Netherlands' "ugliest" city home to huge solar power venture

The central Dutch city of Almere is to be home to the world's third-largest solar energy installation, built on a 7,000-square-metre artificial island, and is set to provide 10 per cent of the city's domestic hot water.

The solar energy installation will provide around 10 per cent of the energy used to supply hot water to some 2,700 homes in the city.

On February 29, Almere and the energy provider Nuon signed a contract for the development of the solar power field.

"The size of this solar power field is unprecedented in the Netherlands," Nuon press spokeswoman Susanne Klawer told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa .

"It is also the third largest solar power field in the world. Only Denmark and Sweden have bigger ones."

With an area of 7,000 square metres, the size of approximately three football fields, the solar power field covers just less than half the surface of the 15,000 square metre island. The solar power island is scheduled to open on June 21, 2009 - a symbolic date since June 21 is the longest day in the northern hemisphere.

The energy will be used for a city-heating system.

Usually, each home has its own central heating boiler or immersion heater which heats up the water used in a home's radiators and taps. In city heating, the water is heated centrally for an entire city or city quarter.

Once heated, the water runs through an underground system of pipes and tubes to all homes and buildings, providing them with hot water for heating and domestic use.

Nuon and the municipality claim the solar collector island will not only be environmentally-friendly, but also "a landmark piece of design."

It is, however, doubtful the Dutch inhabitants will agree with that.

Almere, founded in 1976 and now with some 178,000 inhabitants, has traditionally advertised itself as a city of modern and trendy design - but the Dutch public perceive it as desolate and boring.

Late last week, Almere was dubbed as the "ugliest city of the Netherlands" after a survey by the Dutch daily Volkskrant newspaper.

Nuon says the sun collectors are expected to cut by 50 per cent the carbon dioxide levels required to generate the necessary energy for the 2,700 homes.

"The sun collector island is one of several large-scale revolutionary initiatives by Almere that will benefit the environment," says Almere spokesman Peter Spek.

"We have also commissioned American architect William McDonough to develop an entire cradle-to-cradle neighbourhood, called Almere Poort (Gate of Almere). It will be completed within the next five years," he says.

Cradle-to-cradle is the theory that says everything humanity needs can be made from environmentally-friendly, 100-per-cent sustainable material.

In 2002, McDonough and German chemist and university professor Michael Baungart published their theory in a book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things.

The two have since been commissioned to develop a number of cradle- to-cradle projects.

Last year, the town of Venlo in the southern Netherlands began to develop Western Europe's largest horticulture centre - serving some 30 million consumers within a 150-kilometre radius stretching from the Netherlands to Germany's industrial Ruhr heartland - according to the cradle-to-cradle ideology.

Almere, the eighth largest city of the Netherlands, has now followed suit.

"Almere Poort will contain sustainable homes and the energy provided for these homes will also originate from sustainable energy," says Spek.

Asked whether the consumer will also benefit financially from solar energy, Nuon spokeswoman Klawer diplomatically says "the consumer will not see prices rise."

Spek points out that "building a sun collector field and other environmentally-friendly facilities requires a major investment."

"Someone has to pay for that," he adds.

Nuon says it is receiving a 1.5 million euros (2.27 million dollars) in a subsidy for the solar collector project, as part of European Union projects Crescendo and Concerto.

Asked about the total costs of the project and the number of years until the investment will start to pay off for Nuon, the company says it "does not release such information until after the project has been completed."

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