Swedish Tenant Owner Cooperative starts oil break with geothemal heating

High oil prices, and the Prime Minister’s announced intention to break oil dependency make Sweden something of an interesting study in Post-Carbon transition. The Swedish Daily, DN, today reports on a tenant owner cooperative which is starting its break with oil by transferring to a renewable energy source of heat – from the ground underneath the building.

The tenant owners of the apartment building Tallen 12, in Solna, just outside Stockholm are fed up with rising oil prices – 140 percent over the last ten years. The cooperative hopes the move will save them five million kronor (about $417,000) over 15 years.

Heating costs have been worrying house owners for a long time. Now, apartment building owners like Tallen are waking up to the fact that today’s prices bring the break-even point for investments in renewable energy within easy reach.

Tenant cooperatives are a common form of apartment ownership in Sweden. When you buy an apartment you become a member of the cooperative with the tenancy rights for the apartment. These cooperatives are run by the tenants themselves, the apartment often being their main investment. Keeping all costs down is in the interest of all as low service charges increase the attractiveness and thereby the market value of the apartments. Costs are distributed among members through a monthly service charge.

In Tallen, heating oil takes up half the monthly charge. They had already looked in to one alternative, district heating. This however is predominately gas-fired and costs have risen astronomically over the last few years. And when you choose district heating you enter into dependence on a monopoly.

In 2002, the city of Stockholm sold 50 percent of its district heating system to the Finnish energy company, Fortum. Since then, prices have risen 40 percent and dissatisfaction is widespread.

The cooperative consumes 40 m3 of oil for its 30 apartments. Annual costs for oil are at today’s prices $30,000. The new system would cost a mere $10,500 per annum.

The cooperative owns the plot of land around the building, enough to accommodate the six boreholes needed. The holes will be drilled around the house and sloped under the building to avoid conflicts about “stealing heat” when neighbouring cooperatives start to use the system.

This is how the system works: heat energy is drawn from a drilled hole in the bedrock. The hole contains a collector pipe filled with liquid (70 percent water, 30 percent ethanol). The liquid is circulated via a heat pump and down the hole. The heat is then transferred into the water borne central heating and hot water system.

Some commentators point out that the heat pumps themselves are electricity driven, and in that way the cooperative is still dependent on the grid. But others argue the move is a good start: for every unit of electricity used, five units of equivalent heat can be extracted from the ground.

In any case, the story of Tallen is probably illustrative of how the break with oil could happen: as prices rise, building owners turn to renewable solutions as they become more and more financially viable. Here an energy farm owned by several tenant owner cooperatives would be viable, especially in conjunction with a local food system. And Tallen is also a good example of the kind of organisation that depends on voluntary work – the more tenants do for themselves, the lower their living costs – so they would do well to introduce a complementary currency like COGS (https://avbp.net/ocp) for energy and food-related transactions.

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