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Published on August 6th, 2012 | by Amy Brown


Sustainable vision for Umeå in Swedens North

PHOTO Tommy Blomqvist

The city of Umeå in northern Sweden intends to be a world leader in sustainable city
environments by 2020. 

To get there, it is working with a wide range of cleantech and other companies to transform the way it works with construction, transportation, energy, waste treatment and water management and other areas.

This vision was born of necessity. The city has long struggled to control air pollution. Two major European highways pass through the city. Due to its cold climate, and the temperature inversions that occur in winter, Umeå experiences high levels of nitrogen oxides that exceed national air quality standards and in order to be in compliance Umeå has an action plan for improving air quality. This has led to an ambitious goal: to make Umeå the Nordic hub for cleantech and sustainable cities.

The city has gained recognition for a number of “firsts”: The introduction of the world’s first quick-charging electric buses, adapted for coping with Umeå’s cold climate, from local company Hybricon.

Also, Umeå Airport was the first Swedish airport to be environmentally certified and the first to have introduced Svedavia’s ‘A greener airport’ initiative. Volvo Trucks’ facility in Umeå has recorded the industry’s lowest solvent emissions.

In the Green Citizens of Europe project, Umeå is working with international partners to develop new ideas that make the sustainable lifestyle easier and more enjoyable. It has built more bike paths, provided incentives for carpooling, among other measures. But with a growing population, technologies alone won’t enable Umeå to reach its goal, according to Royne Söderström, project manager for the city of Umeå.

“Cleantech innovation is of course part of the change,” he says. “But if we are going to have sustainable cities, we have to change the way of thinking, or we won’t solve our problems,” says Söderström.

If the public’s reception to Umeå’s electric buses from Hybricon, called the Arctic Whisper, are any indication, then changing mindsets is entirely possible. “People want a quieter city center, with fewer carbon emissions and other pollutants, and they appreciate the quiet of the electric buses,” says Pär Jonsson, Marketing Manager at Hybricon AB.

The buses developed by Hybricon take only three to six minutes to charge instead of the usual six to eight hours, thanks to new battery technology. The rapid charging works via a “slide-in technology” so that the buses can charge while moving. Two of the electric buses have been running in the city since December 2010. According to Jonsson, city buses make the best electric vehicles, as the buses operate on fixed routes, usually
at low speeds, and stop at terminals, which enables batteries to be charged quickly. This means that city buses can, in principle, run on clean electricity for the duration of their journey.

Making buses a more attractive and more environmentally friendly option fits well with Umeå’s goal to make public transportation the smartest option for local travel, adds Söderström. The city’s goal is to have 15 EV buses on the road by 2014, about 30 percent of its fleet.

“We see the two electric buses as a test and evaluation of how the buses works in traffic and in our climate. We are waiting for the next generation of batteries and faster charging before we go ahead with a larger number of fast chargeable buses,” says Söderström.

Hybricon’s CEO Boh Westerlund developed the first ideas for the company’s EV technology decades ago, but realized there had to be sufficient political will
before the technology could be commercialized. Now, he says, that time has come in Umeå, and he expects the EV buses from Hybricon–which went public in April 2011–to catch on elsewhere–not only in Sweden, where several municipalities have expressed interest, but other parts of Europe. The company offers a complete solution for the market, with both the EV buses and the charging stations. The adaptation of the buses to cold climate may also be used for energy savings in hot climates.

“Our experience, working close to stakeholders, has taken us to a leading position in Sweden when it comes to sustainability,” says Söderström. “This is something we want to share with the rest of the world and we have started a city- owned company, Kompetensspridning i Umeå AB, to offer our knowledge. Cities around the world are interested in what we are doing especially when it comes to waste management, district heating and sustainable construction.”



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