Sustainable Cities™

Almere: Sun Island

Almere Zoneiland (Sun Island) is located in the Noorderplassen-West district in Almere and it is the first project in the Netherlands, where houses in a residential area is heated by a single solar energy system collectively. The project is financially supported by the EU and implemented in a cooperation between the Dutch energy company Nuon, Almere Municipality and local citizens.

Solpaneler på sol-øen i Noorderplassen-West, foto: Gemeente Almere/Almere City Marketing

According to the Dutchmens God creates the world, but the Dutchmens created the Netherlands. The Netherlands is one of Europe's most densely populated countries, which has led to large artificiel land reclamation projects. The province of Flevoland reclaimed from the former Zuiderzee lake in the middle of the Netherlands, is one of the largest land reclamation projects in the country. In the southern part of the province east of Amsterdam is the Municipality and Town of Almere. Flevoland and Almere is considered by many environmental and urban planners as the very epitome of the Netherlands.

The Netherland's fastest growing city
In opposition to most historic European cities developed over centuries, Almere has developed from scratch to become a large city within 40 years. From having a population of zero forty years ago, the city of Almere has approximately 180,000 inhabitants and it is estimated that by 2015 the number will rise to 250,000 inhabitants. Due to the population growth, the planning, and the location, Almere has become the Netherland's fastest growing city and Europe's fastest growing 'New Town'. It has been central from the beginning that Almere should be designed with an urban development in a large scale. This has led to that the district of Almere is cohesive and well connected with both bicycle lanes, bus and train links, besides being bound together by the city's heating system.

Pioneering urban planning
Almere is known for its pioneering role when it comes to how a political vision can affect everyday life in the city. From a social and planning perspective the Almere planning experiment is interesting because it shows how a city can be developed from scratch and still function in the 21st century. Yet Almere can be criticized for its lack of identity. Making Almere a city with a strong city image the municipality together with the world famous Dutch architect Rem Koolhas has developed a masterplan for the city center and shopping area.

Zoneiland (Sun Island)
Another way to create identity for Almere is through experimental urban development like the project Zoneiland (Sun Island). The Zoneiland contains 520 solar panels covering an area of approximately 7000 m2, equivalent to 1.5 football fields. The scale of the project makes it the world's third largest solar panel project. As supplement to the Zoneiland some of the eco-houses in Noorderplassen-West's are build to be 10% more energy efficient than the standard and contributes with their own private solar power systems.

The idea behind the solar island is simple: The Zoneiland system functions equivalent to having a water hose lying outside on a sunny day. The water in the tube is heated by the sun all year round, even on cloudy days. After being heated up, the water is pumped directly into the heating network of the city district, providing 2700 homes with heated water. Annually the Zoneiland provides 9,750 gigajoules of renewable, sustainable energy, equal to 10% of Almere city's total annual energy needs. The rest of the energy is provided by the local power plant in Almere.

50% C02 reduction and a Green Image of the City
By supplying the city with renewable sustainable energy, the Zoneiland help to reduce the CO2 production by 50%. This reduction in CO2 is equivalent to the amount of CO2 saved if every household using the new energy source, annually drove 12.000 km less in their cars. Another advantage of the solar energy system is that it has no rotating parts, which means that it is easier to maintain, unlike for example wind turbines. The estimated lifetime of the solar system is about 25 years.

The solar energy sector has been growing worldwide over the past 10 years and the systems has become more accessible. The accessibility will probably lead to that projects like the Zoneiland in Almere no longer will be a rarity in the years to come. The Zoneiland project is not only leading the way when it comes to sustainable solutions but also when it comes to giving Almere a new green image of the city.

Read more
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Last updated Tuesday, January 21, 2014