Photo by Alena Koval from Pexels
Remining-Lowex was a research, development and demonstration project, co-funded by the European Union’s 6th Framework Programme (FP6) CONCERTO II, which intended to use locally available, low-temperature geothermal energy from abandoned mines as energy source for heating and cooling of buildings. The project ran between June 2007 and June 2014, and involved two participating communities and demonstration sites, Heerlen (the Netherlands) and Zagorje ob Savi (Slovenia), and two associated communities with observer status, Czeladz (Poland) and Bourgas (Bulgaria).
Remining-Lowex aimed to link new developments to degraded industry areas by using abandoned mines as a renewable source of energy and revitalizing the community – also by embracing their heritage. An innovative communication strategy demonstrated that it is possible to take into account community emotions, including past, forgotten hardships and other socio-economic issues of the mine-workers’ communities, to envisage an increased quality of life and social welfare. Here, we focus in more detail on the Slovenian demonstration case of the otherwise large-scale project.
Zagorje ob Savi – Creating Alternative Energy Futures
Zagorje ob Savi is a town in the Central Sava Valley in central Slovenia and the seat of the municipality of the same name. Today, the Zagorje ob Savi municipality is home to about 17.000 residents, while its recent history, as well as everyday life and culture, were shaped by what was once the deepest brown coal mine in Europe (262 meters below sea level). The deposits of coal were discovered in 1755, boosting the region’s economic development and remaining the area’s main economic activity until 1995, when the last mines were closed. A renewed vision of Zagorje ob Savi’s future was needed to transform it from a former industrial mining city into a liveable and sustainable European city. Among other actions, this included switching to alternative and environmentally friendlier energy sources.
The Remining-Lowex project was part of that change. The three key clusters of project activities included construction and energy refurbishment of public and private buildings, training, and demonstration of advanced technical solutions in practice. Within the project, a number of public buildings were renovated, including the local kindergarten, municipal headquarters, and the cultural centre. In addition, over 50 percent of multi-apartment buildings in the town of Zagorje were refurbished and the community energy systems were expanded and modernised. Training on low exergy technologies and utilization of renewable energy sources (RES) was prepared and carried out for businesses, students and pupils, with the aim of expanding the understanding of RES, rational use of energy, and low exergy technologies. The project team also designed a mobile research unit OELA – a low-energy self-sufficient mobile unit for demonstration of new concepts of low exergy technologies on the basis of renewable sources, and use of mine water for heating and cooling of residential or public buildings. The unit serves to carry out regular events related to renewable energy and energy efficiency, and as a demonstration and training facility. The presented technological innovations are associated with the culture of mining, at the same time transcending it to show and promote sustainable energy systems. The interiors as well as the envelope of the unit mimic a mining shaft and are adapted to mining architecture, thereby integrating the local mining heritage into its concept and design. OLEA also demonstrates the transition between a black, carbon-based history and a green sustainable future in the municipality and wider region.
The Key to Success: Multi-stakeholder and Multi-disciplinary R&D
A number of key stakeholders were directly engaged in the project activities, including the students and academic staff of the University of Ljubljana (Faculty of mechanical engineering, Laboratory for sustainable buildings and environmental technologies), the district heating utility, housing company, Zagorje ob Savi municipality council, industry representatives, NGOs, and of course the municipality residents.
Each contributed with their specific expertise and context. Local council and public services had access to local inhabitants and knowledge of specific local challenges regarding, for instance, the environment, energy, or the existing building fund. The council is also the local policy-maker with a level of authority, which proved crucial in ensuring a smooth delivery of the project and creating impact. Academic partners contributed with research, studies, and proposed solutions to the identified challenges that were in the focus of the project, such as sustainable energy and low exergy technologies. The University of Ljubljana students were also involved in research and development activities: they participated in all phases of the project, from planning, to research, measurements, design of solutions, or acquiring offers from technology providers. The students carried out field research as part of their lab assignments and were regularly present at the demonstration site. Industry partners, on the other hand, had the capacity to implement the developed solutions in practice as innovative demonstration cases.
The key result of the REMINING project is the demonstration of retrofitting buildings and building new urban areas within old mining communities, while climatizing these buildings with locally available low-valued energy resources by an integrated design approach, based on low energy principles. Derived specific results are the improvement of spatial planning, environmental effects, and economic performance of the area by providing affordable sustainable energy supply to the new development and integral approach of (urban) development, by using attractive design and low energy costs as magnets for new businesses, and to keep existing and attract new residents to the area.
This blog article is written with reference to a good practice case study report prepared as part of the Erasmus+ University City Action Lab (UCITYLAB) Project.