House of the midnight sun – energy efficiency north of the Arctic Circle

Source: 10/30/2023, Location: Europe

The rugged mining community of Kiruna is one of Sweden’s northernmost cities. In winter, temperatures drop below 30 degrees Celsius. Despite the extreme cold, buildings here are more energy efficient on average, than in the rest of Sweden and the EU.

“It was the location that made me want to move to this flat,” says Johanna Lindgren, enjoying the view from her balcony.

Lake Luossajärvi is nearby, its strikingly deep blue waters have not quite frozen yet. In the distance, snow-capped mountain peaks – Sweden’s highest mountain, Kebnekaijse, among them – reach up towards and almost seem to merge with the clouds.

“At first, everything else was mostly a bonus.”

The “everything else” Johanna refers to are the innovative energy efficiency systems in her building, Fjällvyn, owned by her housing association. With clear temperature limits for radiators and hot water, triple-glazed windows, and a system that reuses 70 per cent of circulating air, energy use has been reduced to 96 kWh per square metre a year. The average in Sweden is 129 kWh.

The figure is also significantly lower than the EU average of 128 kWh per square metre (2018). It should furthermore be noted that this EU average only refers to heating, while the figure for Fjällvyn also includes ventilation and other energy consumption.

“One of the biggest differences compared to other flats I’ve lived in is the insulation,” Johanna explains. “It has a dual effect: heat consumption is reduced, and it’s incredibly quiet. You can play music pretty loudly here without disturbing your neighbours!”

Understanding the overall picture is key
Lars Lundgren is Area Manager at property company Riksbyggen, which built and manages Fjällvyn and a similar property, Fjällblicken. He has seen how energy efficiency has influenced the way the industry builds properties, and perhaps to an even greater extent, how it controls them.

“We build more densely now, with thicker walls and more energy-efficient windows, but I don’t think that’s the main change; it’s more the greater extent to which we now follow up on what we build. This applies to electricity consumption, of course, as well as hot and cold water, ventilation and wall density. The aim is to maximise efficiency. By measuring how the isolation works and consumption of energy and heat significantly more, we optimise how buildings are used,” says Lundgren.

Lundgren and his colleague at Riksbyggen, Environment and Energy Director Mari-Louise Persson, know that this is where the next major steps in energy efficiency are to be made.

“A lot of this is about keeping track of and adjusting what we have,” says Persson. “The behavioural issue also has a role to play here. By measuring hot water, for example, we reduce hot water use. It becomes a way to raise awareness of how everything is connected, how the length and water temperature of your morning shower affects the planet.”

Mikael Risberg conducts research on energy technology at Luleå University of Technology. He believes that the overall picture is key when making buildings energy efficient.

“There’s no point in installing a lot of high-end insulation and then putting in bad windows. You can’t just optimise one thing or one area, you have to look at the building as a whole. It’s also important that you check the systems you’ve installed to ensure they work as intended. Ventilation and heating systems often need adjusting, for example,” Risberg explains.

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