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Where planning for building sustainable communities starts

– Digital school visits, KTH Energy Platform at ABE-school

Published Nov 16, 2020

In October, KTH Energy Platform made a digital visit to the School of Architecture and the Built Environment for an orientation on current research in the energy field. Six research presentations highlighted everything from architects’ role in more sustainable construction, to Big Data as a key to improving energy efficiency.

Lina Bertling Tjernberg, KTH Energy Platform director, opened the meeting by introducing the Platform and the work it has conducted in previous years. This was followed by an orientation about the School of Architecture and the Built Environment’s six departments and seven centres. The school spans a wide field of disciplines and seeks to demonstrate how cities, buildings, and infrastructure should be designed and built in the best ways for the whole of society to develop sustainably.

Using procurement as a tool

The digital visit was opened by an address from Professor Tina Karrbom Gustavsson about work being conducted in the national research and education platform ProcSIBE.

The platform brings together five higher education institutions to investigate the role that procurement can play in sustainable and innovative community building. In particular, she highlighted procurement’s potential to improve energy requirements when building new areas, such as Stockholm Royal Seaport.

Here, in collaboration with the City of Stockholm, researchers have developed a strategy manual to guide change processes under current procurement requirements. Knowledge gathered has been shared throughout Sweden. 

Among the conclusions that can be drawn from this initiative is that robust procurement requirements can not only contribute to more sustainable development, but also strengthen cooperation between developers who are typically competitors. In addition, procurement acts as a driving force in the introduction of energy-saving technologies.

Provocative design

Pernilla Hagbert provided details of work being done to investigate energy use in daily life from norm-critical perspectives. This includes projects funded by the Swedish Energy Agency that seek to explore our perception of energy and energy systems in everyday life, especially in urban environments.

Using design modeling, researchers try to demonstrate and question everything from everyday objects to buildings. A concrete example is the idea of future product labeling that clearly indicates the environmental impact of each piece of machinery - a more provocative way of raising sustainability issues. Some of the design models are currently on display at the Museums of World Culture in Stockholm.

The research attempts to include all aspects from the everyday to laws and regulations that govern national and international initiatives in energy and sustainability.

Architects’ key role

Frida Rosenberg, architect and senior lecturer, provided details about work that contributes to more environmentally friendly construction with the help of teaching and research. How can sound design and architecture contribute to reduced energy use? This is a particularly important issue when the need for new housing results in house building becoming increasingly large-scale.

The answer is that architects can contribute knowledge about everything from how we live on a daily basis - today and historically - to insights into the impact that different material choices and techniques have on more sustainable construction. Initiating closer cooperation between architects and various developers from the planning stage makes it easier to avoid repeating previous mistakes.

When renovating large residential areas on the outskirts of cities, there are considerable gains to be made in the shape of reduced energy use. By using the right materials and techniques, buildings can be made to be much more energy efficient. A better understanding of history, together with improved collaboration between architects, engineers, and developers results in better, more sustainable housing.

Indoor environment as a service

The next presentation was given by Professor Ivo Martinac, lead research in Building Service and Energy Systems. Among the things that researchers in this area focus on are indoor environments, energy efficiency, ventilation and heating, as well as measurement and follow-up. Here, focus is on how smart sensor systems can facilitate operation and maintenance, and the needs of building users in terms of indoor environment.

Martinac highlighted the researchers’ participation in three EU projects, where one of the projects addresses a range of issues including how a building’s energy efficiency can drive business value - a multidisciplinary approach that involves engineers and economists. Another project examines how a building’s certification can be based on how well it meets users’ requirements for the indoor environment, in addition to the building’s own energy use and environmental impact. Here, too, expertise from a number of different fields is involved.

Together with property owner Akademiska Hus, researchers are investigating how indoor climate could be offered as a service. How can focus be shifted from measuring energy flow with the goal of reducing costs to offering indoor climate as a service?

Martinac is also involved in REHVA, the Federation of European Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning, under the auspices of which work is underway to develop guidelines to improve ventilation and air purification to better handle situations such as the ongoing pandemic.

Decision making support for improved forestry

Ulla Mörtberg works with the environmental assessment and management research group at the Department of Sustainable Development, Environmental Science and Engineering (SEED). Research conducted by the department runs the gamut from wind power, to bioenergy and sustainable urban systems. Among other things, researchers are working to develop new methods of combining the expansion of wind energy with environmental requirements and use.

Mörtberg also referred to the ReWind project which seeks to develop new GIS-based planning tools.

Within the framework of national strategic research projects STandUP, Stand-Up for Energy, KTH works together with SLU and Skogsforsk to optimize the management of tree stumps. Based on large amounts of data generated by forestry machines, planning and decision support is improved to make better use of tree stumps as bioenergy.

Mörtberg also talked about work with the simulation and planning tool LEAM Stockholm. This will be used to predict how future land use in regions will affect residents and the development of sustainable cities with the necessary ecosystem services. This project involves Stockholm Region, KTH, and the University of Illinois.

Many of these projects seek to create new models to provide insights into how sustainable urban development interacts with our energy use.

Using data to shape behaviours

Hossein Shahrokni is at SEED and, among other projects, he works to find ways to use large amounts of data to change people’s behavior. The work is highly interdisciplinary.

A first step is to understand how Big Data can be used to create a better understanding of city life. A concrete example is when researchers created a map of waste management in Stockholm and discovered that it is possible to reduce both transport and energy use through better planning.

A decision-making platform is being developed that can achieve energy savings in other areas and in ways that are applicable at national and international level.

Researchers also work with visualization of data to encourage city residents to contribute to energy savings, including in Stockholm Royal Seaport. KTH’s Living Labs research environment has also been used for research into how behaviours can be changed with the help of technology included in the concept of smart homes.

Increased understanding of water flows

Last up, Professor Anders Wörman, also from SEED. His brief includes leading research into improving understanding of the mechanisms in the landscape during high water events. Flow mechanics are combined with an understanding of how water moves in nature. The knowledge is used, among other things, to better prepare everything from the construction of new dams to sustainable urban development that can mitigate future climate change.

Wörman touched on a number of topics including examples of how today’s management models of hydropower can be adapted and developed to predict water flow and improve energy efficiency.

In collaboration with the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute, researchers have investigated the movement of water from raindrops to groundwater to see how much energy can actually be utilized through hydropower. A similar system perspective can be taken with the expansion of solar and wind power.

When researchers have studied hydropower systems from a European perspective, they have found ways to improve the balance of energy supply with demand at an international level.

KTH Energy Platform’s Lina Bertling Tjernberg rounded off the visit by inviting all participants to this year’s edition of KTH Energy Dialogue that will be broadcast live on Thursday November 19th, between 1pm and 3pm, from Tekniska Museet in Stockholm.

Text: Magnus Trogen Pahlén