Powering the European Green Deal With Energy Renovation

21 December 2021 - // Features
Sudhanshu Verma
Head of Brussels Office, REVOLVE

As climate change migrates from the margins to the heart of EU policymaking, the state of EU buildings is considered to be the key to achieving the energy, emissions, and environmental targets set in the European Green Deal. It bears reiterating that this can only be achieved by getting consumers on board and making the renovation process simpler, faster, and cheaper.

“We will come forward with proposals to boost renewable energy and improve energy efficiency,” said Ursula von der Leyen earlier this year and promised that the EU will revise its entire climate and energy legislation to make it ‘fit for 55’’. Buildings account for 40% of EU energy demand and 36% of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. According to the Danish Energy Agency, approximately 85% of the buildings we will live in by 2050 already exist today. Therefore, we need to decarbonize the existing buildings to move further towards a green transition by 2050.

The EU’s 2050-vision requires most buildings to be highly energy-efficient; in other words, to be at least compliant with ‘Label A’ energy certification. A study by Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE), with data from 16 countries/regions across the EU, shows that 97% of the building stock must be upgraded to achieve the 2050 vision. The European Commission’s recent Renovation Wave Strategy is an attempt to mark a turning point. It proposes speeding up the renovation of buildings while also making them more energy-efficient and less carbon-intensive over their entire lifecycle. However, a stakeholder, the consumers, will only get on board the Renovation Wave if the renovation process is simplified, making it quicker, easier and cheaper for them to do so. As Fabian Viehrig from the Federal Association of German Housing and Real Estate Companies, said (GDW), “The most important thing is to reduce the complexity of energy renovations and to eliminate uncertainties regarding costs and time. If it is then possible to generate attractive prices, the breakthrough could be achieved.” The focus should be to remove the barriers consumers face with energy efficient retrofits through the different initiatives.

Extracts from British EPC certificate.

What do consumers need?

The first step in making the renovation process more accessible would be to standardize and revamp Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs). EPCs should be easy to read, and their content adapted to different consumer profiles such as tenants, homeowners, landlords, detached houses, and multi-unit buildings. EPCs provide general information about the energy performance of a property and are mandatory at the time of sale or lease. They allow prospective buyers and tenants to factor energy performance into their choice of home. EPCs originate from the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) in 2002 and are now regulated under the amended EPBD. EPCs display information on the property, featuring a range of estimated performance ratings resulting in an energy label. EPCs show a range of letters from A to G, along with a colour range from deep green to bright red and indicate where the property stands. General recommendations on possible improvement works, such as insulation, heating system or window replacement, are also included. The overall accuracy relies on the skills of the energy assessor, who issues the EPC. However, EPCs are not yet reliable tools for consumers as they provide limited and poorly designed information. As recommended by the Bureau Européen des Unions de Consommateurs (BEUC) for EPCs to gain consumer trust, they need to be improved in terms of information, design and reliability. This information should be sourced in on-site observations of the property and made available in local registries and databases covering the local market conditions (i.e., the average cost of works).

Providing renovation advisory at the local level is critical. Ensure consumers are given easy access to local energy advisors that are independent of energy suppliers or banks. These energy advisors should be available in one-stop shops, which should provide consumers with support and access to service providers to carry out the renovation works. Followed by providing easy access to finance for their home renovation by allowing for innovative financial products from either bank and/or the public sector.

Extracts from British EPC certificate.

Energy renovation: Sum of all things

A survey conducted by Housing Europe for the EU-funded HEART Project showed that most residents were willing to play their part in this green transition. However, the same study showed that they would need guidance and support along the way. Current solutions for building renovation are both expensive and complex. Buying a state-of-the-art heat pump or investing in full heating insulation is a significant investment for most consumers. Also, most consumers do not have the expertise or knowledge to navigate the complexities of making their homes more energy-efficient.

This is where renovation ‘toolkits’ come in. These are integrated packages of prefabricated components such as insulation/facades, heating; ventilation; air-conditioning, (renewable) energy systems; user interfaces; and digital solutions. A group of suppliers offer these to ensure quicker, higher quality and more cost-effective home renovations. This out-of-the-box solution removes the hassle of finding the right equipment and appliances needed for the renovation project.

A significant energy retrofit potential lies in multi-story residential buildings built between 1960 to 1990. These buildings have deficient energy performance levels, are not in general subject to cultural heritage restrictions, and their retrofit is scalable and replicable. The most common among these are 4-5 floor linear condominium buildings, and these buildings are very similar and their construction techniques.

One such toolkit – being developed by the HEART project – is at an advanced stage of development, and is already being used in demonstration cases in France and Italy. At the site in Italy, already game-changing opportunities for consumers are being tested, with renovation work being carried out on the building while residents continue to live in their apartments. This reduces both the cost and restriction caused by the renovation work, removing a significant barrier to consumers.

To unlock the potential reduction in energy consumption, many apartment or office buildings require a solution to address the complex decision-making process, including the multiple property owners and building managers.

A Housing Europe member in France (l’Union Sociale pour Habitat – USH) highlighted that cloud-based services could offer the sector a clearer overall picture of the energy performance of buildings as well. “Social housing providers need to have simple cartography of their stock’s performance to be able to position themselves and make long-term plans. They need to identify their stock’s needs to understand the potential demand existing on the area.”

To unlock the potential reduction in energy consumption, many apartment or office buildings require a solution to address the complex decision-making process, including the multiple property owners and building managers.

The HEART project has developed one such cloud-based decision support system that includes a useful multiuser operational tool to support the whole building retrofit intervention, from decision-making, through the design phase to the operational phase. It allows the tenants and energy managers to access necessary data to assist their decision-making.

Analytics from this data are available in customised interfaces that communicate information about the building system’s performance. The data comes via specially designed gateways. The gateways enable data acquisition from multiple sources and communication between devices, the electric grid (enabling smart-grid interaction), and external monitoring services (such as weather forecasting). The cloud-based platform simplifies the renovation process by providing possible variations and choices during renovation planning.

To further the uptake of the retrofit toolkit technology, Claudio Del Pero, Associate Professor at the Politecnico Di Milano, explained, “The toolkit developed under the HEART project will reduce the investment and risk of the renovation projects. The real-time monitoring features will allow prompt information actions on the system, and cloud-based data management will fully utilize the collected information. Advantages of these key features and the innovative business models developed within the HEART project will further help in scaling up renovation.”


Getting consumers on board

The fight against climate change and reducing emissions and energy consumption requires a substantial rethinking of the building sector. Improving buildings’ energy efficiency has been considerably developed and applied in recent years. However, this is often uncoordinated and fragmented while underestimating synergies and benefits gained through different technologies’ systemic integration. It simplifies one of the most daunting tasks for the consumer in their renovation planning.

Access to finance and one-stop-shops for renovation advisors to guide the consumer are key to getting consumers on board to make the Renovation Wave successful. Making buildings energy efficient should not have to be so complicated. However, consumers face an uphill battle with conflicting and scattered advice, technologies, and the options to finance their renovation project are not so easily accessible.

Out-of-the-box retrofit toolkits such as HEART will remove the hassle of choosing the suitable materials and appliances, equipment or dealing with installers. However, barriers such as access to finance and lack of renovation advisory at the city level must be addressed by the public authorities if the EU’s Renovation Wave is to be a success. The EU’s climate goals depend on getting people on board.

Sudhanshu Verma
Head of Brussels Office, REVOLVE

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