Scandinavia’s clean energy and grassroots change

From Finland’s bio-energy to America’s growing solar movement, clean energy is on the rise

Photo: Tommy Gildseth / Wikimedia Commons The Valsneset wind farm in Norway.

Photo: Tommy Gildseth / Wikimedia Commons
The Valsneset wind farm in Norway.

Larrie Wanberg
Features Editor

Scandinavian countries are leaders in clean renewable energies—each in their own specialties, yet collectively as a model for the rest of the world.

Norway, as an example, is a long-standing world leader in hydroelectric power that benefits 99% of its citizens. In thermal energy, Norway has about 15,000 residential buildings using vertical “boreholes” to heat and cool buildings. Oslo has two of Europe’s largest storage systems of thermal energy, including Akershus University Hospital (228 boreholes) and Nydalen Næringspark (118 boreholes). Solar energy is popular in homes, mountain cabins, and larger boats. Wind energy is produced from five onshore wind farms with eight more funded for 2020 to triple production. Norway also builds offshore wind turbines and is experimenting with “wave power” from ocean currents.

Iceland is the thermal “capitol” of the world, where two-thirds of energy use comes from geothermal energy that heats 90% of homes. Recently, deeper molten magma was discovered that beat the world record for hottest geothermal heat at 450 degrees Celsius, increasing the potential efficiency for steam to generate electricity as renewable energy.

Denmark is an epicenter of wind energy development that manufactures wind turbines across the world, including a production plant in Grand Forks, N.D. In 2014, Denmark set a world record for wind production, attaining 39.1% of its overall electricity from clean energy.

Sweden’s economy has grown, while much of Europe has faltered, largely by the country’s investment and production in renewable energy. Forty-seven percent of Sweden’s consumed energy comes from renewable sources. The White House recently pointed to Sweden as an aspiring energy model for U.S. goals for renewable energy.

Finland, a forested land, leads in bio-energy by using lumber waste to produce renewable energy, while integrating other clean energies. Bio-energy is also used in under-developed countries and urban areas to produce electricity by converting garbage to heat that is converted to electricity.

One of the most interesting trends in energy development is how entrepreneurs at a grassroots level are impacting the industry. The growth in the industry is seemingly driven by how many jobs can be created, how to deal with climate change, and how innovations in usage can reach wider markets.

Solar energy is growing rapidly on a global scale, largely because costs are coming down, improved technologies are available, and it has the potential to create a volume of new jobs for installers.

Architects design “green” buildings that use solar panels on the roofs. Some homeowners use solar energy to live “off the grid,” by generating electricity and selling excess power back to the utility company.

RVers who want to be self-sufficient and avoid hook-ups apply solar panels to their roofs and store energy with batteries where the gas-powered generator used to be. They use propane for the stove and refrigerator.

As a vintage RV owner, I talked with an entrepreneur named Andy Graham, who attached a solar panel to the roof of his van with strong Velcro. He liked to park on California beaches while brokering energy sales across the country—online and on the phone. He powered two laptops, a music system, and a small cooler without draining his vehicle battery (see www.FastEnergy.org).

I asked him what his idea was for future solar sales. Andy said, “I’d go to a homeowner and offer to attach a ‘mini’ solar demo model to the roof with industrial Velcro and suggest that the owner try free for 30 days … Then, we’d install a full system after the homeowner tried it and liked it.”

Communities too are organizing through electric co-ops to provide clean energy to its members. Lake Region Electric Cooperative (LREC) in Pelican Rapids, Minn., is one of the first communities to add solar power as an option to their 26,000 members. “It’s like a community garden concept,” said CEO Tim Thompson, “where we build an array of solar panels and offer members to buy a panel or two for their use. It costs $1,500 financed over three years, so a member’s bill is only $42.00 per month. The offering sold out quickly and we are considering a second unit.”

Thompson highlighted a geothermal offering, called EARTHWI$E, whereby LREC installs horizontal piping in the yard of a home at the co-op’s expense and charges a modest tariff to the electric bill, depending on heating and cooling requirements of the member’s home—ranging from $32-$65 per month. For more information on these initiatives, see www.lrec.coop.

For energy-minded readers connected to the web who enjoy short talks by experts, I’d suggest two Ted Talks on renewable energy. One is a talk on “The Future of Renewable Energy” by a serial entrepreneur who experiences the global use of innovative solar power, viewable at www.youtube.com/watch?v=IEWYLbQXg4U.

Another is a former Governor of Michigan who proposes a fresh model of creating jobs and building a national energy policy through private investment. Her talk, “A Clean Energy Proposal—Race to the Top,” is at www.youtube.com/watch?v=GMynksvCcUI.

I’m toying with the thought of joining the “tiny house-on-wheels” movement, powered by solar for electricity, and parking it in one of a dozen developments around the country, where new micro-communities are being organized. At least, it’s entertaining to think about the way society is changing and the movement toward mobility and simplicity (as seen at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_house_movement), but I wouldn’t know what to do with all my stuff. “Less is more,” they say, but I kind of like “more.”

This article originally appeared in the March 20, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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