Seeing Our Way To The Future
21st century holistic solutions


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Photo courtesy of NREL/Heliostat

Posted 4/22/09 by
Yasha Husain

Increasingly, concentrated solar power (CSP), and concentrated photovoltaic systems (CPV), are coming online.

CSP plants, because of their size and cost, and the fact that they require direct radiation, or more intense sunlight for a certain number of hours in the day, are typically utility-scale projects installed in the world's sunniest places.

CPV, on the other hand, can more easily be used in diffuse radiation, or sunlight, to help municipalities, industry, and the hospitality business, meet their water heating and electricity needs.

One example of breakthrough CPV technology is from Zenith Solar:

Zenith Solar

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Article - Energy

'Worldfocus' in Denmark: A People's Green Energy Model
by Yasha Husain
Posted 04/02/10

Certain kinds of people like to make what they're doing known to the world and go out and actively seek attention for their efforts. Others prefer to sit back, enjoy the rewards of a job well done, and let those who are interested come to visit. Even when the world focuses its attention directly on the latter group, their attitude may simply be to say, 'well, this is what we've done.' There it is, you have it then. They'll let you take with you whatever impression you will.

That seemed the attitude of a number of down-to-earth Danes who've become leaders in the green energy revolution due to the simple fact conditions were right for them on the ground to make a shift in their energy behavior earlier than the rest.

Worldfocus, airing on PBS, chose to run a half-hour special report on Friday night, “Green Energy in Denmark,” highlighting stories about these everyday people: farmers, artists, individual residents of a small Danish island, a businessman part of one of wind energy's greatest success stories, to show that Danes achieved energy independence and financial security, without making remarkable changes to their lifestyle.

Certainly, the stories reported by Worldfocus' John Larson, appeared to be about unsung heroes who just prefer let the world come see what they've done and how progressive it is versus seeking to broadcast the gains made, and by government and business entities, too.

Upon waking on Saturday morning, a day after airing, I still had the show on my mind. I thought, if only reporting could more consistently tell practicable stories in succession of a half-hour like that, how inspiring that would be, driving the message home to move in a direction that looks and feels right, is innovative, not-to-mention, fun.

To recap some of the high notes of the program:

On Samso Island, in Denmark's North Sea, population 4000, with two windmills that grew to 11, the residents supplied enough electricity for the entire island. But they didn't stop there. Next the islanders began to chop up and burn straw bale, which farmers otherwise would have burned, but using machinery that in turn heated the area's water supply. Soon the residents were building a solar plant, and a biomass plant that burns wood chips, making the island 75 percent fossil fuel-free. The last step, which, proverbially, put them over the edge, was an offshore wind farm of 10 turbines that made the community 100 percent energy independent, and a forerunner in the green energy future.

Individual contributions continue to help on the island, as well. A farmer now with gray hair and a sunchaped face presses rapeseed, a sprawling, yellow, flowering plant, commonly used for fuel in Denmark, to make oil to run his tractor and car, and uses solar panels to heat water and produce energy for his farm and home. He commented, you don't have to be rich to make a go of it. An electrician's wife also began driving a small electrical car after the couple purchased a used windmill for their property.

On the mainland, another farmer was approached by men interested in installing wind turbines where he lived. The farmer did some research, received a million dollar loan, and rather than leasing his land, up went turbines he not only owned but received returns on within three years. His reason for the switch to green energy, he wanted to make money.

His neighbors concurred. In one direction, a home for adults with developmental disabilities, which functions more like a small farm replete with snorting pigs and more docile sheep, relies on its profits from wind energy to pay for a number of its activities. In another direction, an artist in the countryside already began an association for wind energy in the 1980s which opposed the government's desire to build a nuclear plant locally. Having been responsible for putting up 9 mills, versus the plant being constructed, the association won. In the consortium he is chair of today, made up of all volunteers, each member receives a 12 percent cut per year. Meanwhile, the quality of life in the green and windswept landscape remains largely unchanged, aside from the turbines, which, according to the report, seemingly add character and are not a burden.

But these are only a few of the highlights from the signature series episode Worldfocus produced.

Other stories featured:

A retired baker buying a Ford Focus at $51,000, while the cost of the car was only $34,000. The difference in price would go to taxes. But the baker, his wife, and their quality of life, didn't suffer for it, and he added, he's glad the government puts the money to good use.

A family man, in a beautiful four-bedroom home, with his energy efficient house running nearly completely on solar panels fixed to his barn's rooftop. Rainwater he collects is also used for flushing and laundry.

Young and old Danes alike, living in communities of ecologically-friendly homes. The trend in Denmark has been toward housing developments, which include apartments, and home renovations, that feature the newest in green building technologies, whether basic insulation to warm the place up in winter, slightly thicker walls, triple-layered windows, passive solar design, geothermal heat pumps (four to five times more energy efficient than traditional electrical systems), rainwater collectors or solar panels. Soon, a biomass plant is going up to serve at least one of these green communities.

Vestas, the world's leading builder of wind turbines, is born out of Denmark. It began with just a few partners benefiting from government subsidies and is now a force of a multinational company. It employs 30,000, including machinists, welders and painters, and has no signs of slowing down.

And, bikes. The Danish, many of them, save money and get exercise biking instead of driving to work. Bike paths exist, the country roads are clear, not congested (perhaps also because people in the new economy work from home), so there's not enough exhaust from cars to otherwise intimidate riders to cities.

According to Benjamin K. Sovacool, an assistant professor of public policy at the National University of Singapore, what have helped spur the state of mind and energy transformation in Denmark have been government policies. He wrote in March 2008, in his Scicitizen article, “Is the Danish Renewable Energy Model Replicable?,” that the broad-based policies stemming from institutions have involved energy taxes, which were first implemented in the 1970s following the oil crisis, and progressively, feed-in tariffs, environmental zoning requirements, long-term financing, streamlined permitting, a general carbon tax, open and guaranteed access to the grid, and of importance, a slow, bottom-up approach to research and development versus an ambitious top-down approach. The results, in 1970 the country was 99 percent dependent on foreign sources of oil and coal and it's now a net exporter of natural gas, oil and electricity. And, between 1980 and 2004 primary energy consumption in Denmark only grew four percent even as the nation's economy grew, in fixed prices, over 64 percent. Carbon emissions also dropped by 16 percent.

Ultimately, as the Worldfocus series is testament to, the homespun initiative of individuals, backed by a governmental and business support structure, has given the most shape and muscle to the new energy landscape. Those featured on Worldfocus' may not represent the only folks in the world who have managed a high degree of self-reliance in energy, so far, but they are among the field's ambassadors. The series episode serves as a reminder that it's not just government and big businesses that are apt to lead in the 21st century, but every day people play an important role in answering the call.

Worldfocus shined the light on how we could all do well to follow the lead of the Danes. We'll need more individuals in communities better empowered like those in Denmark though. And we right now need more stories to be told about such communities, stories that will, in all likelihood, vary from region to region, or climate to climate, but that nonetheless will be welcomed, green messengers.







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