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Copenhagen makes an ambitious push to be carbon neutral by 2025

More bicycle lanes, biomass generation, public transit, cooling buildings with seawater – it's all intended to make Copenhagen the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2025.

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Nearly three-quarters of the emissions reductions identified in the 2025 plan will come by transitioning to less carbon-intensive ways of producing heat and electricity. The goal is a diverse but complementary clean energy supply: biomass, wind, geothermal, and solar. “The Danish energy system is very much a systems solution – it’s not power as one, and heat as one — it’s integrated,” Jørgen Abildgaard, Executive Climate Project Director for the city of Copenhagen, says. Wind turbines now supply 30 percent of Denmark’s electricity, and under a national energy plan passed last year that share is set to rise to 50 percent by 2020.

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Though not as visible as Copenhagen’s bicyclists and wind turbines, its heating and cooling infrastructure is playing a key role in slashing CO2 emissions. One of Copenhagen’s most innovative infrastructure projects is the Adelgade cooling plant, sheltered within the brick-clad shell of a retired power plant in the historic city center. Opened in June 2010, the plant is the hub of the country’s first district cooling network and a model of climate-conscious engineering.

The Adelgade plant draws cool seawater from an intake pipe located near the picturesque Nyhavn Canal and then delivers the chilled water through insulated pipes to buildings; the pipes are located below ground in the same tunnels in which steam is distributed via Copenhagen’s district heating network.

Thomas Grinde, an engineer with Copenhagen Energy — a private firm owned by the city — took me on a tour of the plant. He said that every degree Celsius saved by pre-cooling with seawater saves 15 percent on electricity at the site’s absorption chillers. The city estimates that district cooling reduces carbon emissions by nearly 70 percent and electricity consumption by 80 percent compared to conventional air-conditioning.

From the cooling plant, Grinde drove me south to the Amager power station complex, which sprawls across a spit of land jutting into Copenhagen Harbor. There, a pilot project supplies geothermal heat directly into the district heating system. In March, construction began nearby on a clean-burning waste-to-energy plant that will provide electricity and heating to 150,000 households. According to Mayor Jensen, half of Copenhagen’s indoor heating comes from combusting waste.

The two major combined heat and power (CHP) stations that serve Copenhagen, Amager and Avedøre, largely burn coal. But because waste heat from the stations is sent to the district heating system, they operate at around 90 percent efficiency, compared to around 40 percent for conventional coal-fired power plants. Rather than use furnaces or boilers located in individual buildings for heating, Copenhagen delivers hot water or steam to radiators via a network of pipes covering 98 percent of the city.

Under the climate plan, district heating is to be carbon neutral by 2025. The Amager and Avedøre plants, which today burn a limited amount of biomass imported from Poland, Russia, Sweden, and the Baltic countries, will replace coal entirely with wood chips and straw certified as sustainable by the Danish Energy Association.

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