Promoting water reuse in the Baltic Sea Region through capacity building at local level

Interview with expert Mr Preben Thisgaard

24 October 2023
In the WaterMan projects, we are trying to engage experts in the topic of reusing water. One of them was Mr Preben Thisgaard who is a senior project chief at the Kalundborg Utility, in Danish Kalundborg Forsyning. They are a multi-utility which consists of seven different kinds of public utilities. For instance: water district, heat district, cooling sewage water and water cleaning.
Technical details

The interview was conducted by representatives of the Association of Polish Communes Euroregion Baltic, Mr Marcin Żuchowski and Ms Jolanta Olszewska who were asking about the experience of Mr Thisgaard on the topic of water management and how they are cooperating with local companies, municipalities and citizens.

What is your responsibility?

I am responsible for our international project and for the collaboration with „know-how centers”. I’m not only working for one company, but I’m working for the entire company as part of the Executive Director’s staff.

How are you related to water management in your city or water reuse activities?

Well, let’s take water reuse activities, here in the Kalundborg Utility, we have a specific water reuse activity, where we are using EU projects to build up our know-how, creating partnerships and know-how, and then we collaborate with the local industry, to make them interested in water reuse. We are connected to the general public in the sense of what we are responsible for, which is a freshwater supply for the citizens of Kalundborg.

What do you see as the biggest challenge for your organisation?

The biggest challenge for our organization is to get enough water. Because we are an important supplier for the industry, to be able to follow up on the very dramatic expansion we gain experience during years in the Kalundborg industrial symbiosis. That is our main challenge.

In your opinion, are your city authorities sufficiently involved in the planning policies related to water reuse?

Yes, I think so. We have quite good collaboration with them. Of course, we are in the lead. That’s quite natural, but we have also good collaboration the industry. I would say that a quite good regular collaboration with both the industry, and also with the municipal administration, and have a constant dialog with both parties is a good starting point.

Where did the idea for such a pilot investment come from?

Well, we have in a number of years been looking for how we could work together with different EU projects. We know that we would need knowledge of new technologies that we didn’t command at the moment, for instance: main-brain technologies, etc. Therefore, we have in a number of years specifically been working with the confidence center from Berlin. Then they approached us saying: „Well, we might have a project that could be interested for you, that we are already engaged in”. Then we started a dialog for several months with them and the other partners. We had seen how the different projects could fit into and what we could do to make this EU project even better. We contributed, we are not just part of the project, we wanted always to contribute to the project and make it even more interesting for the EU Commission to support, in this case, the ultimate project in the Horyzont 2020 program. I cannot tell the point of one specific persons. It is a proces, that is derived from technological need, opportunity, and different kinds of networking contacts.

What do you see as the biggest challenge of similar initiative that could be held somewhere else in Europe?

Well, that’s a technological challenge. I don’t see that as a major problem. The major problem is to be able to set it up in a social acceptable way and to handle different stakeholder issues. We are very lucky here in Kalundborg because we already had this established collaboration between the industry, the municipality and us. That is an established thing that we work together. In other countries, it can be a little different because you have to set up the system to be able to work together. We have already set up the system and are used to work together. Working together in creating a new sustainable future, that is the main challenge. It’s not the technologies.

How you create this awareness and the organization being involved in this initiative? How you involve them?

Well, it’s quite easy, because they’re already involved and we have committees meeting regularly in specific areas: water, heat and exchange views of how they can do things a little bit better and smarter each time. So for us, it’s quite simple, but it’s not at all as simple as in other places. I do recognize that, maybe they should come to us because, as you know, we set it up. All starts that the managers actually met on second months to have dinner. Sometimes it can be a more simple way to create an opportunity for decision-makers to sit together and get good ideas. But it all starts with a will, with an attempt to do something, and a willingness to engage in the activities. Without the willingness, it is pointless.

In your opinion, how the municipality is able to create awareness and also involve citizens in the actions related to water reuse?

They have a number of possibilities, meetings, etc., but in this case, it’s quite strange. There’s a general acceptance among the population about the industrial development, also what we are doing. They thought of the industry. Maybe it’s because also our industries have been quite keen on in involving the cities and making it to see that industrial development automatically will lead to a better city, or better opportunities for the citizens. Maybe also because our industry is very keen on not polluting the environment of the country, they are working together with us, to reduce pollution and to reduce consequences or negative impacts with industrial development so that they primarily see positive aspects of industrial development. Also, when we’re talking about.

Do you think this approach with resource-effective, cost-effective will bring long-term benefits for Society and for the business?

I’m absolutely and totally convinced. We see it already. We see the steady growth in workplaces. We’re seeing a steady growth in wealth in the area. As I told you we are seeing growth in educational activities in this specific city, which is a great, great, advantages for the city, for the environment, for the municipality and for the ordinary citizens.

Any hints for others who would like to replicate your idea, or your approach?

I usually say that it took us 60 years. Please don’t replicate us too much, but maybe take some of the easy part of it. I know it’s a little bit controversial to say, but I say: Let’s start and let’s make the directors or the managers meet every second month, have dinner, and ask them to discuss something that they would like to do together, and set up it as simple as possible. I think sometimes when I hear the people who set up this giant system, computerized digital twin systems, it takes several years and people there feel alienated that they want to contribute and they figure this out. I would say no – sit down together every second month and eat together and say: „Well, what would you do to make this community better? What would you do to earn more money for your companies? And how can we do it in an environmentally friendly way? If you do this, the dinner is free. If you don’t do that, you have to pay for it, okay?”

Thank you very much. It was a pleasure.

Thank you. It was a pleasure.