Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The future needs problem solvers

Today we had the opportunity to hear speakers give their input on the state of sustainable energy. Later we visited the Vestforbrænding combined heat and power plant to see how the Danes are maximizing their resources.
Today we had the rare opportunity to hear prominent speakers give their opinions and perspectives on the current issue of sustainability in today's global society.

We took a bus from our hostel to the University of Copenhagen, where we heard several speakers. The first speaker was Dr. Kandeh K. Yumkella, the current United Nations Under-Secretary-General and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All.

Dr. Yumkella was a fantastic orator and talked about the importance of spreading sustainable energy around the world, in addition to striving toward reduced energy consumption in all parts of the world.

He also outlined three goals that the Sustainable Energy for All initiative suggests be completed by 2030: 1) Ensuring universal access to modern energy services; 2) Doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency; and 3) Doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.

Dr. Kandeh Yumkella talking with the Austrian Ambassador to Denmark
Dr. Kandeh K. Yumkella talking with Ernst-Peter Brezovszky, the Austrian Ambassador to Denmark, before his presentation.

Students talking to Dr. Yumkella
Students talking with Dr. Yumkella after his presentation.

We continued to have more speakers during the day, all of whom discussed the details associated with putting sustainable energy in place - both in Denmark and the world at large.

Among the topics discussed, the idea of "planetary boundaries" was brought up a number of times. This refers to the limits of our planet in providing us with the resources we need to maintain our current lifestyles. It is an important concept that must be kept in mind as we look to provide food and energy to a growing population.

The lecturers were all phenomenal, and they lent a valuable perspective to everything we have been learning about renewable energy thus far on the trip.

This included discussing the problems that we are facing today, which must be addressed by adept problem solvers as we proceed. It then comes down to the scientists and engineers to ultimately design the methods and infrastructure required to enact the energy revolution that will inevitably occur in the coming years.

Following our lectures, we took a bus to the Vestforbrænding power plant, which incinerates the garbage from 900,000 Danes and generates 40 megawatts of electrical power.

The average U.S. home uses around 1 kilowatt, so this plant would provide power to 40,000 U.S. homes. However, the average Danish home uses only 500 watts, so this 40-megawatt plant can power 80,000 Danish homes.

In addition to electrical energy, the plant uses some of the heat generated by the incineration to provide heating for homes in the community. Producing both electrical power and municipal heat in a single plant is called combined heat and power, which allows for a far more efficient utilization of the energy available in the waste it is burning.

Learning about the Vestforbrænding power plant
Learning about the Vestforbrænding power plant while on a tour.

After yesterday's wonderful examples of the possibilities that can be achieved with proper problem solving, today provided us with a discussion on the current energy problems society is facing. Following the more abstract discussions on problem solving yesterday, today's discussion helped narrow our focus.

Tomorrow we will pack up and leave the hubbub of city living and head to Jutland, the mainland portion of Denmark, where we will start learning about wind power generation in Denmark in addition to the production of wind turbines.

We've loved our time in Copenhagen, and we look forward to Jutland!