Saturday, September 22, 2012

Covenant CapaCITY Conference

I went to two conferences back to back during Sustainability Week in Malmo.  one was the CLICC Conference and the other one was Covenant CapaCITY.  both conferences were relevant to the idea of making cities and neighborhoods more sustainable though each had a slightly different focus.  to hear my description of CLICC, read my earlier post.  to hear more about Covenant CapaCITY, read on:

Covenant CapaCITY is a multi national/ international European program, co-funded by Intelligent Energy Europe.  it is a three year program that is mostly focused on helping cities and municipalities get up to speed on creating local Sustainable Energy Action Plans (SEAPs) to reach the goals set by the Covenant of Mayors.  a SEAP is exactly what it sounds like, it is an attempt by the city to figure out how to move towards a better, more efficient use of energy over the short term and beyond.

what is happening in Europe around SEAPs is truly amazing.  cities are coming together, talking about what they are doing and how, and readily sharing information, best practices, and lessons learned.  everyone is benefitting from each city's experience.  in fact, many SEAPs are posted online for all to see.  here is an example of Dublin's SEAP (opens slowly!) which is well put together and contains all of the requisite information.

a SEAP is a combination of:
  1. researching, documenting, and better understanding a municipality's energy use
  2. collaborating across departments with communication and information
  3. developing ideas and strategies to create a more sustainable future

because most people live in cities, how municipalities address climate change (and share and market their methodologies and ideals) has a significant impact on human behavior as well as on overall energy consumption on the planet.  one could argue that if every city in the EU formed a comprehensive and well drafted SEAP, the overall energy creation, consumption, and distribution for the EU would vastly improve over a short period of time.  if such an approach could take place in major cities around the world and/ or in the United States, the impact would be just as significant.

if Shanghai, Mexico City or even Boston can implement strategies that directly affect or influence 50% of their populations, these ideas, directives, and approaches can touch 9 million, 5 million, or 300,000 people.  that is an opportunity that is has vast potential, especially if we are looking to make change on a massive scale around energy understanding, consumption, and creation.

so, the short version is that even though I am not a city in the European Union, I greatly enjoyed the Covenant CapaCITY Conference in Malmo.  besides learning quite a bit about what is being done in cities across Europe, I had the opportunity to meet many people who are making climate adaptation a reality on a large scale.  I must take this opportunity to say that I appreciate and applaud their efforts and I am excited by the prospect of improving our situation with respect to global warming.  they are doing amazing work and as a collective are making great strides.

for more info:
to learn more about Covenant CapaCITY from their perspective, check out their website.

Friday, September 21, 2012

feedback: the next evolution in energy

in the afternoon during the CLICC Conference, Stina Wessman of the Interactive Institute of Sweden gave a very interesting presentation about feedback focused on sustainability.  though the entire presentation was in Swedish and the slides were rich with text (also in Swedish), I did manage to get the gist of some of what she was saying.  I also used this thing called "the google" to look up some of what she was talking about to learn more.
Stina Wessman, from the Interactive Institute of Sweden, talking about feedback and energy awareness at the CLICC Conference at Malmomassan in Hyllie
the Interactive Institute of Sweden is an experimental company that combines Information Technology, design, and research together and applies this learning and knowledge to a wide variety of fields and applications.  as usual, their website describes themselves better than I can:
Interactive Institute is a Swedish experimental IT & design research institute that conducts applied research and innovation through creative and participatory processes.
the Interactive Institute works ons lots of stuff, more than I can even get into in this post, so I will focus on what I gleaned from Stina's presentation and from reading a little on their website.  the Institute has a focus on sustainability (among other topics) and has engaged in many research projects and experiments about behavior and feedback, which ties in perfectly to the idea of CLICC, which is all about engaging city inhabitants on the issue of carbon footprint and helping people living in the city understand their own individual role(s) as a part of the citywide effort to become carbon neutral in the next 20 years.  yes.  I said it.  the city of Malmo would like to be carbon neutral in the next 20 years.  and the city is actively aiming toward that goal.

Stina talked about projects that are geared toward helping people see (and therefore better understand) their energy use and consumption.  she cited some very cool examples that are prototypes and/ or soon to be marketed and sold ideas that connect people and energy use.  much of what she talked about reminded me of the thinking and initiatives that were undertaken as part of the 2009 Solar Decathlon competition that I worked on through the BAC and Tufts.  our project, entitled curio, focused on sustainable living and awareness as much (if not more) than designing and constructing an 800 square foot zero energy house.

here are a couple that were neat.  there are many more on the website.

picture taken from Interactive Institute website
"The Power Aware Cord is designed to visualize the energy of the current use of electricity of the appliances connected with it through glowing pulses, flow, and intensity of light."  this picture is from the Interactive Institute website 
the Flower Lamp is another example of innovative thinking around energy use and visualization.  the lamp changes form and becomes dimmer/ brighter based on energy use.  the lamp is an attractive and interactive monitor of energy consumption that can, in turn, affect behavior.

the Element is an attempt to change energy from an unseen source to a visible source.  in this case the energy is heat, as evidenced in a radiator.  the experiment is to showcase the amount of heat being emitted from a radiator in a new form, light.  the light emission is directly matched to the heat emission, thus the brightness of the "radiator" tells you how hot it is.  from the flikr site:
It is usually hard to tell whether radiators are on or off except by laying a hand upon them.  This prototype is made out of glass, metal, and enough light bulbs to reach the same efficiency as an electric radiator, and the current energy level is visible at all times.
I will tell you about two more, but I recommend if you are interested to read up on the Interactive Institute.  they are doing some amazing work in the field of interaction, sustainability, and energy.

the Energy AWARE Clock is an electricity meter that resembles an ordinary kitchen clock.  it measures your energy consumption and tells you the time simultaneously while also allowing you to compare previous energy use to today's consumption, thus you become aware and notice improvements and changes in consumption.

lastly, BoEL is a chance to compare your energy use to your neighbors.  a web based interface and simple glowing orb in your window shows how much energy you are consuming.  red, green, and yellow are comparative measurements that allow each user as well as the neighbors to see how one unit performs.  this could lead to healthy competition, shared knowledge and team building, or even a little pang of guilt, all of which have been shown to affect behavior.  according to the website:
BoEL is an experimental social ambient interface and web service that presents daily consumption figures to home owners and neighbors to promote joint savings and foster competitive energy saving bahaviors.  The service includes an ambient lamp that provides feedback on the energy consumption in the household and these interfaces are installed so that the neighbors can observe each others energy status.
check out the Interactive Institute of Sweden's website for more cool strategies about using interaction and communication to affect behavior and sustainable living.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

CLICC Conference

in a classic "oh, by the way" moment, I was emailing back and forth with someone who works for the city of Malmo in the Department for the Environment and he mentioned "Sustainability Week".  I was asking about finding someone to give me a tour of Augustenborg, a 1960's affordable housing urban development that had been falling into disrepair until, starting in the 90's, the city had targeted the buildings and neighborhood for upgrade and redevelopment using sustainable strategies as a driving force.  he said, "oh, maybe you should go to the conferences taking place next week as part of Malmo's Sustainability Week.  they are giving tours of Augustenborg, Sege Park, Vastra Hamnen..."

I couldn't believe my luck that an entire week of one day conferences and study tours was taking place while I happened to be here in Malmo.  I immediately emailed the conference organizers of two of the most exciting conferences, CLICC and Covenant CapaCITY.  both organizers responded quickly and allowed me to join the conferences past the registration date, for free, and said if there is space on the bus for the tours then I could join those as well.
CLICC Conference welcome speech by Kerstin Rubenson
start of the CLICC Conference in Malmo at the Malmomassan (conference center in Hyllie) presented by Kerstin Rubenson of Malmostad Environment Department
I will do separate postings about the neighborhood tours and even about some of the presenters, but here's a little bit about CLICC.  CLICC stands for Climate Living in Cities Concept (I think this link will take you to the auto translated Swedish page for more information).  the main goal of the four year pilot project is to provide opportunities and create successful strategies to drastically reduce the carbon footprint of people in cities.  with some funding from the country of Sweden, some from the EU, and some funding, participation, and organization from the city of Malmo (and other participating cities around the country), this program is a combination of grass roots movements and government facilitation.  the conference itself, called the midterm (program runs from 2010 to 2014) is an opportunity for stakeholders to get together and learn from the past and prepare for the future.

the conference website invites participants in by describing the conference:
Take part of project experience CLICC (Climate Living In Cities Concept), which presents a method for cost-effective climate renovation of buildings.  By combining investments with changes in behavior, climate impact from living in apartment buildings, together with costs, can decrease.
the conference was amazing and I sat on the edge of my seat all day, even when the presenter was talking only in Swedish and showing only Swedish slides.  thank goodness for google translate and free wireless access.  I learned quite a bit about what the city is doing and how it is tackling the immense job of helping its citizens learn about their part in the effort to become zero energy as a city (of 300,000 inhabitants!) and I spent much of the day in awe of the ongoing and long term effort and coordination taking place here in Malmo.
Trevor Graham and Johanna Ekman
Trevor Graham of the Department of the Environment talking about the history of Malmo and the relevance of the idea of CLICC on the progress of the city toward carbon neutrality in the 21st century
I will post more as time allows on the conference and study tours.  the whole experience was... wait for it... yes...  you guessed it... amazing!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Copenhagen bike share

Stockholm bike share locking mechanism where bike locks to stand
bike slot #18 at a bike station.  you can see the two access points that lock the bike front basket frame into the bike stand to secure the bike.  red light indicates that the bike is locked.  after swiping the card this little light turns green and the bike is unlocked and can be picked up off the stand.

the Copenhagen bike share has been on my list of "things to see" long before I knew I was coming to Sweden/ Malmo/ Scandanavia/ Denmark.  the Copenhagen bike share, started in 1995, was successful many years before Paris, Barcelona, and even Boston jumped into the fray. though it was not the first bike share program in the world, it was the first large scale, "free" city system that had unique bikes (parts could not be easily interchanged with other bikes).  unlimited bike use for a small deposit, bike stands throughout the downtown area, and a strict boundary of where the bikes could be used (police fine bike users if caught outside downtown city limits) factored into making the system a huge success.
copenhagen bike share bike
Copenhagen bike share bike lying in the street.  maybe the borrower of this bike went into the lego store?
I couldn't wait to try it out when Devo (visiting for a long weekend from Paris) and I hopped the train to Copenhagen.  in fact, we went directly to the tourist info location near Tivoli and the Central Train Station to get a map and break down some bills to the 20 kroner coins that one needs to unlock the bikes.
key is released by a 20 kroner danish coin
key that keeps bike locked.  to release the key the user inserts one 20 kroner coin.  once the coin has been inserted, the key pops out and the bike is free to roll.  upon returning the bike, the user inserts the key and the 20 kroner coin pops out and the key holds the bike locked.
we should have known from the start that getting onto the bikes would be easier said than done.  when talking to the woman at the tourist center we were handed our first clue of what was to come.  "good luck finding one," she said when we asked about the bike share, "you're better off renting a bike."  undeterred we bought a Danish (yes, this is where they come from) to create two of the necessary 20 kroner coins to unlock the two bikes.
no bike share bikes are here.  instead there are regular bikes locked to the rack
bike share bike rack in popular square in Copenhagen.  all of the bike share bikes are gone and regular bikes are locked in their place.  you can see the chain with the key at the end dangling down to the cobblestones.
as we walked through the city, we realized that the bike share locations are nothing more than simple nondescript metal racks that look pretty much like any other.  one of the reasons that we had trouble finding them is that there are no signs, every one we found was devoid of bike share bikes and instead were surrounded by normal bikes locked where the share bikes would have been.
front of Copenhagen bike share bike
Copenhagen bike share bike locked via chain to the rack.  each bike comes with a map showing the boundary inside which the bike must be kept (or the user is fined by police).  notice the (incorrect) silver coin sticking out where the 20 kroner coin should be inserted to release the bike.  this bike cannot be freed from the rack due to the improper coin blocking the path for the correct coin to release the key.
we gave up the search for bikes because we were having no luck, but continued walking the city and enjoying the pedestrian streets, amazing people watching, monuments and beautiful buildings, and general scene (the neighborhood was very crowded with everyone from locals to tourists to street performers).  we wandered, checking out the amazing surroundings and enjoying the freedom of the Copenhagen city streets.
bike rack, 20 kroner coin, and key connect together to secure the bike when not in use
inserting 20 dkk into the locking mechanism to release the key (top) that frees the bike to be ridden.  the chain in the picture connects the key to the bike rack and dangles freely once the bike is released.
of course as soon as we gave up looking for a bike rack with share bikes on it, we found one.  five bikes locked up on one single rack off the beaten path from the busiest pedestrian street, near the state house, stock exchange, and one of the main canals downtown.  jackpot.
turns out they were either locked improperly, broken, or otherwise unusable
five bike share bikes all locked to the rack on a street near downtown.  jackpot.  or maybe not...
again it should have been obvious that it was too good to be true.  two of the five bikes were locked together by a personal lock which basically means the bikes were no longer shareable and could only be used by the j#*ks (jerks) who decided that sharing is not caring.  so those two were out.  the next bike opened up successfully by sliding the 20 kroner coin into the slot and releasing the key and freeing the bike.  but (sad face) the last two bikes had been jammed with the wrong size coins and these coins were stuck, preventing either removing the existing coin or freeing the key and taking the bike.
key released by adding a 20 dkk coin
after adding the correct 20 dkk coin, the key releases, freeing the bike
the lesson here to me is that the free bike share system with a low entry fee (20 Danish kroner is less than $4 American) allows for the user group to not respect or take responsibility for the bike and the system itself.  I agree with the low entry fee and support the idea that everyone can use the bike(s), but the result is that most available bikes are either being improperly used or are in use and not available.
coin released after key is reinserted
once the key is reinserted, the coin pops free from the bottom
one could argue that the Boston share program (called Hubway) has its own problems, but the system works effectively and does not have the same problems as the Copenhagen one.  the Boston system, like many newer ones across the globe, requires a credit card to borrow a bike.  this makes the system no longer anonymous.  in addition to the credit card identifier making each borrower accountable, each bike is "checked in" when returned to the rack via a click digital connection point, ensuring that bikes are returned and also allowed for the system to know where all bikes are located.  this check in system allows a simple iphone app to tell users where there are bikes to pick up and where there are empty spaces to return the bike.
inaccessible bike share bikes locked together
two Copenhagen bike share bikes locked together with personal lock, making them inaccessible to regular people
the Boston system just completed it's first full year to rave reviews and membership was, for the first year, above predictions.  hopefully it will continue to be a success and build upon what has come before it, including the Copenhagen bike share, one of the first of its kind anywhere on the globe in 1995.

for more info on:

Monday, September 17, 2012

food scraps = energy in Malmo: the food grinder

it's 6.30pm and you just arrived home from work.  it's time to make dinner.  it is a simple meal.  pasta with veggies and sauce.  you pull out the cutting board and your favorite knife.  you scrub all of the terrible pesticides and toxins off your vegetables, hoping that this shiny red pepper is not the one that puts one nano gram too much of whatever you don't want in your body.  you chop and cut and chop and suddenly you are sauteing it all in a pan.  the water is boiling for the pasta and voila! you have dinner.  it's delicious, by the way.

cleanup in this kitchen is almost as easy as making the mess.  you finished the pasta sauce so you splash some water around in the jar and dump it down the drain.  you open the door under the sink and deposit the jar into the clear glass recycling bin.  the scraps of vegetables go into the food grinder (what we used to call the garbage disposal).  you splash a little water on the plates and silverware and put it all in the dishwasher.  you always win the clean plate award so there are no scraps on the plate, but if there were any scraps or anything else that could be ground in the food grinder, you'd dump them into the sink and wash them "away" as well.
food grinder in kitchen sink
kitchen sink in the apartment.  pretty "normal" looking.  the silver button on the upper left turns on the food grinder.
then the magic starts.  you turn on the water and press the little silver button.  a loud gurgling sound emits from inside the sink drain, gradually getting more uniform and higher pitched.  when the last of the food remnants are gone, you press the silver button again and it's done.  your "wasted" food is on it's way to becoming energy.
food grinder in kitchen sink
it's a titan.  food grinder.
a separate piping system takes the water and ground food waste to a nearby storage tank.  it's surprisingly simple.  sedimentation allows the liquid to skim off the top inside the tank and join the rest of the waste water on it's way to a treatment plant in the harbor.  what settles at the bottom of the tank is pumped away to a nearby plant where they tank it all back together in a specific method that turns this "waste" into something called biogas.
separate pipes under sink collect food waste and water
pipes from both sink drains joining to go separately out of the building to a sediment and storage tank where the food waste separates and is pumped offsite for transformation from food waste to biogas
biogas, as you can imagine, is just like other gases that you know.  it can be burned like natural gas to heat your home boiler or hot water.  it can be refined into fuel to power your car.  it is basically like oil except we didn't have to dig for it or destroy anything like forests or water supplies or the environment to get it.  it is a natural byproduct of human consumption.  oh, and in case you are wondering (which I am sure you are) it is:
  • "clean" (meaning that the stuff that goes into the food grinder is food, not plastic or other undesirable items that dilute or destroy the biogas process)
  • hygienic for the inhabitant (what you put into the grinder is what you have already touched)
  • natural (no cleaning products, chemicals, or other stuff needs to be added)
  • simple (press a button and it's done)
  • cleaner burning (biogas is much lower emission and cleaner burning than many other fuels, especially oil based fuels such as gasoline and diesel)
if you are looking for an alternative to oil to power cars, buses, and other transportation, biogas could be a very successful option.  we've all seen how much food goes down the drain (which is, in itself, an area that needs some improvement).  the city of Malmo is making great strides to use food waste to produce energy and hopes to have the entire city bus fleet on biogas within ten years.  there is also a campaign to collect compost style food waste in all neighborhoods of the city as well as using the new grinder method.

want more info?
a company called vasyd is a main stakeholder in this process.  their (vasyd) website is also very informative (and has english translations).  I met with Mimmi Bissmont from the vasyd Malmo office.  she was extremely helpful and supportive.  thanks Mimmi!  her work focuses on connecting action, behavior, and sustainable efforts.  for more info on improved use of energy through behavior, check out this post on the psychology of energy reduction or this post about energy reduction through feedback loops.

kids playing in Vastra Hamnen schoolyard

I know this has little if anything to do with sustainable design, but I was riding my bike by the school in Vastra Hamnen and a bunch of kids were at recess.  I am always intrigued by children and how they interact and often wonder if their relationships and interactions have anything to do with culture and/ or the society into which they grow as they get older.  when I saw the kids playing I stopped to watch for a minute.  what I saw was amazing.
kids playing in the sand in Vastra Hamnen
kids playing at the Vastra Hamnen school during recess
I realized almost immediately that I needed to take a picture of the scene because it was so interesting.  the kids were rough housing in the sand in a way that was absolutely amazing.  I'm not entirely sure if it was a game or just kids being kids, but I've never seen anything like it.
rough housing during recess
the kids were rough housing and knocking each other into the sand.  it was madness and mayhem
basically a kid would run up to another kid and shove him off his feet onto the ground.  then another kid would do the same to that kid or someone else.  it seemed random.  boys were knocking down boys, boys were knocking down girls, girls were knocking down boys.  it was a free for all.  yes, the teacher was standing about 10 meters away watching (to the right in the first picture).
kids lying all over the place in the sand
the aftermath right before the end of recess
and yes, it was awesome.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

beer experimenting

I like beer.  lots of other folks like beer.  beer is delicious.  beer is flavorful.  beer has bubbles.  in Sweden lots of people also like beer.  as I have said before, beer is expensive.  by expensive I mean that when I got off the train and was hanging around in the train station and ordered a beer, it cost 73 SEK (Swedish Kroner) which, depending on the exchange rate (I have gotten about 6.4 SEK to 1 USD so far) is about $11.50 for the beer.  what kind of beer, you ask.  well, let me tell you.  it was Swedish beer (meaning local).  not specialty local.  not microbrew local.  it's the most common and popular beer in Sweden (besides Carlsberg which is Danish).  that's like going into a bar in the Unite States and ordering a draft budweiser and having the bartender charge you $11.  you'd probably laugh at the bartender, refuse the beer on principle, and go to the nearest liquor store (or supermarket) and buy a six pack of cans for less than $10.

not in Sweden.  people willingly pay $10 or more for regular beer.  why?  I am not so sure.  but I think systembolaget might have something to do with it.  systembolaget is a government run (yes, the government regulates the purchase of liquor here!)  organization that regulates the sale of alcoholic beverages that have more than 3,5% alcohol.  budweiser, for comparison, is 5,0% alcohol.  so if you want water beer you need to go to a 9-5 store (with an armed guard) to buy it.  this obviously includes liquor and wine as well.
beers purchased at the systembolaget in Malmo, sweden
a beer lineup from the systembolaget in Malmo
anyways, I was in the country for more than a week (almost two) before I made my way to the systembolaget with Devo who was visiting for a couple of days via Paris (yes, there's an app for that).  of course we went crazy and bought a bunch of specialty and local beers including microbrews, as well as some wine.  you know what they say... when in rome!  we lined up the beers afterwards on the table after deciding it was worth a picture.  I am not a beer expert, but most of the beers have been excellent so far.  more to come if I find a favorite.
local beers purchased at the systembolaget
the close up of beers bought at the systembolaget in Malmo

skål! (pronounced skole)