Water and energy consumption in greenland

The EU's Drinking Water Directive dictates the quality of water in Greenland because Greenland exports food products to the EU countries and elsewhere. No effort is made to save energy or water in either the fishery industry or private households in Greenland.

Water, heat and electricity. The people of Greenland are supplied with these three basic necessities by Nukissiorfiit (Greenland's Energy Supply Company), which is owned by the Home Rule Government of Greenland.

Let us take water first. While the water that comes from Danish taps is mainly groundwater, the situation in Greenland is completely different. The water supply comes from surface water, which means that there are fundamentally different problems to consider than in Denmark, where surface water is only used very exceptionally.

Greenland's water is renowned as some of the finest in the world. The purity of the water has been measured at various locations in Greenland in order, so to speak, to set the instruments used for measuring pollution at zero.

However, that does not change the fact that there are special factors in Greenland that have to be taken into account when water is piped into the towns for use by households and the fishery industry.

From nature to nature

When the snow and ice melt, enormous quantities of water are released in a very short space of time. The water gushes down the mountainsides and into lakes and rivers, where some of it is led into pipes to the waterworks

In the wintertime, decomposition in nature takes place very slowly. This means that leaves and remains of animals, including excrement, have hardly decomposed at all when the spring thaw (freshet) starts. A large part of this plant and animal residue is called humus.

The spring thaw carries large quantities of humus and silt (which is finer than sand) down to the waterworks, where particles are too fine to be retained by the waterworks' sand filters. Therefore, particularly during the spring thaw, consumers sometimes find yellowish brown water coming out of their taps. However, this discolouration has no effect on health.

In all towns, the water is chlorinated to combat harmful bacteria in the drinking water at the waterworks. When the content of humus and silt is high, so-called trihalomethanes sometimes form in connection with chlorination. Trihalomethanes are suspected of being carcinogenic, so there is every reason to try to prevent them from forming. There is international focus on trihalomethanes, and limit values have been set for them in the new EU Drinking Water Directive, which is expected to be implemented in Greenland in 2002. We shall return to this Directive later.

Towns and settlements

I ask how one avoids trihalomethanes in practice. An employee from Nukissiorfiit replies, "We looked into that and carried out some tests in Ilulissat (Jakobshavn) during the spring thaw five years ago."

As mentioned, trihalomethanes occur when chlorine combines with humus, even when there is only a little humus in the water. The humus binds to the silt. "What we do in Ilulissat," says the employee, "is add aluminium sulphate to the water at the same time as we aerate the water. This causes the aluminium sulphate, humus and silt to collect in clumps, which can then be filtered off. The water is only chlorinated after that. The humus and silt are removed first so that trihalomethane compounds do not form."

Surface water is only chlorinated in towns.

In settlements, where the water is not chlorinated, this may mean that food products cannot be directly processed for export. The EU's Drinking Water Directive demands a water quality that is free of micro-organisms, parasites and substances in quantities or concentrations that present a potential risk to health. Greenland is not a member of the EU, but will abide by the EU's Water Framework Directive just as it abides by all other sensible EU rules. All new waterworks are designed and constructed to meet the EU's requirements for reasons of public health and the export of Greenlandic food products.

If a company in the fishery industry wants purer water than dictated by the EU's Water Framework Directive, it must pay for it itself.

Aggressive water

Drinking water planning in Greenland is based on analyses carried out by the consulting engineering firm NIRAS for five towns and one settlement. The project was funded by Dancea. Some of the measurements were taken at a consumer's water tap. The aggressiveness of the water was also tested. Water is called aggressive if it contains carbon dioxide (CO2). Carbon dioxide dissolves ions in copper pipes and thus raises the copper content of the water - possibly beyond the limit value. The individual analyses indicate that this may not be a problem. However, to arrive at a final decision, samples will have to be taken from several towns. If the samples show that the aggressive water does not result in a measurable increase in, for example, copper content, there will be no reason to ban the use of copper pipes.

A ban could make it necessary to change the building regulations on this point. There are no problems with aggressive water in Denmark, and in Greenland it looks as though the water containing CO2 - the aggressive water - is not a problem for people but only for water mains.

Waste water or save it

Water consumption varies between 130 and 180 litres per person per day in towns with a mains supply - e.g. Nuuk. In Copenhagen, water consumption is 120 litres per person per day.

In Upernavik, consumption is 55 litres. This is because there are no flushing toilets and no water mains.

In some towns, the daily water consumption per person used to be as much as 400 litres. Therefore, in 1991, a water-saving campaign was carried out and the mains were examined for leaks.

The campaign resulted in a reduction of consumption in the towns in question to less than 200 litres. The biggest sinner was leaks in the mains.

Water meters?

All one-family houses in Greenland have their own water meter, but in blocks of flats and multi-family houses, the water meter is shared by a group of flats.

Do water meters affect consumption? In three to four towns, Nukissiorfiit investigated how much people could be persuaded to save in electricity, water and heat. The results showed a big potential for heat savings, but almost no effect on electricity and water consumption. Magni Niclasen from Nukissiorfiit says that he himself saw a big fall in the water bill in the Copenhagen apartment building he used to live in simply from reducing the water pressure. Magni Niclasen thinks that is financially more viable than installing water meters in the individual flats.

What about industry

At Nukissiorfiit I am told that the Home Rule Government sets the tariffs for water, heat and electricity. Since Nukissiorfiit is an operating company directly under the Home Rule Government, it has to abide by the rules laid down by the Home Rule Government.

In practice, that means that appropriations for new plant or renovation work within the company's operating areas (water, heat and electricity) must be decided at the political level. The fishery industry is of great importance to Greenland so applications for investment grants for this industry are often political matters. The tariffs paid by the fishery industry for electricity, water and heat are also a political question.

In 1993 companies in the fishery industry complained loudly that their costs were so high that they could not compete on the world market. The Home Rule Government therefore intervened and brought in special industrial tariffs for electricity and water for the industry.

Initially, under the scheme for water, if a company's water consumption exceeded 30,000 m3 a year, the price it paid for its water fell to about one third. However, this scheme led to over-consumption and has been changed: the favourable industrial price now applies only to an agreed annual water quota. Once that has been used up, a company has to pay the full price for the rest of its water consumption.

"We thought we could discern a rise in water consumption at fishery companies," says my contact at Nukissiorfiit. "There was simply no incentive to save water."

Switch off the light

In Denmark, successive energy ministers have not managed to tame the rise in electricity consumption. The same pattern applies in Greenland, although to a lesser extent because the price of electricity there is almost twice the Danish price. From 1990 to 1999 total electricity production for light and power for private households and industry in Nuuk rose by 1.7 per cent per inhabitant.

Both energy saving and energy supply come under Nukissiorfiit, but my contact there says that the company is not doing much at present to inform people about energy savings. He continues: "We could save on street lighting, responsibility for which lies with the public authorities. It is difficult to influence private consumers' behaviour, but the high unit prices for electricity have an entirely natural reducing effect on consumption. In Nuuk, which is supplied with clean energy from the hydroelectric power station in Buksefjord, there is no environmental incentive to put on energy-saving campaigns  as long as the power station has sufficient capacity."

In the case of electricity production based on gas oil, less than half of the energy supplied is used for electricity; the other half becomes heat. In 11 of Greenland's 18 towns, part of this residual heat goes to the district heating network. A lot of attention is being paid to getting financially viable district heating networks established because there is still a residual heat potential that could be used instead of being lost.

Negotiations are going on at present with the hospital in Aasiaat (Egedesminde) about supplying the hospital with residual heat from electricity production.