15 April 2008

The End of Fossil Energy

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Thanks to innovative techniques and a more ecological lifestyle, the municipality of Växjö, in Sweden, could be on its way to become the first fossil fuel free city in the world

Certain European cities are a step ahead when it comes to preserving the environment. For instance, thanks to innovative techniques and a more ecological way of life, the commune of Växjö, Sweden, could be on its way to becoming the first fossil fuel free city in the world.

The pan-European SESAC (Sustainable Energy Systems in Advanced Cities) project lends support to the communes which are most advanced in terms of renewable energy systems, helping them to exploit their solutions on a European scale and thereby reduce human impact on climate change. SESAC is funded by the European Commission and at showing how the local economy is able to thrive (flourish ?) at the same time as less CO2 is emitted. Researchers have proposed a series of innovations for energy saving and the use of renewable energy for electricity, heating and cooling. These innovations are being implemented in pilot cities: Växjö (Sweden), Delft (The Netherlands) and Grenoble (France), and associate cities Kaunas (Lituania), Miskolc (Hungary) and Vastseliina (Estonia). In time, the outcomes will be evaluated by scientists and shared among a network of European cities.

Växjö’s environmental program has three areas of focus: development of renewable energy, energy efficiency and changing people’s habits. Urban heating illustrates the move to eliminate fossil fuels and the CO2 emissions that go with them. Instead of using natural gas, the municipal heating factory is fuelled exclusively by waste from the forest industry. A recent innovation – the technique of absorption chilling allows cooling to be produced from steam, also using the forest waste. In time, the urban heating system will also be used to provide cooling, thus avoiding the use of electric air conditioners.

The Sundet sewage treatment plant currently has a double function. It returns purified water to the surrounding lakes and produces biogas with the organic sludge removed from the dirty water. Food waste from nearby large scale kitchens is also transformed by fermentation. In time, biogas could fuel a whole fleet of municipal buses.
Since the cleanest energy is energy that’s not used, a series of projects aims to reduce energy consumption in Växjö. This is the case with eco-dwelling – the construction of passive 8-storey wooden buildings. The CO2 emissions for their construction is 13 times less than the cement equivalent, and their excellent isolation guarantees minimal energy consumption.

But all these innovations wouldn’t mean a thing if inhabitants weren’t involved in reducing their impact on a daily basis. That’s why certain apartments are equipped with counters showing water, heat and electricity consumption, and the corresponding cost. An effective way to urge responsibility by making people aware. And finally, to get the young generations interested in ecology early on, the Växjö middle school has a new teaching tool: a series of solar panels that cover the entire roof of the building. Not only do they power the school’s lights and computers, but the counters set up inside the building show the students how much CO2 has been saved.

In the future, Växjö will concentrate its efforts on public transportation, a complex challenge in a sparsely populated rural region.

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