Prescriptions for Saving the Planet: How to Halt the Catastrophe

By SPIEGEL Staff

Part 3: Stockholm Presents Green Future, Today

Photo Gallery: Putting the Brakes on the Coming Catastrophe Photos
REUTERS

A plus two-degree world of sorts already exists. It is in Hammarby Sjöstad, a part of Stockholm, and life there shows that we shouldn't be afraid of this world. Positive climate protection is possible. It results from a mixture of intelligent technology and climate-conscious behavior.

The Tiljas -- Henrik, Asa-Viktoria and their young daughter Doris -- live in this world. They haven't had a car in a long time, and they eat organic food. In addition, for the past year they have been living in a stylish, 68-square-meter (732-square-foot), all-white apartment in Hammarby Sjöstad. "We are responsible for only 3.6 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per person," says Henrik Tilja, "which almost puts us at the level of people in a developing country." Using sophisticated environmental technology, city planners have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by almost 40 percent, and yet residents and visitors notice virtually none of the related measures.

"The gas we use here," says his wife Asa-Viktoria, as she places a teakettle on the stovetop, "is organic." It comes from the city's nearby sewage treatment plant. In a sedimentation tank created by blasting a hole deep into the bedrock, digested sludge ferments and produces methane gas, which the public utility company then pumps into the Hammarby gas network.

Some of the energy the Tiljas use to heat their apartment comes from the residual heat a heat exchanger extracts from the sewage they produce. There is also an ampere meter that can display, minute-by-minute, how much electricity each individual consumer is using. Merely the knowledge of how to influence one's own power use has reduced consumption by 40 percent. "The idea is that people have to be rewarded for environmentally conscious behavior," says Henrik Tilja.

On the nearby playground, four large pipes with flaps on top protrude from the ground next to the sandbox. The pipes are for trash disposal, separated by category, from organic waste to paper. But unlike places with conventional waste disposal systems, there are no sweating garbage collectors and stinking garbage trucks in Hammarby, because vacuum pumps suction off the waste at speeds of 70 kilometers per hour (44 mph). This saves energy and has resulted in an astonishingly disciplined populace when it comes to separating waste. Close to 100 percent of organic waste can be converted into biogas, which powers the buses in Hammarby.

Part of the reason Stockholm as a whole has a relatively small environmental footprint is that 40 percent of its electricity comes from hydroelectric power and 40 percent from nuclear energy. "But none of what is being done here can't be implemented elsewhere," says Ulla Hamilton, the deputy mayor in charge of Stockholm's environmental affairs. According to Hamilton, the investment costs were only two to four percent higher than those for a normal new neighborhood.

A 'CO2-Postive' Neighborhood

Planners at city hall are already working on a second Hammarby, a neighborhood in the city's northeast called Royal Seaport, where ferries depart for Finland and the Baltic countries, and where the Swedish capital's oil tanks and gas storage units are located.

Construction is scheduled to begin next year on a residential and commercial neighborhood that will be "CO2 positive." In other words, it will actually serve as a net consumer of carbon dioxide. To achieve this goal, the houses will have to produce 30 percent of the electricity they consume. More importantly, however, they will only be able to consume 55 kilowatt hours of energy per square meter.

Tomas Gustafsson, the chief planner, used to advise government agencies in China, Vietnam and Thailand on how to build cities that don't make their residents sick.

Gustafsson, who now works for the city of Stockholm, and Deputy Mayor Hamilton have hired the electronics company ABB to build a so-called smart grid for the Royal Seaport project. In this system, the electric meter for each house is connected online with the electricity supplier. This allows it to report house-specific information to the central office, such as that a given family's electric car has to be fully charged by 7 a.m. the next morning. The central office then determines the best time to charge the vehicle.

The computer also controls the washing machine, so that it only runs at night, when electricity costs are the lowest. "As a result, some of the peak current is removed from the grid when consumption is high," says Gustafsson. If capacity utilization is distributed more evenly, fewer power plants are needed.

"The goal is to make it as easy as possible for people to behave in an environmentally friendly way," says Gustafsson. His boss, Ulla Hamilton, agrees: "We have to take away their fear that protecting the climate means climbing back into the trees."

RALF BESTE, DIRK KURBJUWEIT, RALF NEUKIRCH, CHRISTIAN SCHWÄGERL, GERALD TRAUFETTER

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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