Power to the people
We use our citizens actively, we use our local companies and we use the technological development that exists in the field.
Torben Juul, Technical Director Thisted Municipality
Unfortunately, our current energy use, largely dependent on fossil fuels, damages the environment. It is unsustainable. And although the European Union has significantly reduced its greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 levels, around three-quarters of the energy we consume in Europe still come from fossil fuels.
The contradiction is clear. We are using our planet’s resources faster than they can replenish themselves but we want to continue consuming and producing ever more. We not only risk running out of vital resources, we are actually making our home less and less habitable.
We are losing species and destroying natural habitats at alarming rates. The average global average temperature has increased by almost 0.8 °C since the industrial revolution. It is projected to increase by more than 2 °C, possibly up to 6 °C in some regions, by the end of this century.
Higher temperatures and more frequent weather extremes will put extra strain on our natural systems. Currently water-rich areas could face water scarcity, putting more strain on productive agricultural land forced to feed a growing global population. Like the rest of the planet, Europe will certainly need to adapt to climate change.
Is it possible to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels and opt for clean energy sources to fuel our lifestyles? One small community in Denmark shows the way to meet its energy demand through innovative policies tapping into local and sustainable energy sources.
The difference a community can make
Since the early 1980s, Thisted municipality in north-west Jutland, Denmark, has been using a creative mix of sustainable energy sources to provide heating and power for its 46 000 residents. In recognition of Thisted’s contribution to renewable energy, it was awarded the European Solar Prize in 2007.
"We use our citizens actively, we use our local companies and we use the technological development that exists in the field," says Torben Juul, Technical Director Thisted Municipality.
The community now derives its energy off-grid, with renewable sources more than meeting its power needs and providing around 85 % of its heating. The energy comes from the sun, wind, geothermal power and biomass from incineration of agricultural, industrial and household waste.
Around 80 % of the electricity produced in Thisted comes from the region’s 226 wind turbines, and the remaining 20 % from biogas plants that run on different types of waste. Many of the turbines and biogas plants are privately owned or co-owned, but there’s also a municipal plant that produces power from an unusual combination of household waste combustion, straw incineration and geothermal power. In fact, the municipality produces so much electricity that it is even able to sell the surplus back into the central grid. The profits are fed back to the local health and education systems.
"We are producing energy using resources that are right under our noses." Lars Toft-Hansen, chairman of Thisted district heating
The keys to the municipality's success are strong political will, an enthusiastic local green organisation, and the ability to involve the community as stakeholders. As well as creating a clean environment, the Thisted system makes good business sense for everyone concerned. Farmers derive an income from their plants and wind turbines, and from selling their straw and other agricultural by-products. The heating bills for inhabitants of Thisted are a third of what they would be if oil were used.
Thisted's approach to transport is innovative, too. Emissions from school buses are reduced by staggering the school opening times, so that one school bus can drop off children from different schools in time to start their day. This and other measures have enabled the community to cut their CO2 emissions by almost 90 000 tonnes annually and they have further pledged to reduce emissions by up to 3 % a year until 2025.
Everything is constantly monitored and evaluated, whether it’s transport, electricity or heating. For example, one planned future investment will be to connect up the heat producing plants in the area, so that the community can shift between whichever form of energy is most economical to produce at any given time.
Thisted has succeeded in turning the power of nature to its advantage, and has created a model that could be adapted in any region of the world — using local drive and initiative, and the energy right on their doorstep.
"Why isn’t everyone else doing what Thisted is doing?" Jeremy Rifkin, President, Foundation of Economic Trends