1.4tn: Europe’s solutions for air pollution

Air pollution costs the European economy €1.4 trillion a year.
Source: World Health Organization, 2015

Switching to renewable energy is a sure-fire way to clean up Europe’s energy supply and improve the quality of air.

Canary and Shetland islands: Replacing diesel with clean ocean energy

Ocean energy is replacing highly polluting diesel generation in islands and remote areas. The Shetland Islands get most of their electricity from diesel generators, despite having some of the world’s strongest tidal, wave and wind energy resources. Nova Innovation’s pioneering Shetland Tidal Array is a first step towards exploiting these resources and replacing polluting energy generation technologies with clean ocean energy.

Electricity production poses a major dilemma for European islands with poor or no connection to a mainland grid system, such as the Canary or Shetland islands. As a result, they are forced to rely on diesel generators to provide electricity. Not only is diesel one of the most expensive ways to produce electricity, with costs reaching up to €400/MWh, it is also one of the most polluting.

Diesel generators emit dangerous pollutants such as nitrous oxide and sulphur dioxide, which cause acid rain. They also produce 1010g of carbon dioxide per kWh. This is even higher than the carbon intensity of coal, at 930g of CO2/kWh.  In contrast, emissions from ocean renewable energy are negligible.

Netherlands: On the clean track

Electrifying transport will improve air quality significantly, particularly when powered by wind energy.

Almost 500,000 people die prematurely in Europe every year from air pollution. In 2012, road transport and energy accounted for three quarters of all NOx, one of the most common air pollutants in the Netherlands. The Dutch government moved to reduce the death toll by introducing air quality legislation in 2007 and incentivising electro-mobility.

Today, the Netherlands is the electric car front runner in the EU with over 100,000 vehicles on the road. This first step led to a decline in carbon emissions and air pollutants.

In 2016, the Dutch parliament voted for a motion to ban sales of new petrol and diesel cars by 2025 whilst pushing renewables and electro-mobility at the same time in the regions. Rotterdam, for example, supported residents with €9,000 if they replace their old diesel car with a new electric one. However, pollution problems have persisted.

Electrification is not enough. Electric cars have to become as clean as Dutch trains to reduce emissions and pollutants effectively. These fully run on wind power since the beginning of the year, as their president proudly announced tied to a windmill.

The Netherlands has 4,500 MW of wind power installed today. It plans to have 6,000 MW of onshore wind by 2020 and 4,500 of offshore wind by 2023. Dutch wind turbines could then produce enough electricity to power 1,000,000 Tesla S.

Reykjavik: Nearly 90 years of clean air geothermal heating

Reykjavik’s clean energy system means less emissions, less pollution and better air quality for its citizens.

Home to the largest geothermal heating system in the world, Reykjavik gives citizens clean electricity and energy around the clock. Geothermal central heating in Reykjavík goes back to 1930, with the use of artesian flow of water from shallow drill-holes. Today, three low-temperature fields serve both the capital and surrounding communities, so that all electric power and space heating in Reykjavík comes from renewable energy sources, geothermal and hydropower. While in Europe heat and electricity account for about 30% of GHG emission, in Iceland they account for only 4%.

For the last 87 years, geothermal has brought Reykjavík enormous benefits in terms of environment, economy and citizens’ living standards. Using geothermal heating instead of fossil fuels has saved more than 100 MtCO2 emission (around 3-4 MtCO2 emission per year), and transformed the city in one of the green capitals of Europe. Pollution levels for PM10, ozone, and NO2 are far below the limit values, and houses are always comfortably warm.

Sliedrecht: Thermal comfort

If the air looks hazy, adding solar thermal energy to your building can brighten the future.

Around half of the EU’s fine particular matter (PM2.5) comes from households.  A multi-family apartment building in Sliedrecht, South-Holland, choked under exhaust from gas-fired heaters  and looked for solutions.

The 80 households decided to switch to a 90 m2 central solar hot water system. According to the Head of Real Estate, replacing the water heaters avoid 10.5t of CO2 per year and reduce the final energy consumption by 57 000 kWh/a. In addition to a lower energy bill, the level of mould as well as NOx and PMx pollutants dropped while indoor air quality and comfort improved.