Helgoland Targets Zero-Emissions Among Sustainability Goals

The tiny Germany island of Helgoland is calling for legislative changes to support its pioneering role in sustainability and
 zero-emission ambition

. Helgoland has implemented many sustainable projects and is now looking to take a larger role in pioneering new innovative solutions in green energy, water desalination and reuse and seaborne electric mobility to target total decarbonisation, but needs legislative and regulatory obstacles to be removed. The Municipality of Helgoland and Greening the Islands Observatory have identified a new set of innovative projects in wind energy, water recycling and sustainable transport.

The island’s small size and remote location – 70 km off the German coast in the North Sea – aren’t a barrier to its ambitions when it comes to adopting green solutions. On the contrary, the island, which already hosts two important research centres, is ready to act as a “laboratory” for innovative technologies that could then be adopted on a wider scale. Unfortunately, national legislation represents the main obstacle to its ambition to become a zero-emission island as it looks to burnish its reputation as a sustainable destination.

At a two-day event organised in collaboration with the Municipality of Helgoland and the Greening the Islands Observatory, key local stakeholders came together to analyse the island’s situation and come up with sustainable solutions. The Observatory is actively helping a number of islands around the world not only to identify and implement green solutions but also to help develop the right regulatory framework.

“Even if came far already with our green initiatives, the workshop helped us to share a global vision, exchange on best practices and solutions with the Experts from the GTI Team. I am very glad that we are part of a strong and forward moving community,” Jörg Singer Helgoland mayor.

The results of the GTI Observatory were presented also during the first Conference of German Islands, where over 100 participants exchanged their initiatives and solutions for Islands (www.greenicon.de).

The island has already taken steps to be a change maker in high-sea island transportation when in 2015 it introduced Europe’s first ferry powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG), which is cleaner and more efficient than dirty diesel. The green attributes of the MS Helgoland were confirmed when the ship was awarded Germany’s “Blue Angel” eco-label and received the mobility price by the Greening the Islands Awards in 2018.

Some of the island’s plans for further initiatives, however, are hampered by German regulation and could be better supported by more incisive action at the European level. For example: with the current regulation, the diesel-powered island heating utility system that still is powered by diesel oil; the electricity that arrives via a cable from the mainland under current rules is difficult to use for heating purposes, forcing Helgoland to keep its diesel-powered facility in operation.

“On the legislative front, the Greening the Islands Observatory is actively assisting Helgoland by highlighting virtuous examples internationally that could be used as references to improve German support for its ambitions in sustainability. Besides, many problems of Helgoland are similar to those faced by other EU islands and the GTI Observatory is willing to bring them to the attention of the European Commission”, said Gianni Chianetta scientific director of the Greening the Islands Observatory.

All the different options under study at last week’s event are aimed at keeping Helgoland at the forefront in terms of smart, integrated and green solutions. In renewable energy, the meeting examined the possibility of installing clean energy technologies that respect the local landscape and its populations of rare birds, for example by using solutions, e.g. small vertical axis windmills. It is hoped that the 1,500 inhabitants of Helgoland can be encouraged to opt for green power supplies themselves, confirming a community-based approach to its sustainable future.

Other ideas being examined include making Helgoland an innovation hub in desalination of both brackish and sea water with the participation of research institutions. Helgoland is currently the only German municipality to uses desalination for its fresh water supply (since 1962) and can offer to host selected companies interested in testing cutting-edge technologies that can take advantage of its favourable environment. Besides, innovative reuse options for effluent from new waste water plant being built will be evaluated.

The existing commitment to environmentally friendly transport could be extended by providing recharging facilities to harbour and vessels berthed in it and testing a small number of autonomous electric vehicles to shuttle tourists or their luggage to hotels.

You can read the priorities to come out of the Helgoland meeting here.