Our renovation dream needs a reality check

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

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Environment Minister Eamon Ryan will on Tuesday launch a programme to deliver grants of over €25,000 to households to assist them in installing better insulation. [Lorne Campbell / Guzelian Chapter One Knaupf Insulation project in Old Trafford, Manchester.]

I’ve been involved with the renovation of buildings for more than a decade. I’ve campaigned for policies to put renovation at the top of public agendas and I’ve worked on hundreds of retrofit sites across Europe.

Barry Lynham is Managing Director at Knauf Energy Solutions.

I know how renovation improves living conditions, I’ve experienced how it creates jobs and I’ve seen for myself how renovation saves energy and cuts CO2 emissions.

So, the past year has felt genuinely significant. The European Commission’s commitment to renovate 35 million European buildings as part of a ‘Renovation Wave’ was a major landmark, while the long-list of summer proposals to reduce Europe’s carbon footprint by 55% by 2030 felt historic.

Proposals such as including buildings in the EU ETS, committing to renovate 3% of all public buildings annually and introducing minimum energy performance standards in the upcoming Energy Performance of Buildings Directive should be a renovation dream come true.

Sadly, when it comes to renovation, reality has a nasty habit of getting in the way.

Rather than measuring whether or not a renovation has delivered the performance promised — in terms of energy or CO2 savings — the success of a renovation project still depends on measuring the result with an Energy Performance Certificate. Unfortunately, EPCs vary wildly from country to country and are based on estimated assessments by subjective individuals rather than objective data.

Clearly, this has devastating consequences for any renovation project. Those carrying out renovation work may simply meet tick-box requirements on an assessment list or cut corners rather than focusing on delivering measured performance. Without a method to reward quality, there is no incentive to have work carried out by highly trained workers.

So where does this leave us? Understandably, with major trust issues.

Owners may be concerned that the renovation of their building does not deliver the financial savings promised and national governments may be concerned that their nationwide renovation policies are ineffective when it comes to achieving climate targets and reduced energy consumption.

Meanwhile, on a European level, it is essential to monitor in real time with real data the success of any building decarbonisation if the EU is to achieve its ambition to be the world’s first net zero continent by 2050.

Any massive energy infrastructure project needs to deliver transparent results. It is impossible to imagine building a solar panel farm or installing a forest of wind turbines without understanding how much kWh of electricity would be generated in the future, so why do we ignore the precise CO2 deliverable savings of renovating 35 million buildings?

We need to build a completely new renovation process based on real trust. And that means quantifiable, independently audited data that demonstrates unequivocally that carbon and energy savings have been achieved.

Or not.

In an Internet-of-Things world shaped by algorithms and real data, where anyone can access any information anywhere at the tap of a screen, EPCs belong to another era.

Fortunately, a new generation of digital technology is already available to help energise a Renovation Wave that everyone can trust. The UK has successfully trialled a range of digital energy efficiency meters that measure the real performance of buildings.

It is now up to the Commission to shape Europe-wide policies that reflect this real-life approach and put this technology at the heart of every renovation.

This would be a paradigm shift for renovation because, as the old saying goes, if we can measure we can manage it. We all deserve to transparently understand the savings that renovation provides and the contribution it makes to reducing bills, energy use and carbon emissions.

With real data, more money will be unlocked for more renovation as financial institutions will be able to calculate real return on investment based on real performance, governments will have a clear understanding of how buildings can fulfil their potential to fight climate change and our legacy will be better buildings for everyone.

I hope in the next decade of my career I will see these words transformed into reality. It’s a legacy we all deserve.

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