The context questions helped us focus on key issues to monitor. We discussed opportunities and barriers in our context at every project meeting and learned more. - Mikko Jalas, Enespa Ltd.
This is an excerpt from the pilot project story Micro-ESCOs – Enespa working with Make Energy Change Happen Toolkit. As one of the first steps in the development of the project, Enespa started to learn about the context of their project.
"Early on, we decided to locate our project in one of five Carbon-Neutral Municipalities, a high-profile project by the Finnish Environment Institute and five small municipalities that had pledged to work toward carbon neutrality. Our first task in understanding the context was to narrow down the selection to one or two of these. We made an inventory of the building stock in these municipalities. Enespa also conducted a study on the cost-effective energy efficiency potential of buildings in the municipalities. It was found that there was a 40-50% cost-effective potential.
In understanding the context, one important issue was to understand what people in the municipalities knew and expected about the Climate Neutral Municipalities project. We did this by interviewing the project managers, reviewing newspaper articles and organising meetings with people from the municipalities. We learned that the municipalities decided to join this initiative because they expect to gain environmental improvements, but importantly also economic development, new investments, innovative solutions, visibility and a better reputation nationally. In general, the focus on energy efficiency was low at first in the Climate Neutral Municipalities project, and we needed to create awareness of energy efficiency as a low-cost and quick way to reduce CO2 emissions.
We decided to focus on one of the municipalities, Mynämäki in Southwest Finland with about 8000 residents. In discussions with the mayor, building inspector and the technical director we further narrowed down to one residential area, Raimela, near the town centre. In a meeting with the municipal officials and active residents, we learned that many of the residents are middle-aged or older (some retired) and middle-income households. There was an ongoing project to build a district heating network in the centre of Mynämäki, and Raimela, despite being located in proximity, had been left out of this network.
An obvious difficulty with understanding the context is that in many cases one needs to make commitments to a certain context before getting to know it very well. This was the case with Raimela. We had prior knowledge of the building stock and demographic characteristics of the area, but few ideas of the potential local key actors. Some clues were however available: there was an active resident’s association in Raimela as well as a local plumbing entrepreneur. We also learned that there were some plans or ideas among the residents to co-operate in heating system renovations.
The pros and cons of various solutions (from the household’s point of view) were carefully explored. Internal discussions about the possibilities for our company turned the interest to more centralised or large-scale solutions, which are also cost-effective for individual households in a fairly dense residential area. We also spoke with national-level regulators and financial institutions to find out about upcoming regulations and finance alternatives. As district heating is the most efficient and climate-friendly solution, Enespa searched for a similar option in areas where district heating is not available. This gave rise to the idea of a combined solar-ground heat solution serving multiple households, at least as one option. We found a number of barriers, but also significant opportunities for this solution in the existing context (see figure below).