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Building Energy Efficiency in European Cities | My Presentation @URBACT Annual Conference in Copenhagen

January 14, 2013

This is the 3 minutes presentation I held in the plenary session of the 2012 URBACT Annual Conference in Copenhagen last December 3rd.

The subject was Building Energy Efficiency in European Cities and the presentation followed the ones of the other 5 URBACT capitalisation workstream coordinators: Hans Schlappa / Shrinking Cities: Challenges and Opportunities, Alison Partridge  / More Jobs Better Cities, Eddy Adams / Supporting Young People Through Social Innovation, Iván Tosics / Against Divided Cities in Europe and Sally Kneeshaw / Motivating Mobility Mindsets.

It was meant to be an introduction before the thematic workshops sessions taking place during the two days conference and, although unexpectedly interrupted by the speech of Commissioner Hahn who had to leave the conference shortly after, I think we succeeded in representing the 6 main issues addressed in a concise and lively way.


In the early seventies the first oil crisis brought the western countries to think about energy as a limited resource. My parents installed double windows on the north side of our flat and aerodynamic became relevant in the design of cars.



A new awareness about mankind environmental footprint on heart began to spread,


but in the end energy consumption continued to rise as the inevitable price to pay for progress and GDP growth.



At the turn of the century, increasing energy prices, approaching depletion of fossil fuels and climate change raised awareness among populations and decision makers


speeding up technological innovation to find new and better energy use patterns.


Today the world of energy supply and consumption has become more and more differentiated, complex and unpredictable,

11_energy supply

but at least two things have clearly emerged: the building sector accounts for an average 40% share of primary energy use and – what is even more important – it has by far the greatest energy-saving potential, both in terms of embodied energy and energy consumption.


Increasing awareness of energy-saving potential of the building sector led to definition of several energy efficiency standards,


certifications and assessment processes,


and also to major legislative initiatives at European level, such as the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD).


The recent re-cast of the EPBD sets very strict rules for new buildings

18_NZEB VeluxLab_factory_febbraio_2012_504x284

witnessing a certain political will to progress in this direction, but it has substantially missed the opportunity to set precise and ambitious targets with regard to retrofitting the existing buildings stock.


As a matter of fact the cities we are going to live in tomorrow are to a very large extend the same cities we are living in today. In many EU countries far too many new buildings have been built in the last decades, despite a rather stable demand, sealing too much soil and creating a situation of oversupply.

Spanien / Bau-Misere / Immobilien

The greatest challenge is represented by increasing energy efficiency in the existing city and the existing building stock!

We were just in the middle of these reflections, when the global financial crisis arrived: subprime crisis,


sovereign debt crisis


and rising of the new world economic powers


challenging the old European civilisation have made the way to a more energy efficient urban environment more difficult, but even more necessary!

Unemployment, poverty, social segregation, slow innovation, decreasing marge of manoeuvre of the nation states in front of the global financial flows… All these threats seems to deserve a much higher degree of priority than urban and environmental issues. Is it really like this? Will we be able to tackle those issues first and take care of our cities when things will be settled?

The experts involved in URBACT Workstream “Building Energy Efficiency in European Cities don’t think so. On the contrary we think that Retrofitting our cities and buildings is the main road to get out of recession as it involves the following dimensions: 1) creating employment that cannot be delocalised; 2) boosting the economy both at national and at local level mobilising a long supply chain; 3) improving social cohesion addressing the worst kind of poverty which is arising in the EU, fuel poverty and addressing segregation in the large housing estates; 4) driving innovation both in components and processes; 5) safeguarding the environment on the way to adaptation to climate change, by cost-efficiently reducing soil sealing, CO2 emissions and demolition waste; and last but not least 6) retrofitting our cities will also strengthen and energise European culture, a cultural model which is largely based on high density urban life in the compact city model – an invaluable and not replicable asset of all small and medium size European cities , which, by the way, are the URBACT cities.

So, we know WHAT we want to do, we know WHY we have to do it and we have also some ideas about HOW to do so, and we would like to share these ideas with you in the  sections of our workshop “Building Energy Efficiency in European Cities”

  • Stimulate retrofitting demand making retrofitting attractive for owners and occupiers (Emilio D’Alessio)

  • Solving the conflict between heritage value and energy efficiency in buildings and neighbourhoods (Kleopatra Theologidou)

  • Tackling fuel poverty, reducing the energy bill (Paul Ciniglio)

  • Sustainable finance tools to boost economy (J Owen Lewis)

Each of them has adopted a specific approach and working method.

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