Energy Transition

This is how Copenhagen plans to go carbon-neutral by 2025

An energy example for Europe … Copenhagen.

An energy example for Europe … Copenhagen. Image: Eric Haidara/Stocksnap

Brian Vad Mathiesen
Professor, Aalborg University
Ida Auken
Member of Parliament, Parliament of Denmark (Folketinget)
Jens Martin Skibsted
Partner, Manyone A/S
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Energy Transition

EnergyLab Nordhavn will be completed this year – the Danish smart energy lighthouse project that will integrate all relevant and available energy forms in the city.

The project’s activities are concentrated around Copenhagen's newly revamped harbor neighborhood, Nordhavn. This emerging district is designed to be the world’s foremost smart energy laboratory at full scale. This district heating and smart-grid integration shows how electricity and heat, energy-efficient buildings and electric transport can be integrated into one intelligent, flexible and optimized energy system.

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Copenhagen in its entirety, including Nordhavn, aims to become the world's first CO2-neutral capital by 2025. Over the course of 10 years, Copenhagen has committed to completely removing the city's 2 million tons of carbon footprint, even as the city continues to grow, with 100,000 new inhabitants and 20,000 jobs.

The biggest contribution to reducing CO2 in the municipality is traditional district heating, which now accounts for virtually the entire municipality's heat supply. But this water-based infrastructure is not just about district heating, but also about district cooling. Since 2010, a growing part of major companies' cooling needs has been covered by remote cooling, where seawater is circulated around the companies. This could potentially rid the city’s atmosphere of 80,000 tons of CO2.

 The Nordhavn plans
The Nordhavn plans Image: EnergyLab Nordhavn

Imagine what the rest of Europe could achieve by implanting EnergyLab and Copenhagen’s findings.

Current solutions do not seriously address rising temperatures and the resulting climate change. Renewable energy sources only go halfway to tackling global warming; the other half is energy efficiency. Our housing, retail and production systems waste gigantic amounts of energy. EnergyLab has empirically demonstrated how we can turn this waste into an immediate resource.

Europe must pick and develop such homegrown technologies to serve its societies – and the rest of the globe. Technological advancement must be supported and co-sponsored by Europe’s democratic institutions to serve societal needs and a greater purpose, fighting global warming.

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When we think about future energy systems, we usually think only of electricity. We imagine smart power grids that integrate and deliver electricity for different purposes, like powering household appliances and commercial buildings, or charging electric vehicles. But power grids cannot dramatically reduce the amount of energy that is wasted at the source of the energy application. Here is where the power grid’s twin – the smart thermal water grid – comes into play.

Energy efficiency does not just draw on the usual suspects – renovation, triple-glazing, etc – but also exploits the heat that is currently wasted from industrial and commercial activities. A double-combo approach on energy efficiency is needed to maximise decarbonization, which can be most cost-effective by building thermal grids at scale. This requires a hard-boiled strategic and long-term plan – and brave policies.

We need to link district heating systems and expand thermal grids at scale. The next step in Europe is to make smart thermal grids that can harvest heat wasted from current and future sources such as power plants and data centres. Europe is wasting enough heat to almost cover the current heat demands in all its buildings. The Heat Roadmap Europe (HRE) project and World Economic Forum’s Future of Europe, Energy initiative sparked the idea of creating a smart thermal grid in all EU countries. As a result, the Pan-European Thermal Atlas (Peta) now pairs areas with heat demand and heat excess sources. In other words, it is preparing and planning the heat grid.

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The effort to reduce CO2 emissions must eliminate use of coal; however, it has been replaced by gas, another fossil fuel, only with better efficiency. That does not reflect a strong commitment to fight climate change. Not to mention that the imports price tag amounted to almost 65 billion euros in 2016. Coal alternatives such as gas are still CO2-emitting fossil fuels and as such half-measures that blur the climate change debate. Ultimately, European and other international efforts must eliminate all of them, especially now that our industries can implement 100% renewable energy systems cost-effectively.

HRE proved that we can eliminate the need of gas in a cost-effective manner with existing known smart thermal technologies that recycle excess heat and store renewable energy heat – from solar, geothermal and other sources. Why not take note of HRE’s research and follow Copenhagen’s lead: connect and expand district energy systems with excess heat and renewable sources, large heat pumps and thermal storage. We can instantly decarbonize the heating and cooling sector in 14 European countries, which together account for 90% of heat demand.

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EU must pursue a strategic initiative with partners from both the public and private sector, and co-fund thermal grids by applying methodologies from transmission grids for electricity or natural gas (the PCI lists). Respecting the goals of the Paris Agreement, Europe must instantly, immediately and massively implement a thermal grid to decarbonize for Europe’s future generations.

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Energy TransitionUrban TransformationGeographies in Depth
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