The Renovation Wave: an opportunity to scale-up real energy savings through energy management

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

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This article is part of our special report Energy efficiency services.

The European Commission has recently stated its will to put the European Green Deal at the heart of the Recovery Plan. After the worldwide COVID-19 crisis, which has heavily affected the European economy, it has clearly appeared that Europe needed to find cost-effective solutions to achieve its 2050 climate targets. This urging necessity has put an emphasis on the Renovation wave, recognising that the building sector had a huge untapped potential in terms of both energy and emissions savings.

Valérie Plainemaison is the Secretary General of EFIEES, the European Federation of Intelligent Energy Efficiency Services, which is the voice of energy service companies (ESCOs) and their national associations in 12 EU Member States, representing over 130.000 professionals engaged in the design and implementation of energy-efficiency solutions.

In this context, Energy Efficiency Services will be key to effectively reduce energy consumption and emissions from the building sector, which accounts for half of the energy consumption in Europe. Energy Efficiency Services provide energy management solutions at the levels of both demand and supply, with long-term contractual arrangements often including an energy performance guarantee. Operation and maintenance over the implementation of the contractually agreed energy efficiency improvement are also key to ensure actual and continuous energy and emissions’ savings.  The latest TEG’s Taxonomy report, which includes recommendations to the European Commission on the adoption of the first delegated act on Sustainable Finance, recognises that such solutions are sustainable and thus should be eligible under the Taxonomy.  The Technical Annex to the report, lists indeed typical energy efficiency services, such as energy performance contracting (EPC), in the section on “Individual measures and professional services” contributing to climate change mitigation in the building sector.

In a moment when it is essential to increase our climate ambition, it is hard to ignore that COVID-19 crisis has put huge constraints on public budgets. To make sure that economic recovery gets along with fight against climate change, Europe must focus on the most cost-effective measures which will allow to have quick yet effective emissions reductions. In the building sector, economic recovery and emissions reductions both mean an urgent need to focus on energy savings. The Renovation wave will be the occasion to create new policies and tools, as well as to reinforce current legislation to ensure that energy savings are real (i.e. both measurable and verifiable) and that energy performance is maintained overtime. Energy Efficiency Services are solutions which do deliver these benefits, as they include a combination of actions, mostly with guaranteed energy efficiency performance, which go far beyond single technical renovation measures and allow to monitor and keep improvements over time, thanks to proactive energy management. Moreover, in such an economic context, it is important to emphasise that energy efficiency services do create local and sustainable jobs, hence supporting Europe’s not only green, but also socioeconomic recovery.

For all these reasons, we believe that Energy Efficiency Services and their solutions, particularly Energy Performance Contracts, should be further supported and promoted alongside other measures which aim to reduce the environmental impact of the building sector. Hence, it is of utmost importance to fully include Energy Efficiency Services in any renovation strategy, as their energy management solutions are a necessary complement to renovation measures, since they ensure that the improved energy performance is kept and even contractually guaranteed overtime. Moreover, it is important to understand that in some specific situations, in which (deep) renovation is neither feasible nor necessary, energy efficiency services represent the most cost-effective alternative. It is indeed essential to ensure that energy consumption is optimised and emissions reduced, even when the moment for a deep renovation has not arrived yet. As CO2 emissions have a cumulative effect over time, it is crucial to take all opportunities to reduce them as soon as possible.

Energy Efficiency Services and among them EPCs have been around for several years now. These markets are already quite developed in some European countries, and continuously increasing. Yet, remaining barriers hamper the effective uptake of these key solutions. It is indeed sometimes hard for potential clients and citizens to understand what is behind an Energy Performance Contract and Energy Efficiency Services in general, even more since energy management solutions are partly not tangible. This lack of understanding and visibility also generates a lack of trust.

This is the reason why EFIEES has been previously engaged in the Transparense project and now in the QualitEE project. With Transparense, the aim was to create an European Code of Conduct for EPCs. It was finalised in July 2015 and, ever since, it defines the basic values and principles that are considered fundamental for the successful preparation and implementation of EPC projects. Although this Code of Conduct has been running very well for several years now, it appeared that we needed to do more in order to increase trust in EES and ESCOs. This was done through QualitEE. This H2020 project has started in 2017 and is ending this month. Its aim was to increase investment in energy efficiency services in the building sector within the EU and improve trust in service providers. To achieve these aims, quality assessment criteria and business cases for quality assurance schemes have been developed by the project partners and tested through pilot projects all other Europe.

These European projects have paved the way to further promote and support EES and ESCOs. However, they cannot and will not replace European wide policy actions. This is why we believe that, apart from increasing renovation rates, a solid Renovation Wave should promote and support Energy Efficiency Services and energy management solutions which deliver energy savings and improved performance over time while remaining cost-effective and generating sustainable jobs.

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