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OVERVIEW | Energy in Buildings at the 2020 EU Sustainable Energy Week #EUSEW 2020

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This year marks the 15thEuropean Sustainable Energy Week EUSEW.  Under the circumstances with Covid-19 the event was adapted to provide a dynamic, interactive and carefully organised online format. This effort has proved successful with more than 6300 registered participants and 4600 active online participants and some sessions of the policy conference gathering over 1500 registrations from people around the world. Presenters were connecting from home offices from across Europe on camera, sharing their slides and insights.

 

Around the main three days of the Policy Conference (23rd-25th June), EUSEW 2020 encompassed associated events that took place over two months, including on 22nd June the first-ever European Youth Energy Day, an Extended Programme of partnering organisations hosted webinars, the Awards Competition and a whole series of sessions and activities registered as EUSEW 2020 Energy Days events. The lively Energy Village also transformed into a thriving marketplace Networking Platform that remained open until the 10th of July. Likewise, a series of Virtual Stands were organised by several media partners, major programmes and initiatives (Interreg Europe, Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy) and European Commission Departments and Executive Agencies, such as DG ENER, EASME, and INEA.

 

The main focus was on the European Green Deal and the pathways to economic recovery from the coronavirus repercussions, as announced from this year’s theme title: “Beyond the crisis: Clean Energy for Green Recovery and Growth”. In this context, many of the sessions and events were directly addressing or closely relating to energy efficiency and renewable energy in buildings, with the European Green Deal and the Renovation Wave initiative having a prominent role.

 

EUSEW 2020 Awards

 

These awards offer recognition to outstanding projects and individuals for their achievements in the fields of energy efficiency and renewables. This year the Engagement, Innovation and Youth Award categories were complemented by the new Women in Energy Award, the 2nd edition of the Eastern Partnership Award and, as in the previous years, the Citizens Award.

 

The Engagement Award finalists were projects addressing building occupants and communities’ interaction with energy. The winner was the CLEAR 2.0 project active in Belgium, Portugal, Spain and Italy with the goal of connecting consumers to domestic renewable energy technologies. The two other finalists were the Friendly Bill project from Portugal, which helps citizens understand their energy bills, and the Community-based Virtual Power Plant cVPP Project led from the Netherlands, dealing with prosumers and local renewable energy generation management, which was also the winner of the cross-categories Citizens Award.

 

In the Innovation category, the award went to the REMOTE project addressing energy storage solutions for isolated micro-grids or remote areas. The other two finalists were the Individual Building Renovation Roadmaps IBRoad project, coordinated from Greece and aiming to promote an easy and efficient home renovation for every homeowner across Europe with roadmaps and a logbook as enabling tools, and the UK led D2T2 project dealing with improving tidal turbine technology, cutting the costs of operating the turbine and as such cutting the costs of tidal energy by 30%.

 

For the Youth category, there were several initiatives tackling education and empowerment of young generations. The award winner was a project for engineering students addressing building energy efficiency with new knowledge and skills to tackle energy poverty: The Fair (FER) Solutions for Better Community project managed by the Croation NGO Society for Sustainable Development Design (DOOR). The other finalists were the YENESIS project, dealing with the specific challenges that can make sustainable employment prospects for young people in islands difficult and the Weltfairsteher project, dealing with engaging pupils in challenges for more sustainable living.

 

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The Women in Energy category recognises the three winners’ contribution to the clean energy transition. Alongside Sophie Attali from France, addressing eco-design and the energy efficiency of products, again buildings are put forward with the award conferred on Katharina Habersbrunner from Germany, who has tackled energy poverty and energy transition in several projects. Moreover, it is worth recognising the contribution of Ada Ámon from Hungary. She is currently working in an ambitious programme of buildings renovation in Budapest as the Mayor of Budapest’s Climate Commissioner and head of the city’s Climate Department, actively seeking the engagement of citizens and embracing the importance of air quality and large-scale renewable energy technology.

 

Finally, the Eastern Partnership Award category included projects committed to the improvement of buildings’ performance, such as EU4Civil Society Energy Efficiency in Armenian Communities tackling energy poverty and quality of life issues of rural communities and the Energy Efficiency Improvements in Public Buildings project in Chernivtsi, Ukraine.

 

Extended Programme and Energy Days focusing on Buildings

 

From diverse drawing, video or photography competitions and online exhibitions in Armenia, Georgia and Ukraine, passing by the Mid-year International Passive House Open Days 2020 in online video format, to the HotMAPS project final conference (30/06), the relevance of energy efficiency in buildings was underlined.

 

Several online sessions focused on energy efficiency and renewable energy in buildings, including the webinar on “How can BIMplement be implemented in other European countries (25/06) addressing new construction NZEB, digital tools and workforce upskilling challenges. The latter was hosted by the BUILD UP portal, as it was also the case for the “Catalysing the EU Renovation Wave in the transition to the next-generation Energy Performance Certificates webinar (30/06), which showcased preliminary results from three ongoing H2020 projects in the field of Energy Performance Assessment and Certification.

 

Likewise, the REHVA federation organised an online session titled “Energy Transition: New Business Models To De-Risk Investments and Kick Start the EU Building Renovation Wave (18/06). This session addressed the critical issues of financing, investment and quality assurance in energy efficient construction or renovation, with insights from several projects and stakeholders.

 

An additional selection from this year’s list of EUSEW Extended Programme events is provided at the end of this article with the links giving access to their recordings.

 

Buildings and the renovation wave within the Policy Conference Sessions

 

The EU Green Deal and the Renovation Wave initiative were present in the programme in each of the three central days. They were also brought up within Finance, Strategy, Energy Transition or Just Transition strands sessions, as well as in the Debate with Ambassadors. In the latter, for instance, MEP Jutta Paulus highlighted the importance of “making peoples’ home better”, recognising the essential need for public support along with the political will to tackle a “green recovery”. The need to engage consumers and have people’s support was also highlighted by Monique Goyens, from The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), who also stressed that renovation wave efforts should prioritise low-income consumers. In this session, MEP Sean Kelly underlined the importance of the potential for job creation in the renewables sector as part of the recovery process.

 

The session Boosting the European Green Deal Renovation Wave, presented the initiative being prepared for adoption in the autumn, from a general institutional perspective as well as from national and local ones, in the first panel. A second panel addressed the synergies of the renovation wave with topics correlating to energy, such as construction sector skills and financing.

 

The Commission and Parliament representatives bespoke why this initiative finds a place at the core of the climate and energy goals, as well as in the post-coronavirus recovery pathway. After recalling that 40% of energy consumption comes from buildings in Europe and that 75% of the current building stock is energy inefficient, the multiple benefits from renovation were put forward: improvement of energy and environmental performances, along with employment and market stimuli, the reduction of energy poverty, as well as improvement of well-being and health.  This was mentioned by Cristina Lobillo (DG ENER) and by MEP Miapetra Kumpula-Natri. Likewise, the main barriers to overcome for successful deep and extensive renovation of the building stock were presented, such as, the lack of financing, and the need for capacity-building for the construction sector workforce to at least double the renovation rate across the EU.

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The importance of national long-term renovation strategies as part of the Renovation Wave initiative was underlined during the session. Among the stakeholders’ interventions, Thorsten Herdan (German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy) also insisted on the idea of providing market incentives (e.g. to help people decide to renovate) and to learn from and support already existing programmes working in the right direction. From the Renovate Europe campaign perspective, Adrian Joyce shared a series of key recommendations for the unfolding of the renovation wave: (1) not to focus solely on increasing the renovation rate, but also on achieving deeper renovations, (2) to address key segments of the market (such as, social housing, schools, and hospitals), (3) to consider renovations at neigborhood and district levels, (4) to embrace digitalisation, and an industrialised renovation approach to improve speed and cost-effectiveness of the renovation process, (5) to look at innovative financing instruments and approaches, and (6) for the EU Commission “not to be shy of regulating on this issue” to allow the Renovation Wave initiative to propose concrete and ambitious legislative measures.

 

In the Renovation wave: transformative actions towards carbon neutrality session, co-hosted by the World Green Building Council and the BUILD UPON² project,  the Renovate Europe Campaign, the Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy and the Climate-KIC initiative, speakers from leading projects and cities taking up the challenge of large scale high-quality renovation, shared insights from the field solutions and experiences. The celebrated cities were Dublin and Leuven. Katrien Rycken (Leuven 2030) explained their innovative governance model, proven successful in implementing ambitious climate neutrality goals. She shared how they have learned, collaborating with Climate-KIC, that it is not solely the sum of individual projects that would allow reaching climate neutrality in 2050, but the application of a more disruptive and systemic approach. The experience from Dublin, presented by Ali Grehan (City Architect, Dublin City Council) follows the path of a systematic large-scale programme of deep renovation, starting with pilot projects for Senior Citizen Flats, multifamily estates and protected buildings. From her experience, Grehan stressed the need to consider, along with monetary costs, Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) and CO2 emissions, embracing as well the carbon cost of demolition to be able to take informed decisions on the cost of renovation. Moreover, the importance of having people feeling involved was highlighted.

 

Erik van Wijk (Climate-KIC), Program Lead of the One Million Near-Zero-Energy Homes in Europe programme illustrated how 50.000 homes should be renovated each day to achieve a climate-neutral building stock by 2050, which needs to happen in a collaborative way with citizens and with the whole supply chain, and with the appropriate funding ensuring the affordability of the process. He urged for policies that provide clear, progressive and benchmarked goals that would facilitate the required societal development process and would contribute to “make a dent in the universe” in “the bold mission to build Carbon-Neutral Living for all”. 

 

The third day renovation wave session, Spurring Europe’s renovation wave: how #BetterBuildingsEU can contribute to #EUGreenRecovery, presented an integrated approach to the topic highlighting the links of large-scale energy-efficient renovation with renewable energy production, digitalisation, market recovery and competitiveness, health and well-being, and overall environmental, social and economic benefits. The preparation of the renovation wave open-platforms, bringing together stakeholders from buildings and construction sector, architects and engineers and local authorities to address the barriers to renovation as announced in the European Green Deal, was also discussed. Dirk Roos (EIB) underlined the importance of such platforms to generate scale, and the need for aggregators such as one-stop-shops with sufficient resouces to provide technical assistance on project preparation, project management and customer guidance. Local authorities could play a role as one-stop-shops, as is already the case in Belgium and France. The challenge of urgent upskilling of the workforce of the building sector was underlined by Julie Beaufils (EuropeOn) indicating the twin challenge of how clean, evolving and complex technologies roll out while there are already reported workforce shortages.

 

The enabling potentials of digitalisation for energy efficiency and renovation were discussed by Michael Villa (Head of Policy SmartEn). He highlighted the need to have integrated building renovation strategies and proposed to develop a new unique, simple, digital, quantitative and integrated “Building Performance Passport” helping to overcome the confusion that may be generated by multiple and overlapping sectorial tools that are currently available. During her intervention, Inge Bernaerts (DG ENER) confirmed giving the highest priority to having an integrated approach to the renovation challenge that would help funding to “fall on fertile ground”  and to give another push to the use of high quality Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs), within all EU Member States. Starting from there, more ambitious digital tools with online information and real-time data on building energy performance, linked to financial instruments and additional indicators such as the Smart Readiness Indicator could be developed. Getting there will require however a clear vision and a sequenced approach.

 

The topic of funding and financial schemes was discussed by Ivan Jankovic (BPIE), sharing details about the RenOnBill project and the general principle of on-bill repayment schemes. Partnering with utility companies facilitates the aggregation of projects to portfolios and a better redistribution of risk, helping to have positive financing decisions. Such on-bill schemes are already widely implemented in the USA for many years. The implementation of the RenOnBill project and the required appropriate evolution of legislation would allow the substantial upscaling of the model in Europe.

 

The essential role of funding and financing buildings’ energy efficiency and renovation efforts was explicitly addressed in other sessions of the Finance strand: Unlocking private financing for energy efficiency investments: gearing up to support the European Green Deal; Cities driving the green recovery: boosting investments for local actions and LIFE clean energy transition: boosting a new LIFE after the crisis.

 

In addition to the events mentioned above, several other sessions related to the building sector and the renovation wave took place, such as EU Green Deal & the ways out of the COVID-19 crisis: a high-level debate about the greening of the EU recovery, and Energy sufficiency, a game-changer to achieve resilience and sustainability after the crisis from the Energy transition strand or The role of local authorities in a fair energy transition, through retrofitting buildings and European Green Deal – NECPs at your service!.

 

Finally, buildings were also a core item within the Energy communities strand in the Empowering consumers through energy communities session or within the Just transition strand session: Decisive action on energy poverty: solutions from across the EU

 

Conclusion

 

It is clear that blending multiple solutions, not only technical ones, but including cultural, social and economic and financial ones, is required for tackling the scale and complexity of the challenges ahead of us and to allow the building sector to play its role in reaching the EU’s carbon neutrality, energy efficiency and renewable energy objectives. It is also crucial to pay attention “not only to our own role but to our interaction with all the actors in the value chain”  as expressed by Adrian Joyce and to understand the need “to do more, and do it justly and do it together” as put by MEP Niels Fuglsang. Technical solutions are available and appropriate funding schemes are on the rise, and so is public awareness. Creative policy, regulation and legislation have crucial roles to play now, which can be expressed through a final paraphrasing from MEP Ciaran Cuffe: “the recovery from coronavirus crisis is an opportunity for policy to redesign a sustainable society.”

 

Enough food for thought to have a set of interesting sessions and discussions on energy efficiency and renewable energy in buildings and building renovation during the EUSEW 2021 edition.

 

EUSEW selected sessions links

 

A selection of sessions from the list of EUSEW Extended Programme events topical to the building sector and energy efficiency or to the use of energy by building dwellers and communities. The links provide access to the recordings of several of these webinars: