KleefBlog

Vertical Farming with Recycled Shipping Containers

by John Brian Shannon
Originally published at JohnBrianShannon.com

There are hundreds of thousands of used, high-quality metal shipping containers taking up acres of storage land in port cities all over the world.

Platoon, Kunsthalle - Berlin, Germany - 40 Shipping Container Cargotecture Building
Home in a Box constructed an indoor playground and rentable meeting space in Berlin from used shipping containers.

Some enterprising companies have taken to creating domestic living spaces, commercial buildings or storage lots out of the huge surplus of the used containers which tend to accumulate in the developed world as it is too expensive to ship them back to China, empty. (We buy their stuff, they don’t buy ours)

Anyway, there are hundreds of thousands of them scattered around the world and can be had for as little as $1500-$3600. apiece (in ‘as is’ condition)

Shipping containers are the perfect containment architecture for vertical gardens

Shipping containers are engineered to be very strong and can be stacked up to 9-high without any additional supports. Windows can even be cut into the metal panels without weakening the structural integrity (most of the strength is in the corners where they lock together) so that daylight may enter the structure.

“Reusable shipping containers provide a cost effective and sustainable approach to building design.” — Public Sector and Local Government Magazine

OBS Tower project. Container City
The (temporary) OBS Tower was an impressive addition to the Stratford Olympic Park.
Located on a tree lined public plaza within the park, the OBS Tower has created space for ground floor food outlets with their own kitchen, technical rooms and 10 broadcasting studios over two further floors — each one offering the visiting media studios with unobstructed views over the main stadium through the large glass frontage.

Might as well get the roof working for you

Dramatically lower cost solar panels are available on the market today. A couple of decades ago it cost over $100 per watt (installed price) to get your power from solar panels during the daytime and without battery backup. As of 2014, it costs less than $4.00 per watt (installed price in the U.S.A.) and if you live in Europe it costs about $2.00 per watt (installed price in Europe)

If you’re wondering about the difference in price between the U.S.A. and Europe, it’s only the profit margin that makes the difference. All the solar panels are comparably priced, as are the inverter units, wiring, etc. and often come from the same manufacturer in China.

So far, we have super cheap and stackable containment for vertical gardens and we have low-cost daytime electricity

Now what about night-time electricity? We have some choices. We can tap the grid and pay the regular commercial electricity rate to run the grow lights and the heat, we can purchase building scale battery systems from a company like SolarCity or you can run a diesel powered generator (a gen-set) for electrical power.

The good news is that commercial battery systems to complement solar panel installations have fallen in price and are approaching price parity with other grid-alternative power sources

Also, diesel fuel prices have risen dramatically since the invention of the gen-set, but these units (although they do emit copious amounts of pollution and you can’t run them indoors) are very reliable and it is almost impossible that a crop failure could result from a gen-set failure as another unit could quickly be transported to the location and hooked up before much crop damage could occur.

Grid power is fine, but to prevent crop failure in the case of winter-time power outages, a gen-set or battery backup is a necessity.

keetwonen
Shipping container college dorms being assembled in Amsterdam.
shipping-container-student-apartments-keetwonen-1
The massive Keetwonen complex houses 1,000 students.
College dorms in the Netherlands.
College dorms in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Demand for these units is high, as they are soundproof and secure.
College dorms in the Netherlands.
College dorms in the Netherlands house many thousands of students and not just at this location in Amsterdam.

So, it appears that college dorms and BBC broadcasting facilities (for two good examples) can be easily assembled using these massive Lego-like building blocks.

What would we need in order to build vertical gardens?

  1. Land area equal to one city block
  2. A number of stackable, used shipping containers
  3. Solar panel array installed on top of the shipping containers, equal in size to one city block
  4. Backup power via battery or gen-set
  5. Grid connection
  6. Located near any major city
  7. A number of grow lights per unit
  8. Hydroponic or low-soil agriculture
  9. Compost container
  10. A number of staff to perform seeding, care and harvesting of plants
  11. One maintenance person per location
Crou shipping container housing from France.
Cité a Docks is a four-story building assembled out of 100 shipping containers to make student apartments. Cattani Architects equipped each 258 square-foot room with bathrooms, kitchens, free Wi-Fi, and heat and sound insulation.

The great thing about these super-strong building blocks, is that they can be arranged in any number of ways to suit individual site requirements. Standard container lengths start at 10 feet, 20, 40, 48 and 53 feet — but individual units can be welded or bolted together to arrive at any number of lengths.

HIVE-INN CITY FARM NYC
HIVE-INN CITY FARM New York City (proposed)

Interior-wise, any number of efficient-space designs are possible. Growing indoors where there are no drought, flooding, pests, human theft, or other concerns can be hundreds of times more efficient than conventional farming — and growing indoors means year-round crops. Thanks to solar-powered grow lights.

Hive-Inn City Farm design concept
The Hive-Inn City Farm design is only a concept at this point (see the OVA Facebook page)

None of it is rocket science, it’s ‘just’ an opportunity begging for a chance!

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What is Climate Change? [Video]

What Is Climate Change? [Video] | September 16th, 2014
by

Remember the difference between weather and climate? We know what happens when the weather changes—it’s obvious. Climate is another story. Read on.

What is climate change? from WHAT IS CLIMATE? (S. Dechert via vocesverdes.org)
What is climate change? from WHAT IS CLIMATE? (S. Dechert via vocesverdes.org)

When it rains, you put on a raincoat or take your umbrella when you go out. It snows: time for high boots, a heavier coat, scarf, and warm gloves. And sunny days, well, they’re the best for being outdoors, unless it’s noon in the tropics. What’s more difficult for us to perceive, from the relatively short perspective of one human lifetime, is that like weather, climate changes too.

youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYwqHc3Ib7M?feature=oembed

What is climate change? On historic maps, we see climate change in the advance and retreat of glaciers, the transitory nature of coastlines, and the periodic appearance and drowning of islands. Species change in response to it. Scientists have learned to measure these climate fluctuations using treetrunk rings, snow lines, fossil records, and cores of ancient ice or seabed. In the past 50 years, we have even devised sophisticated satellite instruments to reveal changes in earth’s land, air, water, and ice, or in the sun and the energy it puts out.

All these measurements have taught us that Earth’s climate changes naturally. Over the past million years there have been a number of cold stages, or “ice ages”— cooler times when much of earth’s water has frozen into ice caps covering the poles and glaciers extending from them toward the tropics.

Earth's geological timeline (imgarcade.com, economist.com)
Earth’s geological timeline (imgarcade.com, economist.com)

During the interglacial periods, which are shorter than the icy ones, earth’s temperature rises and the snow and ice melt, increasing sea levels.

Around the end of the last ice age (the Weichsel, above), the earth transitioned into the benign interglacial climate of the Holocene epoch. At this time, a land bridge called Beringia existed between Siberia and Alaska. It enabled east Asian migrants to become “native Americans.” Through Dutch fishing boats and recent North Sea oil drilling, we have discovered that around the same time, humans could walk from the current nation of Holland all the way to the Irish Sea. Before the English Channel formed, Great Britain was a peninsula linked to the rest of Europe by a low, ecologically rich plain called Doggerland. Over only ten thousand years or so, a temperature rise of 4 degrees C. and accompanying sea level rise of only a few hundred feet eliminated both of these bridges between continents.

  • Scientists have various theories about what makes climate so fickle over the long run. They’ve found any or all of these factors important to some degree to the question of what is climate change.

    Milankovitch cycles, from What Is Climate? (source: dandebat.dk)
    Milankovitch cycles, from What Is Climate? (source: dandebat.dk)
  • Small changes in earth’s orbit (Milankovitch cycles) caused by the variable tilt of the planet, its slightly eccentric orbit, and its axial (gyroscopic) precession.
  • Variations in the sun’s energy output, measured as changes in the amount of radiation it emits.
  • Orbital dynamics of earth and moon.
  • Motion of earth’s tectonic plates with seismic activity (drifting continents), which changes the relative locations of landforms and affects wind and ocean currents.

    Earth's tectonic plates (public domain)
    Earth’s tectonic plates (public domain)
  • Impact of meteorites—not small phenomena like the recent ones in Russian, but relatively huge masses like the six-mile (10-km) Chicxulub asteroid that smacked into Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula 66 million years ago. Its impact sent millions of tons of material high into the atmosphere, blacking out the sun for months. It caused the earth’s last great extinction, abruptly and forcefully wiping out all dinosaurs without wings, ending the Cretaceous period of life on the planet, and paving the way for the Cenozoic and the emergence of mammals.
  • Volcanic mega-eruptions, especially from the prehistoric caldera-forming colossi in the American West near Yellowstone, the North Island of New Zealand, subtropical and temperate South America, and potentially from the massive igneous province forming in Iceland. Supervolcanoes like these help determine what is climate change. They send huge amounts of ejecta (ash, gas, and aerosol droplets) into earth’s stratosphere. (Even historic, relatively small eruptions at places like Mauna Loa in Hawaii [33 eruptions in the past 170 years], Indonesia’s Krakatoa [1883], Mount St. Helens, Washington [1980], Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines [1991], and Iceland’s Eyjafjallajoekull [March 2010] figure into what is climate change because they have disturbed the atmosphere and temporarily cooled the earth.)
  • With meteorites and volcanoes, we can watch earth’s atmosphere in flux, as visible particles crowd the skies. But along with them comes an invisible, and possibly invincible, alteration in the atmosphere—in the gases that comprise it, including its concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane. We can see these influences in the deep Vostok ice core samples from Antarctica that record atmospheric composition over the past 800,000 years.
97% global agreement on anthropogenic climate change (gawker.com)
97% global agreement on anthropogenic climate change (gawker.com)
Humans have survived climate changes, from What Is Climate? (source: skepticalscience.com)
Humans have survived climate changes, from What Is Climate? (source: skepticalscience.com)

On this final accompaniment of climate change—atmospheric variation—today’s research is nearly unanimous (97%). What is climate change? A lot of the phenomenon has to do with the effects of increasing certain atmospheric gases. The temperatures on earth’s surface (land and oceans) are directly related to the chemical composition of our planet’s thin atmospheric shell.

Global warming since 1880 (NOAA)
Global warming since 1880 (NOAA)

Climate shapes and alters natural ecosystems. By doing so, it affects the rise and fall of human civilizations. It governs where and how people, plants, and animals live. It juggles the water, food, and health of its inhabitants. Within the brief time of recorded history (last green bar above), our climate has been relatively stable. It has been generous to human life, allowing exploration, trade, development, labor-saving invention, and even space flight and greater awareness of our universe.

But over the past 200 years, as humans industrialized and populations grew rapidly, the formerly placid natural phenomenon of climate change has been occurring at a much faster rate. We know from meteorological records kept since 1880 that the planet’s temperature has risen about one degree Fahrenheit in the last century. The results of this apparently small change have been impressive. We’ve seen more snow and ice melt, a rise in ocean levels, intensifying storms, and changes in crop seasons and animal reproductive and migration schedules.

Rise in energy consumption since industrial revolution, from What Is Climate Change? (source: arctic-news.blogspot.com)
Rise in energy consumption since industrial revolution, from What Is Climate Change? (source: arctic-news.blogspot.com)

In fact, over the past couple of decades, scientists have started saying we have switched over from the Holocene to the Anthropocene (human-centered) epoch, and the polar bear on a shrinking ice floe has become a visual cliche. None of the natural causes discussed earlier can fully explain the climate changes we are seeing today. The accelerating temperature results from a massive new influence shaping world climate—the human factor. Our expanding quest for and use of energy has given people the ability to alter the climate. Our own Promethean activities now alter the balance of gases that trap the sun’s heat within the atmosphere, which until now has been earth’s protective greenhouse. Amounts of carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas, are rising sharply to a level unmatched in the past 650,000 years, and other potentially harmful gases like methane are increasing, too. What we commonly call “nature” still makes up much of the force behind climate, but almost all the world’s scientists now say that humans can change climate also. Expanding populations produce and cook food. We drive cars. We heat and cool our houses mechanically. We construct and use factories. All our activities consume energy.

Michael Mann's hockey stick world temperature graph, from What Is Climate? (source: desmogblog.com)
Michael Mann’s hockey stick world temperature graph, from What Is Climate? (source: desmogblog.com)

Since the Industrial Revolution, we have obtained energy through the quick fix of mining and burning our limited reserves of coal, oil, and gas. It’s a bit like raiding the kitchen in the middle of the night. Where there’s fire, there’s smoke, though. Look at the “hockey stick” plot of global temperature (right). It shows that instead of continuing the downward trend toward another ice age—which the historical record indicates we should expect—temperatures are rising, and rising very fast.

Burning for energy changes the atmosphere by raising levels of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases. And changing the atmosphere changes everything.

The bottom line is that we no longer know what to expect from our climate. Extinction of many species (including our own) is a possibility. We cannot calculate the amounts of greenhouse gases that will enter the atmosphere, how much and how quickly warmer temperatures will lead to other changes, or even what will be going on in our own backyards by 2050.

Climate changes graphic (epa.gov)
Climate changes graphic (epa.gov)

It’s not just nature that’s running the show any more. The rules have changed. The compositions of our air, land, and seas are in metamorphosis. We find ourselves conducting an unplanned and potentially vast experiment as we segue from the Holocene into the Anthropocene. We can no longer use our wisdom from earth’s past to discern what the future will bring.

This is the first time humans have been capable of causing major climate change on our planet. However: this is also the first time we have had the opportunity to alter its course.

 

About the Author

covers environmental, health, renewable and conventional energy, and climate change news. She’s worked for groundbreaking environmental consultants and a Fortune 100 health care firm, writes two top-level blogs on Examiner.com, ranked #2 on ONPP’s 2011 Top 50 blogs on Women’s Health, and attributes her modest success to an “indelible habit of poking around to satisfy my own curiosity.”

Can Switzerland export its amazing success story?

byJohn Brian Shannon (This article first appeared at JohnBrianShannon.com)

Subalpine lake in Switzerland
Sub-alpine lake in Switzerland

Let’s look at Switzerland today, a tiny nation of 8 million people. Historically a neutral country, Switzerland isn’t a member of the EU, nor of NATO, but it is a member of the EU’s common security and defence policy (CSDP) and it became a member of the UN on September 10, 2002.

Some other notable facts about Switzerland are that it is ruled by direct democracy where citizens can block any law or get a new proposal heard and voted on with only 50,000 signatures, and the country has proximity to the largest market in the world, the European Union.

It is also one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

Switzerland makes the best of its opportunities

Switzerland ranks in the top 5 places to live in the world, personal income ranks in the top 5 in the world, it ranks in the top 5 education systems and in the top 5 health care systems in the world. In many other measures Switzerland ranks among the top 10 globally.

How did little Switzerland with only 8 million people, few resources, and buried under a blanket of cold and snow for 6 months of the year, manage all of that and so much more?

As is often the case, the answer is good management!

  • With less than 2% of the world’s population Switzerland has attained 19th place (nominal GDP) and 36th place (PPP) out of 191 countries
  • It boasts one of the highest per capita incomes in the world at $137,094 median (PPP)
  • The country has the highest average wealth per adult in the world, at $540,000 (PPP)
  • Switzerland has low unemployment rates at 3.2% (2014 and 2013) and 2.9% (2012)
  • The Federal government not only runs a balanced budget, it often runs a tidy budget surplus
  • The public debt-to-GDP is a low 46.7% (2012)
  • Inflation ranged between .7% and .2% over the last 5 years
  • It is one of the world’s most stable economies
  • Noted as one of the most politically stable nations in the world
  • All the major credit rating agencies give Switzerland a AAA credit rating
  • Switzerland is the world’s 20th largest exporter at $308.3 billion dollars (CIA Factbook)
  • The Global Competitiveness Report by the World Economic Forum ranks Switzerland’s economy as the world’s most competitive
Labour productivity Europe 2012
Productivity in Europe 2012

Image by Monsieur Fou (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

What time is it? It’s always Swiss Time.

Rolex.com
Rolex.com The world’s finest Swiss timepieces

Historically covered by a thick blanket of snow for six or more months of the year, the Swiss had plenty of time on their hands. So they decided long ago to make some ultra-high quality clocks to mark time until the return of spring.

The Swiss clock and wristwatch industry exported $20 billion dollars worth of timepieces in 2011, making the Swiss #1 exporters of timepieces in the world. Exports of watches and clocks from Switzerland have been ticking upwards, some years showing a 14% increase compared to the previous year.

If you’d like to buy a piece of art that also displays time, you’ll recall these Swiss brand names; Rolex, TAG-Heuer, Hublot, Zenith, Swatch and International.

Switzerland, where the world’s banks do their banking

Owing to long-standing Swiss neutrality and the careful management of Swiss national sovereignty, a stable environment for the banking sector evolved which was observed by many foreign nations and their central banks, hence most of the worlds central banks maintain offices and conduct business there.

The financial sector in Switzerland contributes approximately 12% of Switzerland’s GDP and employs 200,000 people. It is known internationally as the world’s banking capital and all banks cooperate with the Bank of International Settlements, based in Basel, Switzerland. The country’s banks processed a grand total of 5.4 trillion Swiss francs in 2009.

On top of that, foreign banks operating in the country manage almost another 1 trillion Swiss francs worth of assets per year.

Nothing but fresh air in all directions

Switzerland is #1 (2014) and #2 (2013) in the world when it comes to creating a progressively cleaner environment. And not only visionary policy, but tangible results too! As the Swiss work to cut total energy consumption levels in half by 2050, they are using cleaner fuels, more renewable energy, and in 2011 decided to begin the process of decommissioning all of their nuclear and coal power plants, a process which will be completed by 2045. (OECD Swiss environmental link here)

Lucerne, Switzerland

Lucerne and Lucerne Lake, Switzerland. Image by Clare66 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Simple, but effective changes have showed promising results. The large amount of household waste set out for curbside collection was tackled via pre-paid stickers that must be placed on each bag to be picked up at the curb. This has dramatically reduced the amount of waste that must be processed.

A large number of complementary projects are underway in the country, which range from sustainable forestry practices (forests cover 31% of the country), to even more world-class transit systems (the spectacular views are complimentary), to the 2,000-Watt Society which aims to lower carbon footprints by cutting total energy consumption levels in half by 2050.

The 2000-watt society (2,000-Watt Society) is an environmental vision, first introduced in 1998 by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich, which pictures the average First World citizen reducing their overall average continuous energy usage to no more than 2,000 watts (48 kilowatt-hours per day) by the year 2050 – without lowering their standard of living.

The concept addresses not only personal or household energy use, but the total for the whole society, divided by the population.

Two thousand watts is approximately the current world average rate of total energy use. This compares to averages of around 6,000 watts in western Europe, 12,000 watts in the United States, 1,500 watts in China, 1,000 watts in India, 500 watts in South Africa and only 300 watts in Bangladesh. Switzerland itself, currently using an average of around 5,000 watts, was last a 2000-watt society in the 1960s.

It is further envisaged that the use of carbon based fuels would be ultimately cut to no more than 500 watts per person within 50 to 100 years.

The vision was developed in response to concerns about climate change, energy security and energy supplies. It’s supported by the Swiss Federal Office of Energy, the Association of Swiss Architects and Engineers, and other bodies. — Wikipedia

Swiss Army Knife stats

The UN DESA list says Swiss citizens have the second-highest life expectancy in the world. Switzerland is also ranked #1 (tied) on the Bribe Payers Index indicating very low levels of business corruption. For the last five years the country has been ranked #1 in economic and tourist competitiveness according to the Global Competitiveness Report and the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report respectively, both developed by the World Economic Forum.

Zürich and Geneva have been ranked among the top cities with the highest quality of life in the world. Switzerland has very low tax rates as compared to other western nations. More Swiss citizens have won Nobel Prizes, than any other single country’s citizens.

Flag of the Red Cross
The monochromatically reversed Swiss flag became the symbol of the Red Cross Movement, founded in 1863 by Henri Dunant.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent, the United Nations (the UN Palace of Nations is the 2nd-largest UN facility in the world), the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and about 200 other international organisations, including the World Trade Organization and the World Economic Forum in Davos all have their headquarters in Switzerland.

Furthermore, many sport federations and organisations are located throughout the country, such as the International Basketball Federation in Geneva, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) in Nyon, the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) and the International Ice Hockey Federation both in Zürich, the International Cycling Union in Aigle, and the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne.

There is a world-class scientific community that also thrives within the country, some of it centred around the CERN particle accelerator (the largest such device in the world) which is what recently confirmed the presence of the (up-till-then-theoretical) Higgs Bosun. Also, the World Wide Web began as a CERN project called ENQUIRE, initiated by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989.

The largest Swiss companies by revenue are Glencore, Gunvor, Nestlé, Novartis, Hoffmann-La Roche, ABB, Mercuria Energy Group and Adecco.

Also, notable are UBS AG, Zurich Financial Services, Credit Suisse, Barry Callebaut, Swiss Re, Tetra Pak, The Swatch Group and Swiss International Airlines. Switzerland is ranked as having one of the most powerful economies in the world.– Wikipedia

Healthcare in Switzerland

All Swiss citizens are required by law to carry private health insurance and the healthcare insurance companies are required to accept every citizen-applicant. It is an expensive system, but with high wages and even high-minimum-wages in Switzerland it is an affordable system for the Swiss. As noted above, citizens enjoy the 2nd highest life expectancy in the world and even that statistic continues to improve.

The Commonwealth Fund 2013 International Health Policy Survey in Eleven Countries has ranked Switzerland #2 in the world for overall healthcare outcomes.

The Commonwealth Fund 2013 International Health Policy Survey in Eleven Countries
The Commonwealth Fund 2013 International Health Policy Survey in Eleven Countries

Swiss President about town

To give you the best idea of how relaxed and civilized Switzerland is, the President of Switzerland, Mr. Didier Burkhalter, takes the train to work just like other citizens and was photographed recently at the train station waiting for the train.

That’s the way it is in Switzerland. The President of the country goes to the train station to catch the train like everyone else. He stands on the platform waiting for the train and texting on his SmartPhone and nobody there thinks a thing about it… yet in North America this is seen as a novel act and it goes viral on Twitter in only 8 minutes.

Switzerland summary

With only a tiny land mass, no sea access, a small population, minimal natural resources (compared to the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, Brazil or Argentina, for just a few examples) and long winters combined with fragile ecosystems, Switzerland has created a thriving and special society inside a very pure form of democracy — from little else than pure ingenuity. It’s no wonder the Swiss citizens have been awarded more Nobel Prizes than any other nation!

This doesn’t cover half of Switzerland’s achievements and all of this and much more is happening on only 15,940 square miles of land, and most of that is covered with Swiss Alps and glaciers.

If Norway can succeed like this, why can’t every nation?

by

Cruise ship navigates northern Norway coastline. Image courtesy of visitnorway com
Cruise ship navigates Norway coastline. Image courtesy of visitnorway.com

Let’s look at Norway, a tiny nation of 5.1 million people. Norway has a medium-sized undersea petroleum reserve, some timber resource and proximity to the largest market in the world. It also once boasted a booming fishing industry, however, with fish stocks in decline only a fraction of that former fishery remains.

On the bright side, Norway has more scenic views per kilometre than anywhere on the planet.

But other than that, the long and narrow, mostly empty country that exists along the North Sea spends most of the year under a blanket of snow, ice, and bitter cold.

Norway makes the best of its opportunities

And yet, Norway has made the most of its opportunities, ranking regularly in the top 5 places to live in the world, personal income ranks in the top 5 in the world, in the top 5 education systems in the world, and in the top 10 health care systems in the world. In many other measures Norway ranks among the top 10 globally.

How did little Norway, with only 5 million people, few resources, and buried under a blanket of cold and snow for 6 months of the year, manage all of that and so much more?

As is so often the case, the answer is found within the question itself. Good management!

Many nations have more generous helpings of natural resources and opportunities available to them compared to tiny Norway, and yet for some strange reason they can’t claim anywhere near Norway’s economic success and resultant quality-of-life for residents.

Norway overcame many obstacles to get where it is today, and chief among them was bad advice!

At Norway’s entry into the petroleum market after discovery of undersea oil and gas reserves in the 1969, the Norwegians were told that oil companies would leave if they weren’t granted exemption from the country’s high taxation, stalling any future development.

The Norwegians were also told that high personal tax rates would cause a flight of capital from the country and that executives and professionals would flee to greener pastures, leaving only a blue collar economy behind which would require Norway to thenceforth hire expensive foreign consultants to conduct the government’s business, high finance and corporate law.

Norway was also warned over-investing in its health care system and education systems could wreck their overall economy.

And the Norwegians were told that their country was too cold, too forbidding, and too isolated to have any kind of serious tourism business.

Well, lets look at how it all turned out, shall we?

  • With less than 1% of the world’s population, Norway’s economy has reached 22nd (nominal) / 46th (PPP) out of 191 countries, according to the CIA Factbook, with an average of 3.5% (2013) growth throughout the economy
  • Norwegian public debt is very low at 30.3% of GDP (2012)
  • Norway’s high productivity score, ranked #15 by the World Economic Forum in 2012 still puzzles economists worldwide
  • The WEF also scored Norway at #3 globally for its macroeconomic environment in 2012
  • Norway’s inflation rate is stable at 2.2% (2013)
  • Unemployment is stable at 3.3% (2013)
  • Norway maintains an AAA credit rating with the financial rating agencies (2012)
  • Norway’s entire economy produced $499.8 billion GDP with 3.1% growth in 2012
  • Out of that $500 billion dollar economy, Norway maintains one of the highest per capita incomes in the world at; 492,000 NOK / $79,104 (2013) (PPP) which places them at (3rd) position in the world
  • Monthly incomes for all employees, including male and female, full time and part time workers in the country rose 3.9% from 2012 to 2013, averaging 41,000 NOK / $6592, per month (2013)
  • Norway donates almost 1% of GDP each year to worthy causes around the world, amounting to slightly over $2 billion dollars of foreign aid annually.
Norway personal income chart 2013
Norway personal income chart 2013

Norway Healthcare

In 2000, healthcare in Norway was ranked by the WHO at 11th position in the world out of 191 countries, but in 2014 was ranked at 7th position by Commonwealth Fund Group in a comprehensive study of the top 11 healthcare systems in the world. See: The Commonwealth Fund 2013 International Health Policy Survey in Eleven Countries comparison charts here.

The Commonwealth Fund 2013 International Health Policy Survey in Eleven Countries
The Commonwealth Fund 2013 International Health Policy Survey in Eleven Countries

Tourism in Norway

The official emblem of the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway is a stylized aurora borealis (northern lights) and snow crystals.
The official emblem of the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

Although the incredibly scenic fjords are unavailable for tourism six months of the year, the picturesque cities dotting Norway’s far-flung fjords welcome thousands of cruise ship travelers all summer and are a vital contributor to the country’s economy. Inland, various scenic driving and hiking tours are available and a surprising number of homeowners advertise bed-and-breakfast accommodations.

Skiing and snowboarding facilities exist country-wide and the Norwegian’s have capitalized on all six months of snow and cold temperatures, bringing a combined tourism industry from almost nil, to a multi-billion dollar level with four decades of dedicated effort.

The Lillehammer Winter Olympics officially known as the XVII Olympic Winter Games were held in Lillehammer, Norway in 1994. Norway’s capital city of Oslo held the 1952 Winter Olympics.

Total tourism revenues at the height of the global financial crisis in 2009 were in the neighbourhood of $6.6 billion dollars (direct and indirect) and $319 million dollars (direct) annually.

Norway’s Oil and Gas industry

Norway extracts 1.92 million barrels per day from its North Sea crude oil reserves and also extracts some 200,000 Million square metresᶟ (oil equivalent) of natural gas.

Petroleum profits are taxed at 78%, which nets Norway significant annual revenue. Even with the highest oil and gas taxation on the planet, Norway has no shortage of oil companies willing to exploit the medium sized offshore reserves.

One of the companies involved in Norway’s oil and gas industry is (67% government-owned) Statoil, Norway’s state oil company. It is the 11th largest petroleum company in the world, reporting gross revenues of $723 billion dollars in 2012.

Norway Petroleum Directorate
Norway Petroleum Directorate. History and forecast for oil and gas extraction graphic in millions of square metresᶟ oil equivalent, per year.

Why does Norway have $700 billion dollars in the bank? And why did it pass legislation to never spend more than 4% of the total in any given year?

While there’s no question that Norway has done well from its oil and gas, unlike many resource-based nations, Norway has invested its petro dollars in such a way as to create and sustain other industries where it is also globally competitive. The second largest export of Norway is supplies for the petroleum industry, points out Ole Anders Lindseth, the director general of the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy in Norway.

“So the oil and gas activities have rendered more than just revenue for the benefit of the future generations, but has also rendered employment, workplaces and highly skilled industries,” Mr. Lindseth says.

Maximizing the resource is also very important. Because the government is highly invested, (oil profits are taxed at 78 per cent, and in 2011 tax revenues were $36-billion), it is as interested as oil companies, which want to maximize their profits, in extracting the maximum amount of hydrocarbons from the reservoirs. This has inspired technological advances such as parallel drilling, Mr. Lindseth says.

“The extraction rate in Norway is around 50 per cent, which is extremely high in the world average.”

In 1990, the precursor of the Government Pension Fund – Global (GPFG), a sovereign wealth fund, was established for surplus oil revenues. Today the GPFG is worth more than $700-billion.

The GPFG wealth fund is largely invested outside Norway by legislation, and the annual maximum withdrawal is 4 per cent. Through these two measures, Norway has avoided hyper-inflation, and has been able to sustain its traditional industries. — The Globe and Mail

Norway fishing and seafood industry

The wild and farmed fishery and non-fish seafood industry in Norway accounts for billions of dollars of economic activity. Exports totaled $7.1 billion dollars in 2009, $3.8 billion of that from aquaculture. In 2011, aquaculture alone had grown to $4.9 billion.

Guided by the Norwegian government, the fishery has grown into a sustainable industry that meets the needs of Norwegian’s and continued growth is expected for fish and other seafood exports.

Summary of ‘the little country that could’

Rather than complain about the cold weather most of the year, Norway took a long look at its assets and location and decided to make the best of it. A telling refrain you will hear in the Nordic countries is, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” That, in a nutshell, is the Nordic mindset.

Indeed, this speaks volumes about who they are as a people. If you want to go out, you dress appropriately. This worldview seems to have assisted the Norwegians to make the most of their opportunities by taking stock of prevailing situations, and responding appropriately.

Norway: Where ‘what matters most’ — actually matters!

Their guiding principles dictate that the well-being of its citizens must be first and foremost in economic decisions, with care being taken to create a sustainable long-term model.

Ergo, a country of 5 million with limited arable land and harsh winter, simply adapted to their environment and their economic environment. Citizens and non-citizen residents are fairly rewarded for their productivity and loyalty to the country, which further engendered productivity and loyalty.

Norway wisely invested in the country’s future so that all Norwegians can receive a full university or vocational education funded by government taxation and receive free healthcare, and many other citizen benefits. Any resident of Norway — whether they’re a Norwegian citizen or not — can apply to Norway’s public universities and receive a full university education free of charge. The idea behind this is that an educated society brings its own economic benefits and increases the dissemination of knowledge to all corners of the Kingdom of Norway.

Likewise, all residents are covered by Norway’s healthcare service, although it can be challenging for the government to provide timely services to tiny population centres of 10-100 people in very remote parts of the country.

Norway proved it can be done

Putting the needs of citizens first, guaranteeing the safety and security of residents, environmentally-sound development of natural resources and sustainable long-term economic models have placed Norway near the top in all global indicators — and that is in spite of the negatives the country must contend with.

Results matter. Ideology does not

Norway is a model that every country must research carefully to contrast and compare with their own results. Which is what really matters. Results matter. Ideology does not matter.

Let’s hear it for pragmatism!

What matters to Norwegians is the well-being of residents and the strength of the economy, and what matters to the Norwegian government are the ratings of respected indices such as those from the UN, the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Economic Forum (WEF), credit rating agencies and others.

Norway should award itself a Nobel Peace Prize for Excellence in Governance and Society.

Nobel Peace Prize medallion
And, the next Nobel Peace Prize should go to… Norway, for Excellence in Governance and Society.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Related Articles

U.S. Production Tax Credit renewal charts Wind future

by John Brian Shannon

It boils down to this. If the U.S. Production Tax Credit (PTC) is renewed by the U.S. Congress this fall, then wind power is set to boom for the next five years.

If it isn’t renewed, we can expect a few more years like 2013 where due to the uncertainty surrounding the annual PTC expiry/renewal many projects in the U.S. were shelved, resulting in a dismal 1GW of wind installations across the U.S.A. that year.

Without the PTC renewal, 2015-2020 are likely to post similar results in the U.S. for new wind installations — at a time the rest of the world is setting yearly wind power generation and installation records.

European and Chinese wind turbine manufacturers are anticipating the decision as much of their future business could flow from the United States which has huge, untapped wind reserves, both onshore and offshore.

Fossil Fuel economic subsidies

Unlike the massive subsidies and tax breaks for the fossil fuel industries, which literally go up in smoke requiring constant subsidy dollars to continue along their present business model, wind production tax credits are not spent to lower rising fuel costs. Rather, the tax favour allows more wind turbines to be built and installed, resulting in fewer fossil fuel subsidy dollars going up in smoke.

Worldwide, the fossil fuel industry receives over $550 billion dollars of subsidy and tax breaks — and the U.S. alone gives $80 billion to their domestic oil, gas, and coal industries to lower fuel costs for consumers. That’s 1/7th of the world’s total fossil fuel subsidies, right there.

Fossil Fuel externality subsidies

That doesn’t include the implied subsidy of externalities, those costs to society from fossil fuel use that are not factored into the fuel cost and are not paid for by the oil and gas, or coal industries. Everything from the acid rain that eats concrete structures like bridges, skyscrapers, some roadways and concrete sculptures, to polluted water that must be treated before it can be used, to building filtration systems to remove airborne pollutants caused by fossil fuel burning, to medical costs borne by individuals, organizations and governments, and more. The final fossil fuel externality is, of course, the millions of premature deaths worldwide caused by the ever-increasing concentrations of fossil emissions in our atmosphere.

Fossil Fuel externality cost estimated at between $40-80 per ton of CO2

The cost of fossil fuel use is estimated to be on the order of $40-80 per ton of CO2 emitted and those costs are paid, just not at the gas pump. Governments and individuals pay that price — which varies widely depending upon where you live (city, country, downwind of coal power plants, or on the coastline with its usually fresh air).

If we included the externality cost of all fossil fuels, every type of fuel would double in cost. Our coal-fired electricity would double in cost, and removing the direct subsidies would double it again. The same would occur with gasoline and diesel for our cars.

Yes, it’s a lot of money. And one way or another, we’re paying it. Don’t deceive yourself, it is being paid, just not at the gas pump nor on your electricity bill. But we are paying those subsidies and externality costs in our taxes, and in other ways such as higher health costs and lowered life expectancy resulting from our fossil fuel addiction.

Wind PTC subsidy amounts to a paltry 2.3 cents/kWh (if renewed)

None of those externalities exist for wind power. Wind has no $40-80 per ton of CO2 externality. Wind is not asking for worldwide subsidies of $550 billion, nor is it asking for American subsidies of $80 billion dollars.

Wind power in the U.S.A. is asking for a paltry 2.3 cents/kWh over a 10 year period.

The current amount of the PTC is an inflation-adjusted 2.3 cents/kWh for ten years. For use in our levelized cost analysis, we levelized its value over twenty years, the average duration of a wind energy contract. — Visualizing the Production Tax Credit for Wind Energy, Syracuse University / University of California, Irvine / University of California, Berkeley

Here is an infographic that shows some of the ways that wind power assists the U.S. economy, which was provided to us by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

AWEA_Wind_Gaphic_R5
American Wind Energy Association Graphic (R5)

Wind Power jobs

As the graphic demonstrates there are many tangible benefits of wind power in the United States, not the least of which is providing jobs for Americans, attracting billions of dollars of investment, and adding new, clean electrical generation capacity to the utility grid.

Wind turbines, an additional income source for farmers

Many farmers augment their annual income by inviting utility companies to install wind turbines on their farms. While most crops produce between $150-600 per acre of land after costs are deducted, a utility company wind turbine pad rental with 24/7 access, pays approximately $4000 per acre of land, although this varies in different parts of the country. The extreme range for wind turbine installation payments appears to be $2200-6500 per acre, depending on regional wind flows and size and height of the turbine. Unfortunately for farmers, wind turbines and their towers are quite large, limiting installations to a maximum of one turbine per every few acres, depending on the size of the unit.

Windpark-Wind-Farm
By Philip May (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

GE Space Frame Tower

General Electric too, is awaiting the decision and has an entirely new product line ready to deploy, both in turbines with their Brilliant wind turbine technology and their truck-transportable and easily-assembled Space Frame Towers.

GE Space Frame Tower
Introduced in 2014, GE’s five-legged Space Frame Tower is covered by a plastic fabric. Image courtesy of GE.

Be sure to check out another graphic AWEA made earlier this month highlighting some of wind’s many other benefits by clicking here: http://bit.ly/1qtwHBc.

Help us spread the good news about wind power’s good deal by sharing this graphic with friends and colleagues.

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