Energy Efficiency

An energy transition cannot happen without the renovation of buildings

Susanne Dyrbøl
Susanne Dyrbøl
July 16, 2019

Without re-thinking the current effort we will not be able to deliver the scale of high-quality renovation which is required to deliver the energy transition.

Nearly zero energy building from the inside

Over the last decade, most attention has been paid to developing and optimising the concept of new nearly zero energy (NZEB) or zero emission buildings. One of the key drivers in Europe has been the 2010 EU Buildings Directive that requires all new public buildings to be NZEB from 2019 and all new buildings to reach this standard from 2021. Much less attention has been given to the renovation challenge, which in Europe, as in most parts of the world, is massive. In Europe, 75% of buildings standing today will still be in use in 2050 and most of them are already in poor shape.

The importance of renovating the building stock to deliver the energy transition is well-recognised, buildings account for 36% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the EU. Longer-term ambition is also clear — in the newly revised Buildings Directive, member states are asked to develop strategies to bring their building stock to nearly zero energy levels by 2050.

We know what to do

We know how to renovate single buildings to both NZEB and energy positive levels. We have the technical solutions and the social, environmental and economic benefits are well documented. Deep renovations combined with aesthetic quality and use of long-lasting materials are cheaper in the long run as maintenance costs are lower and buildings continue to look good. But these impacts are not fully appreciated or considered when governments are deciding which investments to prioritise. 

In the EU, the public sector owns and operates 20%1 of residential housing and a large share of all buildings — hospitals, schools and offices account for nearly half of the total floor area of non-residential buildings. This large portfolio of public buildings provides opportunities for economies of scale. Leadership by governments and cities renovating their own buildings would have a significant impact and could lead the way to upscale energy renovation actions.

The renovation challenge

Even though energy renovation delivers multiple benefits far outweighing investment costs, the public sector is constantly challenged on capacity and ways to find upfront investment. 

To change this mentality, and meet the challenge of more than doubling renovation rates over the next 30 years to deliver EU’s objective of a nearly zero energy building stock, it is essential to re-think the EU system so it can more successfully get countries to act. 

One idea ROCKWOOL heartily supports is to create a Marshall inspired Plan to renovate Europe as suggested by Oliver Rapf from the Buildings Performance Institute Europe2. Such a plan should include a toolbox of today’s policies and financial measures, but also ways for the EU to directly engage and work with countries to deliver faster and deeper results. 

A European renovation taskforce?

Instead of continuously waiting for member states to come up with the bold actions required to address the renovation challenge, we could look for inspiration from global companies and how they “nudge” and support their local business to deliver on common goals. Often companies will create a task force with experts which goes out to their local business and provide dedicated support and expertise. An efficient Marshall Plan for renovation must include a European Renovation Task Force to provide dedicated expert support, initially to the most interested countries. It should be established under the European Commission and have direct access to leading experts and sufficient capacity to assist countries to design and implement national renovation programmes at scale. Successful learnings could then be applied to the next wave of countries — like the approach also applied to countries preparing to join the EU.

The task force could nudge and assist national administrations with capacity building, information, training, education, facilitation, help to remove undesirable regulatory barriers at both national and EU levels. It should help countries to make better use of EU funds to leverage the missing annual €88 bn in private investments for energy efficiency in buildings by de-risking investments (increased use of guarantees) instead of creating a market totally reliant on grants.

The truth of the matter  

Without re-thinking the current effort combined with a dedicated and long-term political priority we will not be able to deliver the scale of high-quality renovation which is required to deliver the energy transition. At ROCKWOOL, we urge policymakers to put this even higher on their agendas, otherwise we will not be able to mitigate the effects of climate change in time.