Geography KS3 / GCSE: Sustainable power in Copenhagen, Denmark

Ade Adepitan travels to CopenHill, an energy plant in Copenhagen that runs on rubbish rather than fossil fuels.

Using our waste to create energy is another key step towards tackling climate change. Putting this rubbish into landfill instead would emit greenhouse gases, as the waste rots.

At CopenHill, almost all the harmful chemicals from burning the rubbish can be removed, with plans afoot to capture the CO2 too.

This clip is taken from the BBC Two series, Climate Change: Ade on the Frontline.

Teacher Notes

Before watching the film

You could discuss with students where their rubbish goes – to landfill. Figures from Defra (2020) show that around 7.2 million tonnes of biodegradable municipal waste was sent to landfill in the UK in 2018. Since landfill is essentially about filling large holes in the ground with rubbish, how do students feel about this?

You might discuss the impact of biodegradable waste on climate change as decomposing rubbish in landfill emits gases, most notably methane which is a potent greenhouse gas.

You could discuss what might be done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from landfill and the unsightliness of landfill itself on the landscape and its related environmental impacts. You could explain that this film suggests an alternative to sending rubbish to landfill and ask students to watch it, noting the pros and cons. Students should be prepared to report their thoughts back after watching.

During the film

You may wish to stop at relevant points during this short film to pose questions and check understanding or wait until the end. Useful questions might include:

  • How much rubbish does CopenHill convert a year into energy? (Almost half a million tons).
  • How many homes benefit from electricity and heating from this power plant? (150,000 homes).
  • What is an example of sustainable or renewable energy?
  • Does energy produced from waste fit the description?
  • What are the pros and cons noted by the students? You might discuss the responses and note where there was agreement - for example, it is likely that most people would agree that a power plant that doubles as a ski slope is a bonus - as well as areas of difference.
  • Is it right to have lots of rubbish in the first place that we can burn for energy? Or should we be reducing our rubbish footprint?

Following on from the film

Students could identify different energy sources, with a brief description, then classify and rank them according to their sustainability credentials. They might add some of the pros and cons for each energy source.

You could ask students to set out the pros and cons of using rubbish as a sustainable energy source, especially in cities where landfill sites may be many miles away due to the pressures on space. Students could research more details about CopenHill and use this to illustrate their report on the pros and cons of energy production with more fact and figures.

You could ask students to research where waste is sent to and where the nearest landfill sites are. Are there any plants near to where you live where rubbish is burned to release energy?

How important is it to prioritise reducing waste and energy use before considering innovative ways of energy production? What other sustainable energy options might be open to us in the UK and how do they compare? Students could write a case study of one type of sustainable energy production in the UK and / or make a comparative study with the CopenHill plant.

You might also want to investigate sustainable energy solutions from other parts of the world with your class.

Curriculum Notes

This short film is suitable for teaching KS3 and KS4 students. It can be used alongside the other Ade Adepitan films about climate change or watched on its own. All the films build on students’ understanding of climate change issues and enable them to make global connections.

This film supports the KS3 geography curriculum by building understanding about energy, land use and resources, and how they are managed sustainably.

At KS4 this supports work on sustainable energy and cities, thinking about energy, resources and waste management.

This clip could be used to support the delivery of geography to KS3 and KS4 students. Specifically, this topic appears in OCR, Edexcel, AQA, WJEC KS4/GCSE in England and Wales, CCEA GCSE in Northern Ireland and SQA National 4/5 in Scotland.

More from Climate Change: Ade on the Frontline

Peatlands in Sweden
Hydrogen house in Gothenburg, Sweden
Rising temperatures in Svalbard