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Local Power: Tapping Distributed Energy In 21st-Century Cities


Local power: tapping distributed energy in 21st-century cities
By David Roberts | Grist

Residents of Hammarby Sjöstad, a district on the south side of Stockholm, Sweden, don't let their waste go to waste. Every building in the district boasts an array of pneumatic tubes, like larger versions of the ones that whooshed checks from cars to bank tellers back in the day. One tube carries combustible waste to a plant where it is burned to make heat and electricity. Another zips food waste and other biomatter away to be composted and made into fertilizer. Yet another takes recyclables to a sorting facility.

Meanwhile, wastewater is taken to a treatment plant, from whence it emerges as biosolids for more compost, biogas for heat and transportation fuel, and pure water to cool a power plant, which also runs on biofuels grown with the biosolids. Looking at a chart of all this is enough to induce dizziness. "In terms of what you can do at the local level for energy efficiency and renewable energy, it's incredible. It's just amazing," says Joan Fitzgerald, author of Emerald Cities (Oxford University Press, 2010).

After they are done, district authorities hope Hammarby Sjöstad will produce about half its power independently, a task made easier by the fact that residents, thanks to a broad range of efficiency and conservation measures, will consume half the energy of the average Swede (who already consumes only about 75 percent as much as the average American). These intrepid Swedish urbanites are pushing the envelope on a phenomenon catching on in cities across the developed world: "distributed energy."

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