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

Friday, 17 September 2010

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.

1 comment:

  1. I'm hoping that the obnoxious man from the train makes a reappearance during the return leg. With hilarious consequences!