Successful approaches to energy efficiency in housing show the way

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

Marc Calon, President of Housing Europe

Marc Calon, President of Housing Europe

Member States are expected to bring the 2030 Energy & Climate objectives closer to people’s housing needs, next week. Responsibility and innovation, resident empowerment and financial schemes are all parts of the strategic mix, writes Marc Calon.

Marc Calon is the President of Housing Europe, the European Federation of Public, Cooperative and Social Housing.

Energy consumption in buildings is a hard nut to crack. Any viable strategy must aim to scale-up approaches that have already been tried and tested and not rely on targets alone. At the European Council on 23  October, EU leaders are expected to make decisions regarding the 2030 Energy and Climate objectives. I urge them to take stock of the ways in which energy efficiency in housing has been given significant boosts at national and local levels, and which are the actors taking the lead in getting the job done.

In Germany, for instance, since the beginning of the ’80s the GdW housing associations which provide a home for over 13 million people all over the country had already taken measures to promote energy savings and to improve energy efficiency. It is rather impressive that from 1990 to 2005, the CO2 emissions were cut in half, while the forecast for 2020 calls for a reduction of 66% compared to 1990. At the same time, a total of 174 billion euros have been invested to improve the condition of the buildings from 1992 to 2012. In this case, the crucial key to success was a well-designed adapted loan scheme from the public KfW bank.

Figures are equally convincing in France. Since 2009 1.5 billion Euros has been invested in Social Housing Energy Efficiency, an investment that has consequently created around 17, 000 jobs and has increased the energy-efficiency of the homes of 61, 000 low income families. It should be underlined that 211 million of the funding was raised from ERDF during the previous programming period, an effective use of EU funding by the social housing providers linked to L’Union Sociale pour l’ Habitat (USH), which should show the way forward for other Member States.

Energy efficiency investments come along with a significant injection of innovation in the Netherlands. The Dutch Association of Housing Corporations Aedes committed to the National Energy Saving Covenant with the State and with tenants. The sector keeps track of its energy efficiency investments through its SHAERE database which now includes data about almost 2 million dwellings that just for 2013 showed that 67.000 dwellings had their energy performance improved.

Energiesprong is a deal between Dutch housing associations and builders to refurbish 111,000 social dwellings to Net Zero Energy (E=0) levels in the Netherlands. This means, annually a house does not consume more energy for heating, hot water and electricity than it produces while the refurbishments are financed of the energy cost savings. A consortium called Transition Zero, including 10 partners plus 17 social housing organizations across France, the UK and the Netherlands have now made a bid for Horizon 2020 funding to run a cross-country program to make E=0 refurbishments a market reality in the EU.

These schemes as well as many others that have been identified and shared through the Power House nearly Zero Energy Challenge platform, guarantee that refurbishment really does result in lower consumption, if not nearly Zero, and lower costs for residents who are indeed informed of their role. Again, through the course of the various projects real energy consumption data is tracked on HIVE online platform.

As far as tenants are concerned, since they are always in the epicentre of the work done, the International Union of Tenants, Housing Europe and DELPHIS (French network of housing providers) succeeded in finalizing a twofold voluntary agreement that enables Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in public, cooperative and social housing. This European Joint Declaration brings the notion of ‘Responsible Housing’ to life and creates a more protected environment for tenants, too.

EU leaders have oftentimes declared their intention to strike a balanced energy mix that will ensure a more sustainable future both for the people and the planet. It is my strong belief, backed by evidence provided by our numerous partners across the EU, that Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Sources have to be combined in order to reach the most cost effective level of investments. This can only happen through further support of decentralised energy production.

Favourable financial conditions, particularly in cooperation with the EIB as well as an improved implementation and stabilisation of the current legislative framework, if combined with a better building renovation supply chain and welfare policies ensuring that low-income groups are not unduly burdened by climate change costs may actually guarantee a feasible strategy. A strategy that takes into consideration a sector that anyway accounts for 40% of the European Union’s (EU) total energy consumption.

The year 2020 is around the corner and the EU must deliver on its promises in order to take a safer path towards the 2030 objectives. We cannot afford to lower ambitions. Let’s all work for the common solutions to a fair energy transition.

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