Tampere: engaging housing co-ops and residents in the drive towards carbon neutrality
By Suvi Holm, municipality of Tampere
Tampere has always pioneered sustainable technologies in Finland and is using this experience to drive forward an ambitious programme to become carbon-neutral by 2030. Due to the high levels of heating required in this cool region, the city engages a variety of stakeholders to renovate residential buildings to improve energy efficiency, among other actions. These measures are already bearing fruit and moving the city closer to achieving its goal.
Tampere lies in south-west Finland and is home to some 235,000 people, which makes it the third biggest city in the country. Being the first industrialized Finnish city, Tampere was always at the forefront of technical innovation: electric lightbulbs, for instance, were already widely used here shortly after their invention in the 19th century.
Tampere’s resourceful spirit is also seen in the multidisciplinary approach of its university, where the circular economy is one of the main fields of research. The university also has a large energy department focussing on smart technologies for sustainable development. But above all, the city has a dedicated local energy agency that works with residents and other stakeholders to bring about a deep energy transition, creating the conditions for a carbon-neutral economy and sustainable urban livelihoods.
The Tampere Energy Agency
EcoFellows is the Tampere Energy and Sustainability Agency, the public entity tasked with driving the energy transition. It is based in the Moreenia Environmental Information Centre, a former hydroelectric power plant beside the Tammerkoski canal in the city centre. The Centre now accommodates 30 staff, dedicated to making Tampere’s vision of becoming a green and sustainable city reality.
The city’s aspirations to be carbon-neutral by 2030 are spelled out in policy documents. As well as Tampere itself, almost all the municipalities in the region have the same target, which is five years earlier than the ambitious national target. For Tampere, this goal requires reducing emissions by 80% compared to 1990. How the remaining 20% will be addressed is not yet determined but carbon sinks could be one of the solutions.
In order to split the enormous challenge into feasible interim targets, the city is currently working to its 2025 City Strategy. Under the banner “Tampere, working together for a bright future”, it has set a goal to reduce CO2 emissions by 40% by 2025 compared to the 1990 baseline.
EcoFellows engages in a variety of projects to achieve this, involving all sectors of society. Tampere also participates in the EU Stardust project, which links energy, mobility and information and communication technologies to drive sustainable solutions for urban quality of life. This approach can also be found in Tampere’s new district, Hiedanranta, where innovative construction and renovation techniques are being integrated to minimize carbon emissions.
EcoFellows is planning to set up cooperatively owned and operated biogas plants in the region to produce sustainable energy. Based on the vision of a circular economy, the project aims to improve the food chain by recycling by-products, decarbonising agriculture, creating fossil fuel free transport and potentially establishing a local carbon trade concept. Investment costs in biogas plants and refineries are high, so larger plants with a capacity of 100,000 tonnes or more tend to be more profitable. But since the region around Tampere doesn’t have enough raw material, middle-sized biogas plants might be more viable here.
As well as farmers, it is important to involve local citizens in the early stages of the project to nurture positive attitudes towards biogas. In some cases, citizens can become members of the co-ops, and crowd-financing could be an option. The plants will need to find customers for biogas and by-products among the citizens. Coop members will co-own and democratically control their local companies, which will increase active participation in the energy system and workers’ and citizens’ agency over their collective future.
Finland has a long and thriving tradition of agricultural cooperatives which can be traced back to the late nineteenth century, when small farmers created a counter-economy of self-help and mutual support in response to Swedish and Russian elites dominating the Finnish economy. Today, Finland’s economy is regarded as the most co-operative in the world, with 84% of the population being members of at least one co-operative and 56% of at least two. These range from consumer and retail co-ops to housing and technical and digital initiatives. There are also plenty of small cooperatives producing renewable heating. The country also has a strong tradition of publicly owned municipal energy companies.
The energy transition challenge
Public lighting and a reliable heating system are crucial for residents’ quality of life. The sun is only visible for a few months each year, as the sky is increasingly cloudy due to high humidity caused by climate change. Average winter temperatures of way below 0°C make heating indispensable. These conditions create a challenge for an energy transition.
Taking into account the significant amounts of CO2 emitted through residential buildings, the energy agency has decided to focus on improving energy efficiency. It has already managed to connect almost all buildings to the district heating network and some to the district cooling network. The system is powered by several power plants, with almost 50% of heat being generated by biomass plants fuelled by wood from nearby forests. The CO2 emissions of all activities inside the city limits have already reduced by 26% in total and 45% per capita since 1990, mainly due to big investments in renewables by the municipal energy company.
Energy-efficient renovation for sustainable heating
All building owners are obliged to provide a detailed renovation plan for the next five years, including meaningful improvements in energy efficiency, and to engage a variety of stakeholders in the process. Hence, the municipality is working to encourage residents, housing companies and volunteers to advocate for energy-efficiency renovations. Because energy is cheap in Finland compared to almost all the countries in Europe, energy efficiency investments are not very easy to market. Yet, since 1973, we have had several energy saving, energy efficiency and now climate strategies, as well as building regulations, and the efficiency of energy production is also very high.
RANE – energy advice for residents
The RANE energy advice service, funded by the municipality and the municipal energy company, offers residents opportunities to learn about energy-efficient home renovations, taking into account that those operations require the consent of the majority of owners. Most of the consultations are done via the website and social media but the service also includes face-to-face consultation and telephone advice. Many of the participants now take part in discussions in their housing blocks, advocating for energy-efficient renovation.
TARMO+ project – training housing cooperatives and residents
The EU-funded project Low Carbon Housing Tampere Plus (TARMO+) has trained representatives from 250 housing cooperatives and 50 energy service companies that are active in the city. Since the project began in 2015, energy use has decreased by 5% in heating, 10% in electricity and 20% in water in those blocks that are co-owned by the housing cooperatives and the residents. This has helped make energy more affordable for all.
The municipality has also established a comprehensive training programme (AREA21) for volunteers to become energy experts and push the housing boards to be more ambitious regarding energy efficiency and renewable technology. The training also helps to create stronger ties with the communities, and has led about 200 residents to become permanently active in their housing companies, where their work benefits about 20,000 people directly. Participating housing cooperatives have improved energy efficiency by 15-30%.
About the author:
Suvi Holm is managing director of Ekokumppanit Oy, a small non-profit company owned by the city of Tampere. The company promotes sustainable development in Tampere Region and produces sustainable concepts for the citizens. It assists the city with implementation of the strategy and reaching its sustainability targets. Suvi is an expert on sustainability and is involved in several development projects. She has been working in this field for over 30 years and has good networks when external expertise or partners are needed.
This blog article was co-created by Lukas Toedte and Josephine Valeske, and is part of the mPOWER blog series in which cities and towns share how they are building better energy futures.
Title Image Credit: Juho Tervo on Flickr, CC BY 2.0.