Beyond borders: 10 amazing European sustainability success stories

With the UK nervously awaiting the results of a defining European Union (EU) referendum, edie has rounded up some of the ways other Member States have been rolling out their own ambitious green initiatives to drive the low-carbon transition outside of the collaborative clutches of the EU.

No bloodshed for 60 years, £350m paycheques to Brussels and even three lions on a shirt. It seems that, no matter where you turn, the UK is embroiled in a heated tactical and number-focused battle to rise to the top of Europe.

But both on and off the football pitch, attempts to breakdown stubborn opposition have been largely seen as a continuous attempt to bang heads against brick walls, with little factual discussion taking place on what the UK’s relationship with the European Union actually provides.

With results on the EU referendum expected in the early hours of Friday (24 June), the nation will wake with bated breathe to find out whether it embarks into the future alone, or as part of a reformed EU.

In the meantime, to highlight that the UK – and indeed other countries both in and out of the EU – isn’t completely dependent on the far-reaching arms of the Union, edie has taken a closer look at how other European countries are individually forging their own path in the low-carbon transition.

France is raising the roof for carbon reductions

Other than those stuck in flooded polling stations, the majority of media eyes are currently casting their gaze over the France. Euro 2016 has been a story of the smaller nations rising to the top thus far, but for France the football tournament is just another feather in the cap of what has already proved to be an extremely influential few months.

Fresh off of the back of the Paris Climate Agreement, which France became the first major nation to ratify, the country has been keen to practice what is preaches. Amidst the carbon reductions and climate talks the French Government passed new legislation which entails that all rooftops on new buildings – constructed in commercial zones – must be partially covered by plants or solar panels.

With buildings accounting for a huge proportion of global carbon emissions, the country has turned to green roofs and solar panels, one of which limits the amount of carbon produced, while the other is capable of storing it, in a bid to promote sustainability within urban areas of France.

Sweden is laying an electric brick road from the wizards of Oslo

With carbon-neutrality becoming the norm across a variety of the country’s manufacturing facilities, Sweden has this week begun exploring the potential of a carbon neutral road; or at least one that caters for low-emission transport.

With its power supply now largely free from carbon emissions, Sweden has turned to tackling the pollution caused by transport and has just opened the world’s first electric highway – on E16 between Kungsgården and Sandviken in Gästrikland – as a means to test the potential of electric vehicles (EVs) to collect power from the roads they drive on.

Tests will continue through to 2018, but Swedish authorities, who were recently part of a European-wide call to crack down on diesel emissions, hope to gain the means and technology to develop the infrastructure to compliment a fossil-fuel free transport fleet by 2030.

Netherlands is saying ‘never’ to diesel vehicles

When it comes tp EVs, it seems only fair to mention the Netherlands, which last year doubled the number of low-emission vehicles on its road to almost 90,000.

As the European country with the largest fleet of light duty and plug-in EVs, the country has taken the first steps to establish itself as the leader of the EV push. With Germany, Sweden and Norway all eyeing up a 100% commitment to only selling EVs in the near future, the Netherlands has already seen a move to ban all non-EVs by 2025 supported by the lower house of the Dutch Parliament.

If passed into law, the ban would complement the country’s efforts clean up the transport sector, which also includes developing a 100% wind-powered railway system. The ban would only apply for new car sales, but with EVs expected to account for a third of new sales by 2040, this could soon come into motion.

Norway is taking the lead on forest preservation  

As previously mentioned, Norway has some pretty lofty aspirations when it comes to cleaning up its emissions. Outside of the world’s longest electricity interconnector and an ongoing carbon capture research push, the country has recently unveiled an ambitious new zero deforestation pledge.

The country-wide commitment has seen Norway become the first nation to commit to zero deforestation. While other nations have established an across-boarders approach to tackling the issue Norway would become the first independent country to eliminate deforestation and source sustainable food fibre.

While the pledge won’t reduce emissions for Norway, it does put them in a position of lobbying power, with the country’s Rainforest Foundation already calling on the UK and Germany – which had previously issued statements alongside Norway on the issue – to follow Norway’s lead.

Portugal is making a substantial (and un-subsidised) renewables push

As part of the EU referendum build-up, much has been made about the UK’s Government incessant and sudden changes to green policies. The most recent high-profile case was arguably the decision to cut subsidies and Feed-in Tariffs for solar installations.

While the UK solar industry has reacted strongly, we should perhaps turn our attention to what’s happening in Portugal, which managed to completely power itself on renewables for four straight days in May this year.

With the European Commission threatening legal action against the country – along with eight others – in 2011, the country revamped its energy generation systems despite pulling back subsidies for wind power. Even without these subsidies the country amassed an extra 550MW of wind capacity over the next four years, with renewables now accounting for nearly half of the country’s electricity needs.

Germany is taking the renewables revolution to new heights

With its “Energiewende” movement accelerating renewables deployment, Germany is viewed as one of the bastions of the clean-energy movement in Europe. 2015 saw Germany install more than 2,000 MW of offshore wind capacity, taking the UK’s crown as the global installation leader.

While the transition may have its critics, there’s little doubt that the German renewables revolution is in full swing, with the country’s renewable energy mix reaching 33% last year and plans to increase this to 100% by 2050.

In May this year, the revolution hit new heights.  For one day – a particularly sunny yet windy day – solar, hydro, wind and biomass output reached 55GW of the 63GW that were being consumed. Prices eventually went negative for a few hours as demand fell, creating the unique situation where commercial customers were actually being paid to consumer electricity.

Denmark is leaving a mark on sustainable meat consumption

As one of the few country’s able to rival Germany’s wind outputs, Denmark has surprisingly turned to a more innovative method of slashing carbon emissions across the nation. In total, 14 of the 17 Danish Council of Ethics members recommended a new beef tax; noting that at the very least it could reduce emissions in the Danish food sector by 20%.

The relationship between meat consumption and climate change has been explored in recent months and Denmark is taking strides. While China has moved to halve meat consumption by 2030, the potential tax in Denmark could slash carbon emissions by around 35% if passed.

Initially focusing on beef – with a view to extending the tax to all red meats in the future – the Danish Council of Ethics has urged the Government to adopt this new tax. The council noted that cattle alone accounts for around 10% of global GHG emissions, while the production of food accounts for around 20-30%. Estimates also suggest that around 43,000 litres of water is needed to produce one kilo of beef.

Slovenia is making the circular economy a reality

Ljubljana is not only the capital of Slovenia but also the current European Green Capital 2016. As investment and sharing economy platforms increase in the country, so too does its closed-loop efforts.

While the Netherlands is still considered the circular economy king, Slovenia has ramped up recycling efforts, which includes utilising 98% recyclable smart meters, and is a global leader in integrating recyclable steel – a venture that the maligned Tata Steel is researching in the UK – into construction.

Slovenia is also currently the best performing EU country in regards to waste management practices, generating less than 102kg of waste per capita in 2014 with recycling rates pushing past the 60% bracket. Lovely Ljubli.

Italy is building an energy empire based on storage 

More about potential that actually movement, but nonetheless the potential for an energy storage hub in Italy is huge. With more than half a million installations sitting on rooftops, mature renewables markets have slowed somewhat as it waits for a new lease of life.

But these markets, namely in Catania, have been injected with renewed vigour thanks to Italian clean energy developer Enel Green Power, which has developed a 2MWh battery system and connected it to a 10MW solar array in Catania.

With costs for solar tumbling in the country, the payback period for these batteries is significantly shortening. Energy companies Solon Italia and Albasolar are also following Enel’s lead by combining storage systems in ways that recharge batteries but also keep excess electricity away from the grid until needed. Enel is already taking steps to explore this further alongside car manufacturer Nissan, as it explores vehicle-to-grid solutions.

Iceland is taking a fire and brimstone approach to carbon capture

With 8% of the country’s population currently witnessing national history occur in France at EURO 2016, it’s unsurprising that Iceland’s energy demands are relatively low. What is surprising is that this lump of basalt tops the pile in the low-carbon electricity rankings, thanks in large to its inventive geothermal generation capabilities.

Not only does Iceland have the highest share of final energy from renewable sources, (77.1%) in 2013/14, the most recent data available, it has also used energy harnessed from volcanoes to turn carbon into stone in just two years – to put this into perspective scientists assumed it would take at least two hundred years.

There are six operational geothermal plants in Iceland of which the largest, Hellisheiði, can produce 303MW of electricity, which places it in the top three single largest geothermal power stations in the world.

Matt Mace

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