One Year After EPBD: It’s time to accelerate smart building solutions

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

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[Danfoss]

One year after the deadline for implementing the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), we are far from being on track for more efficient and smarter building stock.

Torben Pedersen is Divisional President Residential Heating in Danfoss. Marie Ziegler is Head of Strategy and Insights in Somfy. Thomas Petuaud-Letang is Senior Vice President Commercial & Distribution in Schneider Electric.

In fact, more than 1/3 of EU member states have yet to implement the requirements for the crucial building automation and control improvements properly, and not all have submitted their long-term renovation strategies.

However, the stars may be aligning now, with the EU Renovation Wave adding strong additional levers to decarbonize our existing building stock. The EPBD is being reviewed, providing an opportunity to make it stronger and more effective, while the economic recovery plan is pouring funds into green and digital investments. Smart, efficient buildings that play an active role in our energy systems are within reach.

Buildings are key for reaching climate neutrality  

For better living, look to buildings. Smarter buildings mean climate change mitigation, local economic boosts, and increased comfort for occupants.

Buildings are responsible for 40% of the energy consumption and 36% of climate emissions in Europe. We can curb these emissions with existing technology, and we urgently need to. Roughly 75% of the current building stock in Europe is energy inefficient (class D or E), and these buildings will still stand in 2050. Only 1% of buildings undergo energy efficiency renovation annually. The need for decarbonizing both residential and commercial buildings is enormous. And so is the untapped potential:  Rolling out smart building automation and control solutions can provide net energy savings of 15% to 22% across the EU. Solutions such as building and home energy management systems, smart thermostats or solar shading means that energy efficiency and comfort are always maximized based on the current needs. The technology is available and the payback time is under five years for many solutions.

Beyond  reducing climate emissions, energy efficiency also creates  jobs and boosts the  economy, according to the International Energy Agency. The World Health Organization also estimates that each euro spent on building renovation brings a 0.42€ decrease in public health costs. Finally, smart buildings are crucial for renewable energy. It makes integrating decentralized renewable energy resources (e.g. solar panels) into the wider energy system cheaper and easier, while also solving potential problems of grid resilience. It’s a win-win-win.

The future of energy efficiency is digital

But what does ‘smart’ mean? Advanced building automation and control solutions have a host of functions. They  continuously monitor, analyze, and benchmark the energy performance of the building’s technical systems (ventilation, heating, solar shading, air conditioning, lighting, and more). This data is then used to inform building owners, managers and/or inhabitants about the energy performance of the building, and notify them when an action is required, for instance through a push notification a building manager receives on their mobile phone informing them that an apartment is using significantly more energy than usual.

They also empower consumers to control their energy use and settings remotely. Or let self-learning software optimize energy use automatically based on users’ habits, thereby lowering energy use and  bills. Finally, and importantly, smart functionalities enable the building to interact with the grid (demand-side response), both electricity and heating, supporting the integration of decentralized renewable energy sources and distributed energy services (e.g. smart charging, storage) by providing flexibility to a more integrated energy system.

To unlock the full potential of buildings, building certification must be significantly improved. Data is routinely collected over the lifespan of a building, but a common approach for organizing building information is largely missing. Building-related data – such as EPC data, environmental information, digitalization – continues to be scarce, of unreliable quality, and limited accessibility[1]. This slows down efforts to achieve deep decarbonization.

A strong regulatory framework can accelerate action  

2021 provides excellent momentum on the renovation of the building stock with the Renovation Wave, green recovery efforts, and the revision of the EPBD.

Now is our chance to take a big leap forward by:

  • Mandating that residential and non-residential buildings and larger residential buildings are equipped with continuous monitoring and effective control functionalities.
  • Integrating revised (and harmonized) Energy Performance Certificates within digital building logbooks, to facilitate access to and sharing of data for improved operation and maintenance of buildings.
  • Incentivizing buildings to be equipped with demand-response functionality, for electricity as well as heating/cooling (optimized control of system based on local predictions and grid signals).
  • Allocating recovery funds to cost-effective smart solutions with the highest potential in terms of CO2 emissions reductions through energy efficiency measures (e.g. building automation and controls).

As industry, we are ready and committed to delivering simple, reliable solutions through partnerships such as the Connectivity Ecosystem, involving Danfoss, Schneider Electric, Somfy, and more. What we need from policymakers is the full implementation of current legislation as well as an upgraded EPBD to transform voluntary aspirations into well supported and funded mandates. Together we can accelerate the roll-out of digital solutions for building efficiency and help meet the ambitious climate targets in the EU.

[1] Hartenberger et al. (2019) “The Building Passport as an enabler for market transformation and circular economy within the built environment”

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