A Cool Idea to Heat Buildings in Sweden

posted by Andrew Cuneo

All around the world, we’re seeing innovation that can turn back the clock on our climate change dilemma. Companies are making strides never before seen that illustrate ways to conserve energy and water, while cleaning our air.

But this story out of Stockholm, Sweden makes the grade as the most innovative, and perhaps most unusual, means to generate heat and electricity – the human body.

That’s right, as reported by the BBC last Sunday, Stockholm’s Central subway station is harvesting the body heat of the 250,000 passengers that ride each day.  So how is this being done?  Well, “Heat exchangers” in the station’s ventilation system are converting all excess body heat into hot water which is then pumped into a nearby building to keep it warm. And it’s saving that building a tremendous amount of energy.  In fact, the 250,000 daily passengers in Stockholm are actually saving that building 25 percent of its normal energy bill.

The human body is providing a new source of heat for Stockholm buildings – and that’s pretty cool.

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Joe Arimond

The Stockholm subway piece is somewhat the reverse of what was going on more than 30 years ago in Chicago just before I joined H&K’s National Division base of operations. Over on the opposite side of Chicago’s downtown, Continental Bank was extracting heat from water used to cool its massive mainframe computers. The hot water was piped through heat exchangers that produced warm air used to heat the bank’s eight-story computer center. Instead of using additional energy to chill the water before returning it to the mainfarme equipment, a small group of bright, innovative thinkers at the bank had concluded that the heat generated by these huge computers could be recycled. The Stockholm subway project is something our huge, standalone department stores could learn from. The same goes for theaters and large concert venues. In the dead of a Chicago winter, my wife and I dress in summer-like apparel during the Chicago Symphony concert season because 2,300 patrons packed neatly into Chicago’s Orchestra Hall are cause for an indoor temperature spike anywhere from eight to twelve degrees. Think of it as the above-ground equivalent of geo-thermal heating. And if that heat were extracted from the hall in Stockholm subway or Continental Bank fashion, it could be used to heat the adjacent lobby areas, saving precious energy and the dollars used to buy it.



Lena Davie

As the daughter of Scandinavian parents, I can say I am not surprised to see countries like Sweden and Finland leading the way when it comes to innovation in energy conservation and creation. Having traveled across Scandinavia since childhood, I have seen first hand how these northern countries celebrate and harness their natural resources like wind and solar power and how citizens do their part by using mass transit, planting gardens and in some cases living “off the grid” in small summer houses with no electricity. We could learn a thing or two from this out of the box thinking. Every little act can make a huge change if we all do something.

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