For going 100% renewable, technology is just the starting point

FuturENERGY July-September 2020

When parts of Umeå’s Ålidhem neighbourhood were suddenly destroyed in 2008 by one of the biggest fires in its history, many residents felt as if a nightmare had come true. What appeared to be a step back, however, became two steps forward, as the city in northern Sweden found a way to turn disaster into opportunity.

The violent fires prompted rebuilding efforts with the goal of reducing energy consumption in the area by more than 50%. PV modules were installed on the rooftops to harness solar energy and a large solar plant was installed to provide Ålidhem with a generation capacity of 405 kWp. Buildings in the neighbourhood received better insulation to limit energy consumption to a maximum of 65 kWh/m2/year, while district heating became almost entirely renewable.

But the goal was not only to equip houses and balconies with PV modules or improve energy efficiency in the 137 new homes and 405 refurbished apartments in Ålidhem. A central element of the Sustainable Ålidhem project, run by the Umeå municipality, Umeå Energi and Bostaden from 2010 to 2014, was the participation of residents, many of whom were students, migrants and members of under-represented groups. Discussions with the tenants’ association ensured that rents stayed affordable, with the price increase limited to 5-10%. At the same time, public engagement, a communications campaign and interactive activities helped keep most of the original residents in the region, which was seen as a huge success.