Community engagement a key to clean energy innovation: Energy Matters 2009
By Robert Colman
At this year’s Energy Matters Summit, hosted by the Region of Peel, it was made abundantly clear that the public sector is adopting effective energy management solutions and creating opportunities for innovative clean technologies to flourish. Much of this is out of necessity, but innovative implementation is making the difference for those that are most successful. An island community in Denmark is perhaps the most remarkable example of this yet.
By Robert Colman
Silvia Magnoni, Project Manager for International Affairs for Baltic Sea Solutions (BASS), was present to explain how two Danish islands — Lolland and Falster — have become a hub for energy innovation.
In the 1980s the island of Lolland, which had a large ship building industry (employing 50 per cent of the population), were hit hard by the economic downturn of the decade. There were a number of social problems and an unemployment rate that hovered between 17 and 25 per cent. With the inevitable “brain drain” that came with this, a vicious circle was created. A recovery plan was needed.
Renewable energy seemed like an answer. The island of Lolland is fairly flat, so there’s a lot of wind. It’s agricultural, so there’s biomass. And as an island, there is plenty of wave power if you can harness it. The dream was to develop a technological hub based on these resources.
The first thing the community did was raise taxes to improve the islands’ infrastructure. “It was an unpopular move, but we had to do this,” Magnoni explains. It was possible to do this because the local population was engaged early in the process of choosing this approach. The second move, a political one, was to partner with Falster.
The initiative has been a great success thus far. The area creates double the electricity it consumes.
Community involvement has been critical along the way. “We do put a lot of emphasis in creating a participatory approach because it’s important that all of the stakeholders are involved,” says Magnoni, whose organization, Bass, serves as strategic partner in expanding renewable energy projects throughout the community and internationally. “It’s the only positive way to bring about improved projects. It allows community ownership of projects. You really need to go to the population, have meetings, offer them coffee, and just talk about each and every plan. It take a lot of time but it improves the stability of the project.”
Lolland-Falster essentially offers companies an international platform for the testing and demonstration of renewable energy technology.
“We have plenty of land, so we offer to customize our own infrastructure for (companies’) needs,” explains Magnoni. “You can test your facility full-scale, not just in a laboratory. In most cases, we attach the test facilities to the local grid, so renewable energy for electricity or heating is actually going to the local grid.”
Currently, the islands have a variety of different forms of renewable energy being developed — from wind, to biomass, to hydrogen fuel cells. There is work being done on wave energy, water treatment and algae-based biofuels as well.
One of the most recently launched projects is Hydrogen Community Lolland. Right now, the island has a challenge — it creates more electricity than it can use and has to send it off to the grid whenever it is produced.
“So overnight we are almost giving our electricity away for free to neighbouring countries,” notes Magnoni. Hydrogen fuel cell storage may be the answer. Right now, five houses are hooked up to a hydrogen grid on the island, and 35 more should be added in 2010.
“We really needed community support for this because they needed to be part of it. We needed a lot of coffee,” jokes Magnoni. “But in the end it meant we had 40 households that wanted to be involved.”
Perhaps as importantly, the community is promoting renewable energy in schools, and is creating what they call a “Climate Factory” that will offer education for students from grade school to the university level — an attempt to stem the brain drain that used to be such a challenge for the region.
In Canada, a number of provinces are attempting to become the “green” leaders of the country, but perhaps it will be at the municipal level that a true champion is created.