Solar, hydrogen and fuel cells combined

Apartment complex after renovation, © Vårgårda Bostäder

Vårgårda, a small town in the south west of Sweden, took a crucial step toward more sustainable public housing when it turned six apartment blocks into energy-independent buildings by using a combination of PV solar panels, batteries and hydrogen fuel cells.

The buildings, jointly known as the Backgårdsgatan housing project, were erected in the mid-1970s with support from Sweden’s public housing program “miljontalsprogrammet” (program for the millions) and contain 172 apartments. Before renovation, they hadn’t met modern building codes for quite some years. Something had to be done about their interior and amenities, as well as their indoor climate and energy efficiency, not least because their age and a slew of social issues had given them a bad reputation.

High energy costs, low financial health

Outdated technology and high operating, maintenance and energy costs meant the real estate value of the buildings was low. This limited the financial health of Vårgårda Bostäder, the housing provider that owns and operates Backgårdsgatan and similar communities in Vårgårda, a town of 11,500 people.

Realizing the gravity of the situation, Jan Thorsson, CEO of Vårgårda Bostäder, decided, together with the town’s council, that it was time to act. Thorsson started looking for ways to improve and upgrade the buildings, raise their energy efficiency, lower maintenance and operating expenses and stabilize energy costs. Early on, he identified the ever-rising prices for electricity and district heating as significant and unpredictable factors in facility management, noting that they could seriously jeopardize ROI and real estate values after modernization. As a result, he turned his attention to onsite energy generation, with the aim of creating an energy-independent apartment complex.

Safe investment, rising property value

  • Previously, this Backgårdsgatan building (left column) was valued at SEK 7 million, while annual energy purchasing (AEP) reached 140 kWh per square meter.
  • Following renovation, its value rose to SEK 47 million, at 25 kWh of AEP per square meter.
  • After the off-grid energy system was added, the building was worth SEK 55 million, at 4 kWh of AEP per square meter (the target being 0 kWh).

read more in H2-international May 2020

Michael Jensen

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