the harbour wall and watch the sun set. I wonder if in 40 years they will still be able to find enough biomass to power it and if Emoeke and Helge and the Klimapakt will have achieved their goal of carbon neutrality for Flensburg.

September 15th Schleswig-Holstein Biogas

Travel today by bike 12km
Today by car 50km

I’m chucked out of the communal area last night at ten when they lock up and it’s late enough – I sleep deeply again and eat a hefty breakfast with Kirsten from the bed next door who has cycled from Hamburg and tells me she got up to go to the toilet at 2am and a couple were in there ‘having a lot of fun’.
I spend some time transcribing yesterday’s interview and then decide I had better get going - after a few hundred yards I remember they drive on the right. I follow a different cycle sign to yesterday hoping it will take me along the coast. It appears to dead end at the marina but then I see a cycle track right along edge of the sea. I stop to take photos again and it leads me back to the same point I entered the forest yesterday. As I get to Artefact the sun is shining so I quickly take more snaps before it starts again. Werner has been let down by someone and so is teaching kids how they live in Africa and another group about making solar panels. He’s clearly in youth education mode with a bright shirt and a cap with a solar powered fan in the peak and reminds me briefly of Jo Gwilym, the only man who can make electrics interesting and a natural teacher. I join in with a school group watching a film on energy in the region. I talk to a couple of the girls afterwards – this is their second visit. I ask what they think about it and they say ‘it’s ok’.
When they’ve gone I watch the film again in English. It’s commissioned by the ministry for agricultural affairs and paid for by a number of renewable energy developers and suppliers (including Vestas and RWPower) about sun, wind and biomass energy in the Schleswig-Holstein region and is very upbeat with lots of stirring music and big zooming camera shots swooping over wind farms and through fields of maize.
At last Werner is free and rounds up Paloma, their intern who is studying biomass and comes along as an extra interpreter and for her own interest. She’s German American and so a big help. I fold up the newbike, put it in the car boot and we set off at breakneck speed to our first visit – a biogas plant in Linau.

Nico is one of the many regional farmers who turned to wind when milk and wheat farming couldn’t provide a living two decades ago. He still sees himself as principally a wind farmer but since six years ago has had a share in the plant he shows us round. A vast yard with walls maybe 4 metres high holds up to 20,000 tonnes of maize, dried and shredded. Twice a day Nico shovels ten tipper loads into the feed hopper for the first fermentation vessel. This takes around an hour a day but with additional maintenance and administration he reckons four hours a day to run the plant. The maize is fed by automatic screw feed into the first vessel, then into a secondary vessel and then into a holding tank. The resultant sludge is pumped out and taken away by tanker, back to the maize farmers. The methane so produced is burnt in three 370kW engines to produce annually 1.1MWh of electricity and 1.2MWh of heat.
The electricity is fed into the grid and receives the feed in tariff. They could claim this even if they threw away the heat, which many people do – Nico rolls his eyes at this and complains of ‘Verructer Politiker’ which I translate as crazy politicians. The propagation of biogas plants in the region has been so rapid that legislation has not been able to keep up, there is no central strategy for them and now there are too many he says, with some driving in maize from Denmark (where they don’t have a biogas feed in tariff).
But he admits that finding a use for the heat is always the problem. Their heat is fed into a district heating main which feeds the village. Initially it was just six households but 30 or 40 joined in the second year and now it is up to 90. The first six get the heat at a flat rate for the year, which works out about 50% of the cost of oil heating and the others are metered but still make a saving over the cost of oil. Government subsidies are available towards the cost of connection. Some, like Nico have a back up oil heater still but many do not. After touring the plant we go and sit in one of his buildings and it’s toasty warm – Paloma says afterwards she nearly fell asleep. I ask about the efficiency of a heat network when the buildings are so far apart. Nico says it’s very efficient, then he points at the lawn and says that you can see where the heat main is in winter because the snow melts above it. But apart form that, he insists, it’s very efficient. We have so much hot water, he tells me – we wash our horses in hot water!
Two villagers recently have built new houses to a very high spec and they hardly need heating but they have still attached to the heat main. Beside the portacabins that house the engines are dry coolers to dissipate the heat when the heat main can’t take it.
We thank him for his time and Werner presents him with a small model car with a PV cell on the roof that powers it. ‘I can only guarantee it for a couple of million years’ he tells him, ‘and then the sun might go out’.

We drive a little slower to the second appointment with Dirk and Bernd Nissen, brothers who run a farm biogas plant, a slightly smaller operation of 715kW split between three engines with around 1000kW of heat as a by-product. The farm also has four 600kW turbines and two 1.5MW turbines and a 125kW PV array which covers all of the cow shed. We sit in the control room and Dirk explains in English that he built the plant himself and maintains it, because he’s a mechanical engineer – I am riven with envy at this and feel like I did when Hugh Piggott showed us how to make a wind turbine out of wood. That’s proper engineering I think – being able to make electricity out of wood, or in this case shit. The plant runs on a combination of cow manure, maize and grass. This gives them some resilience in the case of a year with a poor harvest. They also have a problem with heat dissipation – only three farms are close enough to benefit from the thermal output and so they have come up with a plan to run a gas line down to the nearest town and move one of the engines to run there so the heat can be used. They could link into the gas main that runs nearby and they say that E-on who owns it is prepared to let them do this. But they don’t want E-on selling their gas anonymously – they would rather prove that their way of doing things is a viable alternative to the monopolies. Anti E-on feeling is high in the region, especially since the CCS plan – signs on the roadside and in shops, black on yellow with a gas masked face, pronounce against the plans. There is a big demonstration on Saturday in Berlin. Paloma is meeting her mother there. Werner wants to go but as he appears to be almost singlehandedly running Artefact he may be too busy.

Our third stop is in Shaffland, a town of 2,200 inhabitants where we meet Carstensen at the Agraberatung Nord offices. They are not a co-operative although they’re supported by farmers, and not quite a company. They provide consultancy on matters agricultural and in the past five years this has included a rapidly growing number of biogas installations. He tells us that the primary hurdle is getting financial backing – the banks are much more cautious now and want to see clear evidence that a secure and long term feedstock supply is in place Below 1MW (total electric and thermal combined) plants do not need planning permission as it’s classed as a ‘privilaged’ construction and bound only by a few guidelines such as minimum distance from habitation (they don’t stink but they have a definite farm-yardy smell). Even above 1MW planning is not really a big issue unless there is a limiting factor such as road size. This is one area where legislation has recently caught up as more and heavier traffic to feed the plants and remove the sludge led to high road repair bills. But there is no limitation due to a regional strategy as there is in the case of wind (the 1.5% of allowed land cover has been reached). Carstensen doesn’t see that this is a problem as the availability of feedstock is already starting to act as a brake (15,000 hectares of maize he reckons is imported from Denmark). He does think that the legislation isn’t clever enough in the differentiation between size of plant. There are three bands (up to 150kW, 150-500kW and 500kW-5MW) with the smallest attracting a much higher tariff. One developer is in court right now for installing ten small plants to claim the lower tariff. The other potential problem is one of centralization of farms. Over the last decade the number of farmers has shrunk to only 10% with farms merging and being bought out. It seems they may be against monopolies in general, and E-on in particular but this doesn’t stop them buying their neighbours.

Werner and Carstensen are getting deeper into conversation but my head is hurting from trying to take it all in and understand the German even though it’s being translated (although at increasingly lengthy intervals) and poor Paloma looks like she might start eating her own arm so we thank Carstensen, Werner presents him with a solar mini-car and Paloma and I leg it over the road in the rain to the bakery just before it closes to get a sandwich and some cake. I’m dropped back at the youth hostel and say goodbye to Werner (Paloma I will meet again tomorrow). He’s been a great help and the meetings he’s organized really constructive. There’s a worry when you’ve only met someone by email or picked somewhere because the website looked good but on this occasion it’s certainly worked.

Back in the hostel yesterday’s roommates have all gone and been replaced by Helen from Oxford. I warn her about the late night toilet activities and go in the rain to the supermarket for food. I really want something hot but I can’t see anywhere close by and the prospect of staying dry is slightly more appealing. I do that thing I do where I buy something because it looks interesting – a jar of potted meat lumps in jelly and some rum and raisin rittersport chocolate (fond memories of a school skiing trip). The potted meat lumps are surprisingly nice, thereby re-inforcing my belief that this is a good way to approach food experimentation and means I’m about 2% more likely to try eating the snails in the back garden (I have it on good authority that ALL snails are edible). After eating and writing up the day I can feel my face getting red with tiredness and so despite it being not even ten yet I’m off to bed. I have ‘Compass Bearings for a Course Change’ to read, based on Germany but could just as easily be any country in the developed world. Page eleven tells me the large scale production of biofuels leads to the destruction of ecosystems and has negative impacts on food supply. Cheerful stuff.