In Europe, our cultural diversity, our history and our built heritage are inseparably linked. From soaring cathedrals to grandiose parliament buildings, innovative office blocks to impressive residences, the storied past of the many nations of this continent is represented in stone and brick. This wealth of architectural marvels is a blessing, but for those involved in energy efficiency, it is also a challenge: how does one go about retrofitting a protected, heritage-listed building constructed in the 16th century?

Beyond the more impressive structures, older homes and government buildings are also in desperate need of upgrading – it is estimated that buildings over 50 years old need an average of five times as much power to heat compared to a modern construction. This is particularly problematic when one considers that that around 35 percent of Europe’s buildings fall into that category.

Even in cases where the building owner has the desire to reduce energy consumption, how can they finance the often expensive retrofit? And what should the role of government be in facilitating this shift to lower energy usage within Europe’s building stock?

These questions are just some of the many issues tackled by ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability – in its work on energy efficiency in the construction sector. ICLEI is a global association of more than 1,000 cities, towns and metropolises in 86 countries with a mission to promote global sustainability through local action. ICLEI has around 300 urban development professionals working in 17 secretariats and offices and reaches more than 20 per cent of the world’s urban population. Although ICLEI’s work is global in scope and impact, it remains focused at the local level in its implementation. ICLEI is particularly strong in Europe, with a great deal of its activities funded by European governments.

The organisation works closely with local governments, many of whom own a great deal of (often ageing) property, such as schools, libraries, and office buildings. As local governments are subject to the same demands and concerns as other building owners, they often have an in-depth understanding of the challenges faced. This has led to local authorities implementing robust energy efficiency strategies, driving real change across the continent. Many more local authorities, however, need to join the movement towards greater energy efficiency for this effort to make the necessary impact.bologna_-_palazzo_daccursio_-_foto_giovanni_dallorto_5-3-2005_2

EU pushes for energy efficiency

The European Union has stressed the need for greater efficiency in Europe’s building stock, noting its sizeable contribution to climate change. According to EU estimates, buildings are responsible for 40 per cent of energy consumption and 36 per cent of CO2 emissions in the EU-28, with older buildings consuming disproportionately higher amounts of power than their newer counterparts. Simply by improving energy efficiency in our building stock, total energy consumption across the EU could be reduced by five to six per cent. A fall of this magnitude would greatly help Europe meet its global emissions commitments, contributing to the global drive to keep temperature rise under two degrees Celsius, as agreed at the recent COP21 meeting in Paris

The EU’s 2010 Energy Performance of Buildings Directive and the 2012 Energy Efficiency Directive set out a path towards greater energy efficiency, with the ultimate goal of having Europe’s building stock primarily comprised of nearly zero energy buildings (buildings with an extremely high energy performance). Under the laws, all new buildings must be near zero energy by 31 December 2020, while all new public buildings must be at this point by 31 December 2018. EU countries are also obliged to set energy performance requirements for the construction of new buildings and for the renovation of old buildings, as well as guidelines on the retrofit of specific elements such as roofs and walls. Member States are further mandated to establish inspection schemes for heating and air conditioning systems, ensuring that they meet relevant energy efficiency criteria.

The 2012 directive strengthens the move towards higher energy performance, requiring that EU governments exclusively purchase certified energy efficient buildings. The directive also states that renovations must be carried out on at least three per cent of central government buildings per year.

The EU has set itself an overall target of 20 per cent energy savings by 2020, which is around the same as turning off 400 power stations.

Innovative solutions

In addition to legislation, the EU funds a great deal of projects that aim to improve energy performance. These projects, which are carried out by diverse organisations from across Europe, seek to find innovative solutions within the construction and retrofitting sector. ICLEI has been involved in many over the last years, working with a range of stakeholders to make our built environment more comfortable, more resilient, and more energy efficient.

One such project is iNSPiRe. To reduce high-energy consumption in buildings, the EU-backed project has created easy-to-install renovation packages that can be applied to residential and office properties. The packages work through replacing old, centralised heating and cooling systems (such as oil boilers) with systems that make use of renewable energy sources. Dubbed “plug and play” packages, in the majority of cases building occupants can remain inside during installation.

Social housing sites in Ludwigsburg (Germany) and in Madrid (Spain) have agreed to act as demonstration buildings for the project. To assess the impact of the renovations on the buildings, energy audits will be carried out before and after the iNSPiRe technology is installed, providing an accurate analysis of the project’s efficacy.

The four-year long project also aims to both lower energy costs for building users and help to reduce the harmful emissions produced by older buildings. The project has set a goal of a 50 per cent energy consumption reduction in older buildings through the application of the plug-and-play renovation kits. Sustainable lighting and the use of information and communication technologies to reduce energy consumption is also incorporated into the renovation process.

By enabling building owners to improve the sustainability of the property while residents remain in their homes, costs are drastically reduced.

ICLEI is also a partner in the OPTIMUS smart city project, which focuses on using increased energy efficiency in public buildings to make cities cleaner and more sustainable. The OPTIMUS Decision Support System (DSS) is an integrated web-platform that uses real-time data to seek out the most fitting energy saving opportunities available for each public building based on its profile. Three cities participated in the piloting of the online platform: Savona (Italy), Sant Cugat del Vallès (Spain) and Zaanstad (The Netherlands).

The aim of the project is to design, develop and deliver a platform that will collect and structure open data sets based on factors such as weather conditions, the buildings’ current energy use, current energy prices, and energy production. This information is then displayed in an easily understandable manner, allowing energy managers to see when the price will be lowest and the degree to which the energy will be taken from renewable sources, such as solar and wind power. The OPTIMUS DSS is constructed to be easily adaptable to cities with differing characteristics and different starting points in terms of smart infrastructure and renewable energy generation.

Historic buildings, however, are notoriously difficult to retrofit, as the building owner (usually the municipality) must balance building protection requirements with optimised energy efficiency. The now-ended Efficient Energy for EU Cultural Heritage (3ENCULT) project dealt with bridging the gap between the conservation of historic buildings and climate protection through refurbishing existing buildings to very low energy demand.

3ENCULT has also developed a set of recommendations specifically on integrating energy efficiency retrofits of historic buildings into local sustainability processes and strategies. The guidelines support local leaders who need to make informed decisions regarding what is possible in the planning phase and in choosing suitable technologies. Through the work of the project, it was found that local governments should include selected cultural heritage in their Sustainable Energy Action Plans.

On a more personal level, the FIESTA project is helping families with children to save money and lower their carbon footprint by reducing the amount of energy they consume. 29 per cent of all energy in Europe is consumed in households and the project aims to lower this figure by teaching families to make better energy choices, such as purchasing higher-rated electrical appliances, choosing efficient cooking methods, and optimising natural light in homes. The EU estimates that more efficient appliances will save consumers €100 billion annually (about €465 per household) on their energy bills by 2020.

Families located in the five project countries – Cyprus, Spain, Italy, Bulgaria, and Croatia – can also apply for a full energy audit to be carried out on their home. Energy auditors drawn from the project’s 19 partner organisations will examine past utility bills and carry out a room-by-room examination to help determine where the house is losing energy and money.

ICLEI is also helping local authorities to make use of Energy Performance Contracting (EPC), a process whereby replacement and refurbishment costs are covered by an external energy service company (ESCO), who is then reimbursed through the cost savings generated as a result of the lower electricity consumption. As such, the ESCO will not receive payment unless significant energy savings are achieved. The EPC approach has the benefit of transferring the risk from the local authority to the ESCO.

The power of public procurement

In addition, ICLEI is exploiting the power of public procurement to drive energy-efficiency. Through making smart purchasing decisions, public procurers can ensure that sustainable and innovative solutions are used in the retrofitting of public buildings. If public resources are mobilised behind energy-efficiency, higher potential for a return on investment will stimulate greater market involvement in the topic, increasing the amount of innovative solutions available.

The PROBIS project aims to use public procurement of innovation as a means to increase energy efficiency, as well as the overall sustainability of urban building stock. Specifically it works to build capacity among local authorities to procure innovative solutions in the sustainable construction sector.

Currently, a lack of know-how and a dearth of incentives are holding local authorities back from pushing for clever solutions to reduce energy usage. PROBIS is addressing this by piloting innovative procurements for public buildings in Italy, Hungary, Spain and Sweden.

Facilitating market engagement – in which public authorities directly explain the issues they face to companies – is also a major component of the project.

The construction sector, which is worth around €1.2 trillion per year to Europe, is comprised of a multitude of stakeholders, each with their own roles and objectives. To ensure that energy-efficiency is understood and applied across the board, it is necessary for stakeholders to come together to exchange ideas and knowledge. Several examples from across Europe demonstrate how effective regional networking between public entities can help to provide support, improve skills and increase regional impact.

The Network for Sustainable Construction and Innovation through Procurement (SCI-Network) brought together public authorities and experts to find new, sustainable construction solutions. Any public authority committed to sustainable construction was welcome to join the network and take part in one or more of the working groups. Although the project has now ended, the online discussion forum has remained active on the Procurement Forum, an online discussion space run as part of the Procurement of Innovation Platform.

The Procurement of Innovation Platform helps public authorities, procurers, policy makers, researchers and other stakeholders harness the power of Public Procurement of Innovation and Pre-Commercial Procurement. The Procurement Forum is a specially designed networking tool that enables procurers and stakeholders from around Europe to discuss, share and connect. Users can also create private groups, which can be used to coordinate projects.

The platform also has a Resource Centre, which provides a centralised database for PPI guidance. Resources include national and European policy and strategy documents, useful tools, good practice case studies, details of projects and initiatives, as well as reports and valuable links on procuring innovation within the field of energy efficiency.

Through the work of local governments, in partnership with the private sector and other key stakeholders, a more energy efficient Europe is becoming a reality. Local governments are taking risks and trialling new and innovative ways to reduce the energy consumption of our building stock. In ensuring that the built heritage of Europe is made more sustainable, local governments are passing on a better, more energy efficient Europe to future generations.