Copenhagen - A Sustainable City
Renewable Energy in Copenhagen
Today, Denmark and Copenhagen have a substantial quantity of renewable energy sources already in place (from the two main sources - wind farms and biomass, as well as shares of solar and other renewables). Denmark also has an ambitious climate policy -
"Electricity derived from renewable energy has reached 67 percent of [Denmark's] electricity supply (wind energy contributes 46.8 percent while biomass contributes 11.2 percent). The Danish Parliament passed the Climate Act in 2020, which set a target to reduce Denmark’s greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent in 2030 (from a 1990 baseline) and climate neutrality by 2050." [quote from - trade.gov/denmark-renewable-energy - percentages as of 12/2022]
Renewable energy helps to provide energy for around 100 district heating networks supplying heat to various municipalities in Denmark, including Copenhagen (mostly from biomass in this case).
A major source of Copenhagen's district heating is sourced from cogeneration plants (also known as combined heat and power - CHP - plants). Copenhagen's district heating network has biomass and waste-to-energy for fuel along with conventional waste heat CHP sources, and with more carbon-neutral renewable sources for the city's CHP plants now coming online.
The district heating network in Greater Copenhagen is the world's largest integrated district heating system, and is soon to be entirely carbon-neutral -
"The Danish capital has the world’s largest district heating network. The system serves 98% of Copenhagen’s buildings. Over a 15-year period ending in 2025, the Greater Copenhagen Utility (HOFOR) will make the system carbon neutral by transitioning from coal, oil, and natural gas to sustainable biomass. To produce carbon neutral heating, HOFOR will replace fossil fuels at large combined heat and power (CHP) plants with wood pellets from sustainably grown forests. It will also deploy large-scale heat pumps that run on wind energy and geothermal energy and incorporate heat storage provided by large water tanks." [quote from - c40.org/cities100-copenhagen-carbon-neutral-district-heating]
Copenhagen gets well over half of its energy from renewable energy - mainly wind energy, as well as smaller shares of biomass (including waste-to-energy systems and biogas production) and solar (solar PV, solar thermal).
Energy from wind farms (such as the Anholt offshore wind farm), as well as from other renewable energy sources, supplies most of Copenhagen's electricity needs, on particularly windy days.
Copenhagen International School features the largest solar facade developed for a building in the world, as of 2017. The school also has many energy-efficiency technologies and passive building features.
Copenhagen's Climate Plan and Green Initiatives
Copenhagen's Climate Plan objectives include: achieving 100% renewable energy (100RE) citywide, implementing enhanced energy efficiency measures throughout multiple sectors of the city, ensuring the city's environment is as clean as possible, and green transit/ mobility goals - including investing in sustainable transit.
Copenhagen has one of the largest cogeneration systems in a city - producing both electricity for Copenhagen and keeping buildings warm with district heating.
In addition to the extensive district heating network in Copenhagen, water from the city harbor is utilized to cool various buildings in the city when needed, such as office buildings, data centers, hotels, and department stores.
The insulated pipes that deliver chilled harbor water to buildings for cooling are either built using new pipe networks or built along with the same pipe networks that deliver steam for the district heating system.
Copenhagen requires all new buildings in the city to conform to green building standards, including launching zero-emission construction sites, in striving for reducing energy consumption for all building operations.
Copenhagen's Climate Plan also entails strategic implementation by having the city government lead first in all sustainability goals. For example, the Plan has the city administration leading in adopting low and zero-carbon transit (vehicles using electricity, biofuels, and hydrogen). Although not a large share of Copenhagen's carbon footprint is addressed by this (around 5%), a huge amount of inspiration to meet sustainability goals is shared with the city.
Renewable energy, energy efficiency, sustainable clean transit, and green buildings are means for Copenhagen to achieve the goals of the Climate Plan and the fossil fuel-free goal, as is a future ban on internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.
In Copenhagen, cycling, pedestrian, and zero-emission mass transit zones on certain roads are already in place, and the city announced a citywide ICE ban in 2017, with the target year of 2030. Denmark has also proposed to ban, for the entire country, the sale of new diesel and gas vehicles from 2030 on, in an effort to promote electric vehicles.
One goal of Copenhagen's Climate Plan is to have 75% of all trips in the city done by bike, by foot, or by public transit.
Cycling already accounts for about half of the travel to work or school within Copenhagen, and the city is known as one of the world's most bike-friendly cities. The City of Copenhagen is making efforts to ensure that most travel in the city is sustainable (read more about the City's efforts below - in the Sustainable Transit in Copenhagen section).
In 1973, Denmark became the first country in the world to implement an environmental law, and since then, the environment has become one of the main priorities of city planning in the country. Denmark's Energy Policy Agreement was signed into law in 2012, and in the newest version of the Agreement, Denmark has committed to 100RE for all electricity in the country by 2030, and 100RE overall by 2050.
Additionally, The Danish Climate Act has set a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 70% in Denmark as a whole by 2030 (compared to 1990 levels). Denmark's net zero goal is set for 2050. The country of Denmark aims to achieve 100% renewable heat and power by 2030 and to become completely fossil fuel-free (including all transportation and industry) by 2050.
Sustainable Transit in Copenhagen
Copenhagen already has a substantial amount of green transit infrastructure in place.
The city’s rail, airport, and suburbs are connected to the city center via the metro bus system. The bus fleet in Copenhagen is being converted to run using biofuel and biogas (another use of waste-to-energy), in addition to electric and electric-hybrid buses. The city of Copenhagen aims to replace its diesel-fueled buses with electric buses by 2025.
In the future, Copenhagen might be home to hydrogen fuel cell buses. Denmark is getting 200 hydrogen buses as part of the EU's big push for hydrogen buses, the H2BusEurope program.
The city also features the Copenhagen metro (an electric light rail rapid transit system) and the Copenhagen S-train (an electric hybrid urban-suburban commuter rail system). The Copenhagen metro features small, sustainable, fully autonomous trains that transport over a million passengers/per week.
With over 80 stations throughout the Greater Copenhagen Metro area, the S-train has over 100 million passengers/per year.
Adding to the city's rapid transit services (Copenhagen metro and S-train), the Greater Copenhagen Light Rail is an electric tram system that's still under development (projected to open in 2025).
Copenhagen harbor has ferries that, in addition to several destinations both local and abroad, bring travelers to and from cities in Scandinavia such as Oslo, Norway. A few of Copenhagen's ferries are zero-emissions electric vessels.
Copenhagen's electric ferries help to keep the city's air and harbor waters clean.
Copenhagen plans to fully electrify all of its harbor ferries. Copenhagen's ferry fleet carries about 700,000 passengers annually.
City officials in Copenhagen are trying to expand public and mass transport systems in Copenhagen and at the same time promote the use of bicycles as a means of traveling from one place to another.
Bikes outnumber cars in Copenhagen, and currently about ½ of all trips within the city to work or universities are done on bicycles. Cycling is already as popular as car use in Copenhagen (as seen in this article in The Guardian), but Copenhagen sees cycling as becoming the dominant form of transit within the city.
The city council of Copenhagen hopes that the majority of travel in the city will be done by foot, public transit, or bicycles by 2025. The city provides safe bike lanes that are separated from road traffic.
Copenhagen has installed green wave traffic lights (traffic lights that are synchronized to maximize the efficiency of bicyclists) and constructed new bike lanes, as well as improved current ones.
Other traffic calming measures throughout the city include slow-speed zones (with very low speed limits in much of the city), while the placement of speed bumps and traffic signs on the city's roads promotes safety. Copenhagen has mandated a ban on ICE vehicles in certain parts of the city center, creating pedestrian-only zones.
Copenhagen Public-Private Green Initiatives
Copenhagen has several public-private partnerships that have helped with its sustainable employment and eco-innovation. The city works with universities, organizations, and companies to develop and improve green growth.
During the past decade, the city invested in making the Copenhagen harbor area as clean as possible.
Cleaning the harbor has allowed Copenhagen to create jobs, generate revenue, and improve local business life. Today, people can swim in the harbor, which has crystal clear clean water.
Aside from the swimming spots in the harbor area, Copenhagen has various beaches, which have also been kept clean and productive for the Greater Copenhagen community. Near the city, beaches include the long white sands of Amager Beach; as well as the popular beaches of Hellerup Strand and Bellevue Strand.
A clean harbor, clean beaches, and a thriving community around Copenhagen Harbor are examples of some of the benefits that the city has created through its sustainable initiatives.
Part of the success that Copenhagen is experiencing in terms of its green campaigns is due to the fact that city officials engage their residents and local businesses. The city of Copenhagen and private businesses in Copenhagen have teamed up to offer public green programs such as tax incentives, rebates, and discounts when buying electric vehicles, hybrids, and plug-in hybrids and financial incentives to recycle plastic bottles.
Copenhagen was voted as Europe’s Green Capital in 2014 by the European Environment Commission. The city is known as a world leader when it comes to clean technology, sustainable buildings, and clean businesses. Copenhagen is also dominated by green spaces, open spaces, and parks; such as Tivoli Gardens.
Copenhagen's Waste Management Programs
One particularly innovative citywide measure in Copenhagen involves the creation of biogas from household sewage throughout Copenhagen - waste-to-energy.
The waste-to-energy process takes a few steps. First, Copenhagen’s municipal sewage treatment plants separate biomass fluids, with the potential to create biogas, from household wastewater. Next, the plants treat this potential renewable energy source; separating potential biogas material sources, and filtering the sewage to remove ammonia, sulfides, and other toxic elements.
Then, the biomass sources left over are converted entirely to a usable gas form (methane) through gasification or anaerobic digestion and are mixed with other biogas or natural gas to produce gas for the city. A substantial amount of building heating in Copenhagen uses this renewable energy biogas source, in addition to other uses, like mass transit (buses) and heat for cooking.
Here is information from C40.org about Copenhagen's waste-to-energy programs, recycling, and other waste management programs:
"Circular Copenhagen – Resource and Waste Plan 2024 (RAP24) adresses municipal waste from households and light industry waste. The target of the plan is to recycle 70% of the municipal waste by 2024. This will amount to a reduction of 59,000 tons of CO2 per year. Recycling must triple in municipal reuse facilities in order to achieve this goal.
The City of Copenhagen aims to be the world’s first carbon neutral capital by 2025 and the initiatives in RAP24 support this vision. Another motivating factor is to see Copenhagen become a leader in circular economics.
What are the innovative aspects and the climate mitigation and adaptation goals?
The plan contains a number of concrete initiatives, which are iterated along six themes:
1. Initiating waste sorting information campaigns, which aims to improve collection of household waste for recycling by 14% (approx 8,025 tons CO2 reduction). Specifically, Copenhageners will be source separating their household waste into multiple fractions. These will be the following:
- Bio Waste
- Glass, bottles and jars
- Residual waste
- Hazardous waste
- Garden waste
- Bulky waste/wood
2. Improving waste collection methods and implementing source separation, which aims to further improve collection of household waste by 3% (approx. 2,550 tons CO2 reduction).
3. Stimulating reuse and exchange, which aims to see the city reuse 5,880 tons of waste (approx 240 tons CO2 reduction).
4. Promoting a circular economy, which aims to further improve collection of household waste for recycling by 6% (approx. 3,410 tons CO2 reduction).
5. Improving commercial waste recycling, whichaims to improve collection of commercial waste for recycling by 15%.
6. Integrating new technological solutions for waste treatment, which aims to improve sorting of household waste for recycling by 6% (approx 25,150 tons CO2 reduction)." [quote from - c40.org/case-studies/circular-copenhagen-70-waste-recycled-by-2024]
and from State of Green:
"Food waste across Copenhagen is now taken to a biogas plant in Solrød instead of the former plant near Slagelse. In addition to the fact that the plant in Solrød is closer to Copenhagen, it is also this plant that enables the biogas to be upgraded and used in the gas network throughout Denmark. The biogas has previously been used for electricity and heat at a local heating plant.
When the gas is collected from the food waste, the rest of the food waste is used as fertilizer, which can then be used on organic fields. The fertilizer contains important nutrients, which are good to send back into nature’s cycle.
Another new initiative is that bio bags are also included in the composting process. This ensures a high real recycling rate of around 97%.
In 2021, 15,000 tonnes of food waste was collected in Copenhagen, which corresponds to the energy consumption of five million hot baths lasting five minutes. It is possible to collect more than twice as much food waste in Copenhagen, and there is therefore great potential.
Copenhagen Municipality has a goal of recycling 70% of Copenhageners’ waste by 2024." [quote from - stateofgreen.com/biogas-from-copenhageners-food-waste-can-now-replace-imported-natural-gas]
For more on offshore wind in Denmark, see:
The Anholt Offshore Wind Farm- Denmark's Most Powerful Source of Renewable Energy
Also see: Fossil fuel-free Vaxjo, Sweden for more on sustainability efforts in Northern Europe
and Oslo, Norway is leading the way in climate goals
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[Dan Braff is the founder of GCT –