Buildings renovation: Effective tool for energy savings

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

This article is part of our special report Energy efficient buildings : Powering Europe.

Improving the energy efficiency of buildings is the single most effective way to meet the EU’s energy savings goals, argues Oliver Rapf of the Buildings Performance Institute Europe.

Oliver Rapf is executive director of the Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE), a Brussels-based organisation that focuses on policy analysis and development in relation to the energy performance of buildings. 

“'BPIE’s model will cut the energy consumption of buildings by over 70% by 2050. This will drastically reduce the EU’s dependency on the import of fossil fuels'.

Oliver Rapf is executive director of the Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE), a Brussels-based organisation that focuses on policy analysis and development in relation to the energy performance of buildings. 

“'BPIE’s model will cut the energy consumption of buildings by over 70% by 2050. This will drastically reduce the EU’s dependency on the import of fossil fuels'.

Put in a nutshell, this is one of the results of an EU-wide survey which the Buildings Performance Institute Europe published recently. About 80% of all buildings in Europe were built before the 1990s, at a time when most EU members had no energy performance-based requirements in their building codes.

In consequence energy efficiency in old buildings is poor, so that buildings consume 40% of total final energy in the EU.

Today we face the question of how to achieve energy performance levels that make our buildings fit for the requirements of the 21st century. This is a century when security of energy supply and climate change concerns will play a much bigger role than before, a century which will see increased ageing of the European population going hand in hand with the likely decreasing purchasing power of pensioners.

Some answers are provided in a recent BPIE report which models a number of energy saving renovation scenarios for the European building stock. Of all the options modelled, a two-stage renovation strategy seems to be a good option which balances investment needs with substantial savings of energy and CO2.

This strategy delivers a high internal rate of return on the money invested while also achieving a CO2 reduction of over 90%, as mandated by the EU 2050 roadmap. But don’t be misled: the meaning of 'two stage' is not equivalent to doing little now and more later.

Quite the contrary. A significant ramping up of renovation activities to two and a half times the current level is needed by 2020, as well as a significant increase in the ambition level of the applied renovation measures. The volume of moderate and deep renovations will have to be increased by roughly a factor of four compared to today, leading to a decrease in the share of renovations which deliver only minor energy savings.

This is a challenge for the supply chain in its widest sense. Architects and planners, material and technology suppliers, the construction industry and the finance industry will have to adjust their offerings to service this growth. And policymakers will have to find the political will to develop and implement more effective policies to stimulate this emerging market.

The renovation of the European building stock to achieve these high energy-saving ambitions will provide an enormous economic stimulus – something which is urgently needed in these times of austerity.

New financing vehicles should make it interesting for private and institutional investors to invest in energy efficiency project portfolios which are designed to deliver long-term stable returns. This should certainly be appealing to investors who prefer low-risk investments over high-risk ones.

Today, Europe’s heating demand is still predominately met by fossil fuels. BPIE’s two-stage scenario reduces the energy consumption of buildings by over 70% by 2050. Cutting the energy demand of buildings will enable the EU to drastically reduce its dependency on the import of fossil fuels. And it will remove the pressure to exploit new gas field discoveries which currently threaten to increase regional tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.

It takes no supercomputer to add up the benefits. Delaying action will mean missing out on opportunities to create significant savings for society and individual consumers, and to forego job market stimulation.

Energy saving strategies can deliver a wide range of economic, societal and even geopolitical benefits. All these should be at the heart of political decision making."

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