The Danish water sector is determined to meet global climate goals while effectively adapting to inevitable changes in weather conditions



An agenda for change driven by the water sector

Water utilities today face a double and mutually dependent challenge of adapting to inevitable climate change and at the same time acting responsibly to demands from society by reducing greenhouse gas emissions wherever possible.

To fulfil this double agenda, the Danes are among the global frontrunners in the water sector when it comes to strengthening resilience towards urban climate change and at the same time contributing to overall carbon neutrality within the sector


The water sector’s climate vision: reduce emissions and improve resilience

DANVA, the Danish Water and Waste Water Association, has, for some time, favoured an active engagement in combating climate change problems from Danish utilities and the water sector. As early as 2009, DANVA adopted a vision for proactive climate change adaptation that deals with both elements of climate change:

~ Solutions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the water sector.

~ Adaptive measures minimising the consequences of climate change in the sector.

Our vision foresees provisions for the sustainable funding of interventions and the need for a clear distribution of roles and responsibilities.

Both elements were later included in the general Danish Water Vision 2025, covering the entire Danish water sector. It was adopted in 2015 by key water stakeholders in Denmark as a joint vision for the sector towards 2025.



A national Water Vision

The Water Vision paper has a strong focus on innovation and the promotion of growth within the water sector combined with environmental responsibility such as: “Danish water solutions deliver liveability for the people and the planet. We aim at turning global challenges into possibilities for sustainable growth.” The focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions was a key element in DANVA’s climate vision and became an objective for the water sector in general with the aim of ensuring that Danish water utilities in the future will be net energy producers and carbon neutral in a way that will contribute to reducing both greenhouse gas emissions and prices for water distribution and sewage treatment.


Reducing energy consumption in the water sector as an element in the strategy for carbon neutrality in Copenhagen

The water companies’ active engagement in the climate change agenda is best demonstrated with a case from the Greater Copenhagen Utility, the largest water utility in Denmark. It supplies water to one in five Danes, more than a million customers in Greater Copenhagen. Greater Copenhagen Utility also manages storm water, sewage water discharge and installs wind turbines to produce climate friendly energy to the city. Furthermore, it supplies district heating and cooling to consumers in the Greater Copenhagen area.

The Greater Copenhagen Utility is owned by eight municipalities in and around Copenhagen. One of them, the Municipality of Copenhagen, has developed a Climate Plan to provide the framework for the city’s climate change activities.

The Climate Plan was prepared prior to COP 15, the climate change conference in Copenhagen in 2009, and sets out ambitious targets for the mitigation of climate change.

The target is: in 2025, Copenhagen will be the first capital city in the world to be CO2 neutral. The main focus is to make energy production carbon neutral, to reduce energy consumption and promote bicycling and public transportation overall as a way to reduce emissions.

If Copenhagen is to become carbon neutral in 2025, the water sector needs to contribute and the Greater Copenhagen Utility is an engaged stakeholder in this field.

As a multipurpose utility, Greater Copenhagen Utility covers 98% of heating requirements in Copenhagen and out of this, 46% is carbon neutral district heating. The energy comes from various sources including solar panels built on the utility’s premises and newly constructed wind turbines. These are now able to deliver the equivalent of the entire municipal government’s electricity needs and will, in the future, contribute even more to fulfilling the vision of carbon neutrality by 2025.

Within water supply, there is a solid focus on energy saving throughout the organisation and beyond as the utility provides information to guide consumers in saving water. Greater Copenhagen Utility invests significantly in new pipelines, plants and equipment to this aim.

Denmark has set a target of no more than 10% losses in the water distribution networks and there is a fine for leakage rates above this. In Copenhagen, the leakage rate in the water distribution networks is around 7%. This is one of the elements in reducing energy consumption, as a loss of water in the distribution networks is also a waste of energy used in the production and pumping of water.



Energy production at waste water treatment plants

Another key stakeholder in the Copenhagen area is BIOFOS, the waste water treatment company of Copenhagen. BIOFOS operates the largest waste water treatment plant in Denmark and treats the waste water of 1.2 million people living in the Greater Copenhagen area at three treatment plants.

Being keen to contribute to Copenhagen’s climate targets and the circular economy, BIOFOS has invested significantly in the development of new technologies. The purpose is to reuse and recover resources from waste water and use these to produce electricity, biogas and district heating.

BIOFOS has set ambitious targets:

  • All residual products from core treatment processes will be recycled or made use of from 2025.
  • BIOFOS as a whole to be carbon neutral by 2025.
  • BIOFOS as a whole to be net energy producing by 2025.
  • All planning, coordination, management and operation of rain and waste water management is considered as one cohesive system throughout the entire BIOFOS catchment area by 2025.

In Copenhagen, we are already seeing results as we work to achieve carbon neutrality:

  • Greater Copenhagen Utility has reduced its energy consumption by 25%.
  • The energy balance of BIOFOS in 2015 was plus 27,369 MWh or 150% net energy surplus in all BIOFOS’s field of operations. This was based on energy produced from waste water. The initial target has thus been achieved and BIOFOS will now set a new target for energy production.

Similar results in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and an increase in energy production can be seen in other cities in Denmark such as Aarhus, Odense and Billund.

The Ministry of Environment and Food of Denmark reports that energy consumption in the water sector has declined by more than 20% over the last five years. The sector as a whole has gone from producing 12% of the energy it consumes to 27% today. The Ministry estimates that a net energy producing water sector in Denmark is possible without compromising environmental standards.



Water sector impacts on climate change

Around 8% of the greenhouse gas emissions from the total industry sector are related to waste water treatment. This has been recognised by the EU as significant and relevant for the EU’s reduction targets alongside solid waste management and the open burning of waste.

Raising new forests contributes positively to climate change mitigation by carbon storage and is listed among EU reduction targets under land use. When groundwater protection is carried out through afforestation, as we see in cities like Odense and Skanderborg, where utilities help raise new forest areas, it contributes to climate change mitigation while providing recreational areas for citizens.

Greenhouse gases include conventional greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. Nitrous oxide is emitted from waste water treatment plants and is a powerful greenhouse gas, which at the same time contributes to the depletion of the ozone layer. It is estimated that about 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by nitrous oxide from various sources including waste water treatment plants. This is also an important area for Danish utilities to pay attention to.



Resilience and climate change adaptation

Denmark has, like many other European countries, experienced the impact of climate change in the form of frequent heavy rain and cloudbursts. It is not enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We need to improve resilience and the ability to cope with the changing climate. With this aim, the Danish government in 2012 took the first steps towards improved planning and management of climate change adaptation in Danish cities.

Key elements in this process include improved legislation, new rules on funding, improved planning framework and better cooperation among stakeholders. Securing a clearer distribution of roles and responsibilities within the Danish water sector has been an important starting point for the development of climate change adaptation plans.

Danish water utilities are responsible for storm water management, flood prevention and the implementation of climate change adaptation measures in urban areas related to water management. The utility is responsible for water management on public land and runoff from private property that is connected to the sewer system.

Municipalities are responsible for improving urban areas and improving liveability, whereas private landowners have to protect their own buildings, including the financing of these measures.

Climate change adaptation plans are the responsibility of the municipality but in practice they are developed in close cooperation with utilities. The climate change adaptation plans are based on the mapping of property values and risks. This risk mapping is the basis for a prioritisation of adaptation measures within the municipalities.



Costs and benefits of improved resilience

Funding for climate change adaptation is costly and has to be implemented over a long period. Copenhagen experienced a severe cloudburst in July 2011 with 150mm of rain in two hours, causing close to €1bn in damage to property.

As a response to this destructive cloudburst, Copenhagen prepared a Cloudburst Management Plan in close collaboration with HOFOR, the utility of Greater Copenhagen. Based on a cost benefit analysis, this plan describes 300 projects in public areas with an estimated construction period of 20 years.

The Cloudburst Management Plan is expected to cost around €500m, which makes improving resilience cost effective, but new ways to secure funding are still necessary. Sewers and storm water management have traditionally been financed through water tariffs. Surface solutions can also be funded through water tariffs as long as they can be distinguished clearly as having a drainage function (canals, open basins, etc).

A new element in Danish storm water management is mixed solutions that are owned, constructed and maintained by the municipality but funded through water tariffs. This funding scheme has contributed to a number of new adaptation projects all over the country but there is still a need for new and innovative ways to secure funding for new projects that are necessary and cost-efficient in a longer perspective. Many of these can contribute not only to more climate resilient cities but also to more liveable cities.



The role of the water sector in meeting global climate goals

We have come a long way in delivering results like climate change adaptation plans for municipalities, funding for adaptation measures and net energy producing waste water treatment plants. The Danish government ratified the COP 21 agreement in 2016. In the water sector we have seen, however, that action on the ground to meet climate objectives is driven by the sector itself. It has taken proactive action recently to meet the climate targets, starting from the DANVA formulated vision for a carbon neutral water sector in 2025.

Since 2009, several Danish cities and utilities have announced similar climate targets and visions and we have experienced a truly bottom-up process, where utility staff and managers are now focusing on energy and water savings in all daily activities.

The key lesson learned in Denmark is that action is a matter of leadership and a change of mindset. Utilities that aim for change and set ambitious targets generate remarkable results.

Activities by utilities and other local stakeholders need to be accompanied by the right legislative framework and a clear link between sector legislation in energy, waste and water sectors. We also see a need to pay attention to regulatory barriers to ensure that economic regulation does not slow down or stop relevant initiatives.



By Carl-Emil Larsen, CEO, Helle Katrine Andersen, Vice President and Miriam Feilberg, Senior Consultant, DANVA

Read more: Water Matters

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