Stockholm Pursues Climate Holy Grail: a Fossil Fuel-Free Future — Part 5: New Eco-Districts

05/30/2017 07:08 pm ET Updated Jun 06, 2017

How virtually all of Stockholm’s clean energy and sustainability measures have been deployed to create two of the city’s most remarkable eco-districts.

An aerial view of the eco-community, Hammarby Sjöstad .
An aerial view of the eco-community, Hammarby Sjöstad .

Hammarby Sjöstad and Stockholm Royal Seaport

Stockholm Royal Seaport is known in the city as a “second-generation sustainable city district.”

The 650-acre area was the focus of a comprehensive 20-year sustainability program for the area created by the city in 2010. Now it is internationally regarded as a model urban development.

As early as 2020, it is designed to produce no more than 1.5 tonnes of CO2 per person, a level that climate scientists have calculated might be compatible with holding global warming to 2°C. Ultimately, it is actually supposed to produce more energy than it consumes.

In a sense, the resource-efficient development is a proving ground or test-bed for sustainability requirements that eventually may spread to the rest of the city and perhaps, ultimately, throughout Sweden.

The Stockholm Royal Seaport is the successor to Hammarby Sjöstad, Stockholm’s first eco-district, and has many of the same environmental features.

The Hammarby Experiment

Hammarby Sjöstad’s 1990s masterplan called for the construction of 11,000 “environmentally-friendly” residential apartments, using environmentally sound materials, new public transit, and plenty of green space on a polluted ex-industrial site.

Under the supervision of the City Development Administration and the City Planning Administration, life-cycle cost analyses were used to guide planning and investment decisions. making it easier to justify higher first-cost investments in energy and resource efficiency.

Hammarby Sjöstad’s design included district heating and cooling and a comprehensive district recycling system using underground vacuum tubes to transport sorted wastes to collection centers as part of an overall effort to have “closed loop” water, waste, and energy systems. The vacuum transport also reduces waste collection traffic.

To “close the energy loop,” heat and biogas are recovered from the district’s sewage, and residual sludge is used as fertilizer in the district’s green zone. Buildings in the district must meet high energy-efficiency standards and many of the apartment buildings sport solar panels or building-integrated photovoltaics.

Heat from the new, biofueled Vartaverket combined heat and power plant is used to heat nearly 200,000 homes and businesses in
Hans Ekestang
Heat from the new, biofueled Vartaverket combined heat and power plant is used to heat nearly 200,000 homes and businesses in Stockholm.

Water use is minimized with low-flow devices; storm water runoff is diverted from the city sewer system and released to Lake Hammarby or is treated locally as needed in settling ponds.

Combustible waste goes to the area’s district heating combined heat and power plant. Biogas from the district’s digested sludge is used as automotive fuel.

The district itself was built as a public-private partnership of private for-profit developers and publicly owned development companies. Like other apartment houses in Sweden, each apartment building in Hammarby Sjöstad is owned by an association of its residents.

In addition to new bus and tram service, the district enjoys a free ferry as well as local car sharing. Shops, cafes, and restaurants occupy ground floor commercial spaces in apartment buildings.

The Seaport Project

The Stockholm Royal Seaport and Hammarby Sjöstad have inspired planners and environmental professionals from around the country and internationally. “We have thousands of people coming from abroad here every year to get information about all these things and [take] home ideas and concepts,” said Thomas Gustafsson, who was a senior sustainability strategist and advisor to the city.

The Seaport will eventually include 12,000 new homes, 35,000 work spaces, a modernized, enlarged harbor, and energy facilities. The area’s 20-year sustainability plan, established in 2010, deals with energy, traffic, transport, and waste management. The methodical systematic consultative way that the city manages this development is indicative of its overall approach to its larger climate and environmental goals.

A rendering of the vision for the Stockholm Royal Seaport in 2030.
Stockholm Royal Seaport
A rendering of the vision for the Stockholm Royal Seaport in 2030.

The Seaport project is being implemented in a coordinated and cooperative way involving people from many different sectors of city government. Within the project’s overall administrative structure, a consultative process was used that involved all the key stakeholders—developers, all city departments, technology providers, and many other groups.

According to Gustafsson, the city’s sustainability strategist, now with Sweden’s Green Building Council, “We have sustainability people and groups in the city working across sectors,” on the Seaport project. “People from the traffic department, from the development administration, from the physical planning department, from the environmental department, from the harbor company as well, and even some of the other public companies are working together in focus groups.

"One focus group is about energy, another about transportation, a third about buildings and building materials, et cetera.” The focus groups provide their inputs to the project’s planners who then place requirements on the district’s developers.

“In order to get land for development,” Gustafsson explained, “you need to follow the targets set by the city, and they are very ambitious.” Those requirements are then put in contracts between the city and the developer.

“Then we follow up,” Gustafsson said. “We have a control plan so we can make sure that the targets will be met.” The city monitors performance in the planning, construction, operational phase.

Several of the requirements that the city has for developers in the Seaport area are now spreading to the whole city. “The energy efficiency goal for new buildings are actually the same now for the whole city as in Stockholm Royal Seaport,” Gustafsson said.

The parking regulations set for the Seaport are now also being applied to the entire city and so is the Green Space Index that the city uses in the area. It scores green initiatives adopted by developers and assigns an index value to each development.

All new homes in the Seaport area must be passive houses. The city owns the land and when the city sells it or provides it with a lease-hold, the developers must agree to keep energy use to a maximum of 55 kilowatt-hours (kW-hrs) per square meter (including heating, hot water, and building electricity for ventilation, elevators, common area lighting). The city is now working to further tighten the standard, which is already far below the Swedish national building code requirement.

Gustafsson says, “We have sustainability people and groups in the city working across sectors,” on the Seaport project. “People from the traffic department, from the development administration, from the physical planning department, from the environmental department, from the harbor company as well, and even some of the other public companies are working together in focus groups.”

Developers also have to provide a certain amount of local renewable energy. The city conducted a pilot project that involved a competition between two developers who vied to build the most efficient energy-positive building, one that produced more energy than it consumed. The plan is that new structures in the Seaport district are to produce at least 2 kW-hrs of renewable energy per square meter.

Lessons to be Learned

Based on Stockholm’s comprehensive efforts to restrain its greenhouse gas emissions and to lead the world toward a sustainable future with model eco-districts, as well as its exemplary climate policies, what can cities elsewhere learn from Stockholm about slashing greenhouse gas emissions?

Stockholm’s example makes clear that a rapid clean energy transition with a chance of being accomplished in time to mitigate climate change must be based on several key factors.

These include painstakingly thorough analytical work, comprehensive planning, sound public policies, adequate financing, and management controls tied to specific deadlines and deliverables.

Government unquestionably must be actively engaged in all these endeavors. Stockholm planners took note of market forces and helped aligned market incentives to support plan goals. No one expected the market to deliver a rapid energy transition on its own. Stockholm had to engineer market incentives so that market forces supported rather than thwarted the climate action plan.

Beyond meticulous planning and a resolute, long-term commitment to achieving the climate action plan’s goals, Stockholm’s experiment reveals that success requires constant monitoring of outcomes to insure milestones are met.

Likewise, it requires effective educational communication for the public, highlighting program benefits. Finally, success requires supportive and engaged citizens. Stockholm’s leaders reached out and cultivated many different stakeholder groups to engage them in program planning and implementation. This helped lead to a supportive and engaged citizenry.

Finally, success depends on strategic implementation of long-term plans in stages, with priority given both to the most cost-effective measures as well as to important measures with very long lead times.

Stockholm’s track record makes clear that one cannot go from a fossil-fuel to a clean energy economy overnight, nor without plenty of patience and determination.

Last of a five-part series on Stockholm’s energy transition.

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John J. Berger, Ph.D. (www.johnjberger.com) is an energy and environmental policy specialist who has produced ten books on climate, energy, and natural resource topics. He is the author of Climate Peril: The Intelligent Reader’s Guide to the Climate Crisis and Climate Myths: The Campaign Against Climate Science. Dr. Berger is currently at work on a new book about climate solutions.

Follow John J. Berger on Twitter: www.twitter.com/johnjberger

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