Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Växjö, Sweden aims to be fossil-free

A virtually unknown (to me at least) Swedish city called Växjö has been deemed the European Union's greenest community in 2007. The city's 80,000 residents dramatically reduced their carbon footprint by developing and implementing a comprehensive, integrated plan that centers on public education, energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Purists may take issue with the heavy reliance on biomass and biofuels, but take a look at the detailed plans. It is apparent that city officials and inhabitants have gone to great lengths to explore all their options and take advantage of what Nature giveth. (GW)

A look at Växjö, Europe's greenest city

September 23, 2007

Earlier this year, the city of Växjö in southern Sweden won the Sustainable Energy Europe Award 2007, for being the greenest community in the EU. Växjö and its 80,000 inhabitants set the standard for Sweden, which has vowed to become a 'zero oil' country by 2025, and for the rest of the world.

The city won the prize offered by the European Commission's DG for Energy & Transport for its relentless efforts in slashing carbon dioxide emissions, for its intelligent energy management and for its communal approach to building a more sustainable environment. More than 50% of Växjö's energy's supplies are now covered by renewables. Because of this, the city suceeded in bringing down greenhouse gas emissions by 30% per capita between 1993 and 2006. This means that every citizen currently contributes to climate change with a mere 3,232kg of CO2 emissions per year.

This level is far below the global average. US citizens emit around 20 tonnes per year, the EU's per capita emissions average 10 tonnes, and China's roughly 5 tonnes. Växjö citizens now have a carbon footprint equal to that found in many developing countries, while at the same time enjoying very high living standards. Proof that low carbon living does not compromise a modern lifestyle. In fact, Växjö has received an economic boost because of its collectively organised green efforts.

Back in 1996, Växjö decided that it would become a completely fossil fuel free city (an overview of the strategy *.pdf). The goal is now to reduce per capita emissions further by 50% by 2010 and by 70% in 2025, compared to 1993.

Växjö's success is due to a comprehensive set of efforts that impact all aspects of life in the city: from teaching kids the basics of sustainable living to applying advanced renewable energy technologies. On the technological front, the biggest emission reductions were achieved because of the big share of biomass in the community's energy mix. In the heating sector, nearly 90% of energy comes from renewable biomass, with 14,000 appartments, 1,700 houses, the local hospital and university, the tourist infrastructure (hotels) and companies all connected to the efficient district heating grid. Biomass is also used for the production of electricy and cooling, in integrated 'trigeneration' power plants.

The reliance on biofuels has been beneficial for Växjö's economy, both for the municipality as well as for individual consumers. To help local politicians implement carbon-sensitive decisions and policies, Växjö initiated an 'ecobudget', which carefully screens the lifecycle effects and costs of all the natural resources locally used. The system is stringent but cuts energy waste. The 'ecobudget' is now proving that considerable energy and financial savings can be made with a good analysis of how the city's natural resources interact.

Biomass gasification plant for the production of bio-DME and biohydrogen, Växjö, Sweden.

Most of the remaining emissions in the city come from transportation, but here too a decrease in emissions has been achieved. This reduction is a result of a bigger share of flex-fuel vehicles and more biofuel blended in petrol and diesel. The University of Växjö also leads an international biomass-to-liquids program called Chrisgas to develop large scale bio-hydrogen and dimethyl-ether (DME) production from biomass. Bio-DME, a clean burning synthetic biofuel, can be obtained from the gasification of biomass, with the syngas liquefied via Fischer-Tropsch synthesis; it is an alternative to diesel fuel. Experts from eight EU member states participate in the project, funded by the Swedish Energy Agency and the EU.

The Fossil Fuel Free Växjö programme incorporates a range of other activities and technologies, such as as smaller scale biomass district heating, district cooling, biomass boilers for households, energy efficient street lightning, energy efficient building/construction (ecobuildings that reduce energy consumption by 30%), solar panels, encouraging the use of public transport and bicycles (comfortable and safe bicycle paths have been built) and biogas production for power and transport fuels:
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The Fossil Fuel Free program is developed in co-operation between the city administration and a lot of stake holders, local enterprises, Växjö University, etc. All these initaitives together with announced national incentives is estimated to give 50% reduction of CO2 emissions by 2010 which means that the goal will be met.

In the Sustainable Community Category, the selection committee of the Sustainable Energy Europe award chose Fossil Fuel Free Växjö, Sweden, because:
  • Fossil Fuel Free Växjö is an overall community programme that takes an integrated and cooperative approach to achieving its objectives.
  • It involves a wide array of integrated activities aimed at generating more energy and heat from renewable energy sources and technology.
  • It also focuses on improving energy efficiency in all areas, on conservation and on achieving sustainable patterns of mobility.
Växjö is an example to be followed. With its long standing political commitment to making its community fossil free it is demonstrating to all of us that its efforts are paying off and it is already half way to achieving its objective. The Municipality of Växjö has for a long time successfully worked with environmental issues and the political agreement and involvement in this issue has given the Local Agenda 21-work a prominent place.

All municipal departments and companies are responsible for their work to get a sustainable development. The municipality of Växjö is not able to solve the world’s environmental problems on its own, but thinks we can all participate and share the responsibility. What we do locally also has a global impact.

In the Environmental Programme for the City of Växjö you can read about the three areas in which community interventions are being made: 'Living Life', 'Our Nature' and 'Fossil Fuel Free Växjö', all aimed at protecting the environment and at mitigating climate change.

You can also find more about Fossil Fuel Free Växjö and how a region in Japan is taking advantage of the Swedish city's experience, here: Bioenergy Småland - Expo Växjö.

City of Växjö: Climate Strategy [*.pdf].

City of Växjö: Fossil Fuel Free [*.pdf]

City of Växjö: Environmental Programme [*.pdf].

University of Växjö: Chrisgas project.

Växjö Energi AB: A Biomass CHP in Växjö, Sweden, with recirculation of residual wood ash [*.pdf].


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