Danish town’s ambitious climate and energy programme spreads ripples across the world

Date: 16 March 2018

Not content to rest on their laurels with the success of the long-running Project Zero, the pioneering Danish municipality of Sønderborg are expanding the project’s scope by incorporating several of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. With support from Danfoss, Danish local experiences within energy optimisation and renewable energy are spreading overseas to countries such as China, Brazil and the US.

Despite its relatively modest size, the Danish town of Sønderborg has achieved far more than many larger municipalities. Within the energy and climate spheres, Sønderborg has attained a position considerably greater than what could be expected of its 75,000 inhabitants. “You need to do the things on a large-scale in order to be ahead”, says Director Peter Rathje from ProjectZero, who links stakeholders locally, nationally and internationally.

The energy company SE, the Bitten & Mads Clausen Foundation (Danfoss), Sønderborg municipality, Ørsted (formerly known as DONG Energy) and the Nordea Foundation established ProjectZero roughly ten years ago as a public-private partnership, with the purpose of making the area CO2-neutral by 2029.

Do goals such as this actually effect change? “In short, yes – It makes a difference among house owners and housing associations who get their buildings upgraded, making them more energy efficient and attractive to live in”, emphasises Peter Rathje under a visit in the Sønderborg area, supplemented with a presentation about the numerous activities that are in progress.

School students as first movers
How are Sønderborg’s energy and climate programmes implemented in practice?

The climate initiative means that all students attending local public schools learn about sustainable development as a part of the UN-cooperation Unesco Global Network of Learning Cities.

The ink was barely dry on the signatures in the UN-headquarters in September 2015 before the young residents began learning the rudimentary aspects of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. In the past year and a half, Sønderborg’s youths have examined the 17 goals (the so-called SDGs), who now know the goals better, far better than the majority of Danish adults – but what does this mean in practice?

Danfoss’ Head of Sustainability Flemming Lynge Nielsen, which is the municipality’s largest private company, highlights that if young people learn to do something different from an early age, they will continue to so for the rest of their life. Despite the fact that he has worked for Danfoss for 32 years, he continuously strives to do things differently with mutual inspiration from colleagues in the Danfoss Group, business colleagues, politicians and public servants from the municipality, ProjectZero, school students and many others.

Danfoss and the 17 SDGs
Danfoss is in the process of transforming four of the SDGs to action. The goals are many and complex, which is why Danfoss has selected four of the them, prioritised according to those that best match the Group’s core business, their overall climate and energy strategy and the legacy Danfoss’ founders, the Clausen family, have created as a global supplier of components required for the ‘good life’; be it heating, cooling or ventilation. “The 17 goals are a shared, global way to communicate”, says Flemming Lynge Nielsen, naming the four prioritised goals: Number 6, which covers goals regarding clean water and sanitation matches core business of Danfoss, number 7 concerning sustainable energy is predominant, number 11 regarding sustainable cities and communities revolves among others around hydraulics, number 12 regarding consumption and production involves cooling.

Goal number 17 regarding partnerships for action is also an essential element in the work, and is addressed in various manners – for example a partnership with ‘The World’s Greatest News’ and with a cross-national team of women employees at Danfoss, who played in the soccer tournament Global Goals World Cup, which was just conducted in Dubai.

But does this have any effect?
Yes, in a minor perspective; for those women, who get the chance to prove their worth in a different way, and in a larger perspective; for Danfoss’ energy efficiency strategy. Results from the factory in Nordborg are improving thanks to the groups’ global program, which invested around DKK 180 million in ventilation, process cooling and air conditioning amongst others. 170 projects are completed or in working. “The program contains 27 factories in 11 countries from USA and Brasil to China, and from Finland to India”, says Flemming Lynge Nielsen.

Three energy and climate goals
Based on the philosophy to support their products, which offers energy-efficient solutions for customers in thousands of smart cities and even more buildings, Danfoss have given themselves three fact-based assignments. ‘’Walk the talk”.  “The world and its cities experience extreme growth in population, which puts the earth’s resources under pressure. Smart cities is, amongst others, about climate control of buildings, district heating and reuse of heat. We need to remember energy efficiency in all our steps, both when we renovate and when we build new”, says Flemming Lynge Nielsen

As said, as done: In 2030, both the intensity of energy and the intensity of CO2 at Danfoss factories will have been reduced by 50 percent (current status: -27 and -43 percent) and the productivity of energy will have increased by 100 percent (current status: 77 percent). All three goals are compared to the year 2007.

Short payback time
The results from Nordborg and the other locations are surprisingly powerful. For centuries, Denmark has focused on energy efficiency, but regardless of that, one of the best companies in the market continues to discover significant energy saving with short payback times of 2-3 years. Standard products include ventilation systems with heat recovery for the use of surplus heat from cooling water (instead of cooling towers), district heating with 60-70 degrees Celsius instead of 100, central steering of radiators and LED-lighting. “We are closing in on our goals, and our global construction division makes a great effort”, says Flemming Lynge Nielsen.

Digitalisation and data
Goals and means are evaluated and adjusted continuously, as the next steps towards 2030 could be more difficult. In the meantime, Danfoss receives increasing help from the technological development – e.g. for the collection and the use of data. “In the past few years, we have gone through a wave of digitalisation, where we have digitalised our processes in the factories and digitalised our product. We can now collect data, supervise and control our components and systems in a completely new way”, says Flemming Lynge Nielsen, who expects the development to continue in a direction where e.g. data can be collected from millions of thermostats on millions of radiators.

The learning, which connects to exploiting Big Data, can be used for the optimisation of the consumption of resources, befitting the costumers, he believes.

Buying green electricity and other new methods
Up until 2020, Danfoss will continue to make processes and products more energy efficient, continuously taking stock to make sure that the plans are ambitious enough. Flemming Lynge Nielsen expects the necessity of using new methods – for example purchasing green electricity or direct investments in the production of renewable energy.

Everyone who visits the Danfoss headquarters in Nordborg will notice the large solar cell park, but it actually only covers a modest part of the electricity consumption. So more importantly is what will happen to the factory’s Combined Heat and Power Plant that runs on natural gas.

Will it be transformed or replaced by district heating – or will other solutions come into play?

Every city can make a difference
In Sønderborg and the surrounding area there is a lively discussing regarding whether Sønderborg utility should establish a 160 MW wind farm near the coast. The project has to contribute to ProjectZero’s carbon account and give the other municipalities in Lillebælt the opportunity to present their needs for green electricity.

Many initiatives are in the pipeline when ProjectZero is involved, but does it really make a difference? “Yes, the city projects set a new frame for the local areas and for Denmark. Any city can set goals and make a difference”, says Peter Rathje who points to the fact that Sønderborg’s goal on growth, climate and energy efficiency are based on existing local competencies.

Source: State of Green