Nordic knowhow: Sweden's lessons for the smart transition

26th May 2022

Two pioneering energy-saving projects in Sweden hold important lessons for the smart transition, says Oliver Ingwall-King

The Advancing Communities towards low-Carbon Energy Smart Systems (ACCESS) project was launched in 2019.

It aims to deliver energy and emissions savings from its pilot projects, and to generate lessons and tools that will cut development times for energy transition projects.

Knowledge partners from Aarhus University in Denmark, the Institute for Manufacturing in the UK, Johanneberg Science Park (JSP) in Sweden and VITO in Belgium are supporting four pilot projects with the aim of establishing strategic lessons that support upscaling and replication within the pilots and their networks.

The JSP contingent took to the road late in 2021, visiting the city of Örebro and the Stockholm district of Hammarby Sjöstad, both in Sweden. These two areas are taking bold strides in the energy transition, and the ACCESS team wanted to learn about the successes and challenges Örebro and Hammarby Sjöstad experienced while optimising and reducing energy consumption, integrating renewable energy generation and providing energy system flexibility.

Learning from doing

The team’s first stop was Örebro, where the housing company ÖrebroBostäder (ÖBO) has analysed its portfolio of 23,000 homes to reduce emissions, minimise energy usage and develop energy-efficient solutions.

“In 2005, ÖBO’s energy usage was 59.7GWh/year,” says head of electricity and automation Jonas Tannerstad. “In 2007, Örebro municipality decided that energy usage should be reduced by 25% in terms of electricity and 15% in terms of heating over 10 years, without exceeding the regular budget or requiring extra resources – which meant we had to optimise operations.”

Reality has surpassed the original goal – 13 years later, the company had lowered energy consumption by 50%, despite having added hundreds of new flats to its housing portfolio. Today, it aims for usage of 23GWh/year by 2029.

Tannerstad believes property owners can achieve a lot by looking for ways to reduce energy usage; ÖBO’s efforts save it 82m krona (around £6.6m) per year. “Analysing and taking measures to optimise energy consumption is great for business – and for the planet,” he says.

“When we started analysing our portfolio, we assumed 10 technical systems would be responsible for 90% of our energy usage, which turned out to be a good guess. We spent a lot of time analysing those systems, the major culprits being communal laundry rooms (22%), ventilation systems (20%), lighting (19%) and collective electricity metering, whereby electricity was part of people’s rent (16%).

“We left no stone unturned to come up with smarter and more efficient solutions. After a while, we could predict the energy savings that measures would lead to. Adjusting and optimising when lights would be turned on or off, for example, allowed us to save 300,000kWh.”

Tannerstad and his colleagues used this in-depth understanding to then take the next step: ÖBO has systematically invested in solar PV generation and sought funding mechanisms to explore how battery storage and electric vehicle charging could enable it to take a systems-level approach to aggregating energy systems and their management. The project has enabled better-automated monitoring and consumption across the portfolio, maximised use of solar PV, and provided aggregated national grid services to improve revenue streams.

“We have had to take difficult decisions,” says Tannerstad. “Sometimes, laws or other forces oppose systemic change, which makes it difficult to shift to more climate-friendly ways. But we have to dare to rethink the system.”

Scaling up and rolling out

ÖBO’s lessons will be scaled up in Örebro’s new Tamarinden neighbourhood, where five property developers will build 700 homes. Construction is expected to start in the autumn of 2022, with the first residents moving in around 2024–2025. It will integrate smart energy systems that can generate, store and share energy – even between different building owners.

Örebro municipality has developed the ‘Örebro model’, which is based on the municipality owning the land and thus being able to set a high bar for construction. It has high ambitions for Tamarinden in terms of issues such as energy, and the new buildings will need to help achieve its climate and energy goals.

“Any growth that construction results in should be sustainable,” says Jenny Källmén, who works at Örebro’s City Planning Office. “Buildings lead to high emissions, both when they are constructed and when they are lived in. We’re aiming for systemic change that establishes new norms. Our ambition is to evaluate and scale up the Örebro model and apply it to other projects. The way we work makes the climate transition feel manageable – like an exciting challenge, not something that will hamper growth. The property sector needs to rethink its ways and not let technological developments hinder it.”

Developers working on Tamarinden are creating cutting-edge energy solutions by building in ways that use as little energy as possible. The buildings will need to generate, store and distribute energy, both inside the buildings and throughout the neighbourhood. The ultimate goal is to create a local energy network.

“The way we work makes the climate transition feel manageable – like an exciting challenge”

“A new ordinance came into force in Sweden on 1 January 2022, exempting certain actors from paying the network concessions stipulated in Sweden’s Electricity Act (1997:857), thereby making it legal to share energy within and between properties,” says Källmén. “This makes it possible for us to conduct the Tamarinden project the way we wanted to.”

Taking charge of sustainable development

Stop two took the team to the ElectriCITY Innovation/Hammarby Sjöstad 2.0 project. Hammarby Sjöstad district covers two square kilometres in Stockholm and is home to around 25,000 people; since plans for the area were drawn up in the 1990s, the idea has been to develop a sustainable district that prioritises climate solutions.

The City of Stockholm has worked with a range of actors, from energy and water companies to architects and developers, to develop the ‘Hammarby model’, in which the area’s rubbish, food waste, wastewater and water is recycled to reduce its energy usage and environmental footprint. Today, the district’s climate ambitions live on through the citizens’ initiative ElectriCITY Innovation and the Hammarby Sjöstad 2.0 project.

The initiative has been around since 2014 and unites 55 co-operative housing associations (representing 13,000 residents), plus around 70 partners from the business sector, academia and Stockholm municipality. Together, they run various sustainability and climate projects. District inhabitants are driving the climate transition through real-life testbeds in their buildings. Their efforts have brought about systemic change in terms of energy, deliveries, digitalisation and the sharing economy.

One of the reasons the initiative has been successful is because it has actively worked with the boards of co-operative housing associations to map residents’ needs and implement new services and innovations. By designating representatives from each association, ElectriCITY established natural points of contact with them, allowing it to help them make the shift.

“The local energy solutions we develop have made our district more energy efficient and allowed us to reduce our energy costs by 20%,” says Jörgen Lööf,

CEO of ElectriCITY. “We’ve also co-invested in energy solutions like exhaust air heat pumps, solar PV, geothermal energy and control systems, slashing costs by another 50%. We want to produce even more energy via solar PV and bio-gas, and build a local micro network to store and share energy. The goal is to

create a business solution that all stakeholders will benefit from by setting up a flexibility market, with co-op housing associations sharing energy through a ‘citizen energy community’.

“In this case, the building blocks are a partnership between housing associations, a local system operator and the owner of the electricity network. Enstar is working to develop business models and an offer for co-operative housing associations to invest in new technology. Today’s technology lets us measure, store and share energy, creating a local flexibility market.”

Smart systems

To make the energy system more efficient and enable greater flexibility, we need increased integration between different energy carriers (such as heating or electricity) and different domains (such as the property and mobility sectors). These fields are developing rapidly, but the management of different systems, as well as the funding and selection of different technologies, remains a challenge. The ACCESS project’s pilots are exploring these issues.

“They all use different smart energy solutions, so they face different challenges,” says Linnea Johansson, ACCESS project manager at Johanneberg Science Park. “But we can learn a great deal from each other despite national and regional differences, which is why it’s so exciting to discover two projects in Sweden that have different approaches but are both successful. I believe that these projects will inspire us all to come up with additional solutions to accelerate the energy transition.”

ÖBO and ElectriCITY have shown the central role of energy management, as well as how we can develop smart energy systems that generate, store, deliver and consume energy in flexible ways that reduce peak demands and create revenue streams. The technology is there; we need the energy managers to apply it.

This field visit was conducted within the framework of ACCESS, a EU North Sea Interreg funded project that includes IEMA members from Johanneberg Science Park, West Suffolk Council, Suffolk County Council and the Greater South East Energy Hub.

Oliver Ingwall-King, MIEMA is an energy specialist.

Image credit | Getty | Shutterstock


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