Innovation and industrialisation can speed up deep energy renovation

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.com PLC.

Building stock renovation is a must for Europe. [Shutterstock]

With the pending Winter Package, including an Accelerating Clean Energy Innovation strategy, the European Commission has a chance to show that the EU has reached a crossroads, write Oliver Rapf and Julia Reinaud.

Oliver Rapf is executive director of BPIE and Julia Reinaud is director of research programmes and partnerships at i24c.

The Commission can now choose between continuing on the bumpy road of fragmented and shallow renovations or getting on the ‘renovation autobahn’, where rapid and deep renovation unleashes the real potential of the construction sector.

The dire need for renovation of Europe’s building stock provides an immediate reason to ramp up innovation and spur job creation in the construction sector.

By doing this and getting on to the ‘renovation autobahn’, ground-breaking programmes and products can be tested and valorised, making European industries globally competitive, and enabling them to grow and hire staff here in Europe. And of course, in doing so, we should not forget that the higher quality of building stock will also deliver well-being benefits to its citizens.

We know this is possible and successful from first-hand local experience. The Dutch Energiesprong – an innovative renovation programme – has proven that it is feasible to upscale an industrialised production process through a holistic approach.

The project advances industrialisation by aggregating demand and streamlining replicable processes, innovative instruments (e.g. financial models) and products (e.g. modular building components). The Energiesprong programme has reduced the cost of a holistic net zero renovation of a terraced house from € 130,000, at the first pilot-project in 2010, to €65,000 nowadays.

A price drop of 50%, with a target to further cut costs by more than a third. Imagine what Europe-wide industrialisation could achieve.

In other countries, other innovative approaches are also bearing fruit. To scale up renovation demand, building owners need appropriate energy advice, assurance on costs, confidence in a high quality result and an individual renovation strategy that is tailored to their needs.

Consumer demand will drive this transformation in the end. Front-runner projects with different approaches have succeeded to boost consumer awareness:

  • The Picardie Pass Renovation programme in France supports building owners with technical and financial backing through a one-stop-shop solution, where the building owner is guided along the whole renovation process and is entitled to energy monitoring and advice for five subsequent years;
  • The “building renovation passport” being implemented in Germany is another good example, where financial support schemes are linked to an individual tailored, long-term and step-wise building renovation plan. In guiding the building owner to the best possible solution, better decisions are made and lock-in-effects can be avoided.

Despite some promising cases, the progress of deep energy renovation has, however, been isolated and too sluggish. Across Europe, we need to move from demonstration into a high volume market. And the time to take action is now. Three measures in particular would help this agenda.

First, by implementing a deep energy renovation target and making financial support conditional on the achieved level of performance. A harmonised deep energy renovation target in the revised Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) would signal to the industry where we will have to go and when.

Second, and even more crucial, is unlocking consumer demand for deep energy renovation. Since the level of awareness of renovation benefits is very low among consumers, it is essential to provide them with energy advice services, for example by enabling the building renovation passport concept, to support the critical role of consumers in realising the EU’s energy ambitions.

Finally, deep renovation of the building stock should make it ‘smart-ready’, allowing further innovation and development. In a future with smart buildings, these will be flexibly connected and synchronized with an energy system, being able to produce, store and consume energy efficiently. The EPBD should therefore evolve the Energy Performance Certificate to also include the aspect of buildings’ smart-readiness.

In order to foster success, consumers should be at the centre of the EU’s energy and buildings policy. Active and engaged consumers are essential for Europe to achieve its ambition to move to a low carbon, secure and competitive economy. With this in mind, along with the specific ideas above, EU policy-makers should grab the opportunity to increase both the depth and rate of renovation.

The EU should move up a gear and turn onto the renovation autobahn. Doing so will be a win for the economy (competitiveness and jobs), a win for the society (better and smarter homes) and a win for the environment (more renewables and less greenhouse gases). A win-win-win!