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EU Sustainable Energy Week #EUSEW 2013 – Part 2

September 13, 2013

Another reason for publishing these very long and boring notes is that the Open Days are approaching and energy is among the top priorities of the Lithuanian Presidency of the EU Council.

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The second conference I picked out from the fully packed programme was organised by the Buildings Performance Institute Europe BPIE (the European centre of the Global Buildings Performance Network) with the title “From Ambition to Action: How to best deliver European building sector policies on the ground?”. The conference was well grounded on a BPIE publication “A guide to developing strategies for building energy renovation – delivering article 4 of the energy efficiency directive” featuring a list of Commission officers from DG Energy, DG Regio, DG Research&Innovation and DG Enterprise plus the European Economic and Social Committee EESC. Impressive, but maybe not such a good idea. As a matter of fact each of them delivered a statement, certainly not obvious, often well pointed and sharp, but the possibility of any debate or exchange focused on the content was extremely reduced by the protocol. Worth noting the key message of Marie Donnelly (DG Energy) who came up with the statement “Tax is Magic” meaning that it is the most powerful tool to support the private sector to undertake energy retrofitting projects.

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Marie C. Donnelly

Very well pointed the analysis of Marzena Rogalska (DG Enterprise) clarifying the relationship between binding and aspirational targets in the field of energy efficiency and how they have to be tackled in different ways in different countries. The fact that the Energy Performance of Buildings remains largely not implemented in several Member States should stimulate reflections on how to enhance the correlation between the building sector and economic development at large.

Finally, in my own view, one of the most original contributions came from one of the few non-Europeans, Peter Graham Executive Director of the Global Buildings Performance Network. He said that, seen from a global perspective, EU is well placed in terms of policy framework, technical development, market trends and implementation strategies. The greatest obstacle is given by the difficulty to access data regarding building or district energy performances which are, for example, very easy to get in the USA. That is in fact the gap that BPIE is  trying to bridge in Europe. I am not sure whether Graham said it or not, but I believe that an open energy data policy could do much more and much faster than many incentives and binding emission targets.

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Berlaymont building

The second day I attended an high level conference at the Charlemagne building organised by DG Energy on the “Renewable energy progress towards the 2020 targets”. The focus was broader than the building sector, on the achievability of 3×20 EU climate change / energy targets. The most recurrent statements were two: a) the EU is on track to reach the targets, especially in solar power and also “thanks” to the crisis that in some countries has reduced CO2 emissions more than any energy policy. b) the greatest threat on the path to energy transitions is the uncertainty of public policies that often leads to “stop&go” measures to support renewable energy and energy efficiency. These uncertain policies poison the market damaging its already precarious balance (e.g. due to volatile fossil fuel prices) and capability to invest on the medium and long term. As a matter of fact many renewable energy solutions do not need any incentives, but rather a sensible, stable and long term policy framework. Nor by chance neither for ideological reasons the German Federal Government has envisaged a 80% renewables share by 2050. Being energy policy a matter for the national and local level Commissioner Oettinger has announced that DG Energy will respond to the need of a stable and long term perspective publishing a set of guidelines. We will see if that will be the proper answer.

After so much theory I decided to conclude my visit at the EUSEW visiting a concrete example of a low carbon building: the Renewable Energy House, which is located in the European quarter of Brussels, very close to the main European institutions. 21 Associations representing the renewable energy sector in Europe have their offices there, employing some 90 people from 20 countries. The only exception is the association of the wind energy companies, probably also because wind is used by this building. The Renewable Energy House is the result of the retrofitting project of three 140 years old listed buildings that were refurbished in two steps with a fully integrated energy concept. The first step was the renovation of two buildings that were purchased by the European renewable Energy Council EREC in 2005. In January 2006 the first 45 staff moved into the building. The second step took place in 2007-2008, integrating a third house. The energy concept combines solar thermal, different kind of photovoltaic, geothermal and biomass with a complementary supply of certified renewable electric power. Well noted the fact that the house relies only on renewable energies does not mean that it is fully self-sufficient. That would be impossible due to the constraints of the site and the high occupancy of the building. Nowadays the building has 2800sqm surface and accommodates 80 employees, hosting daily meetings with guests and guided tours for visitors (up to now approx 25.000). According to the dispositions on Energy performance certifications of non-residential buildings it has been qualified in class B. Detailed information and documentation of the last 7 years of “life” of this experimental project is in the REH brochure. The energy concept was designed to reduce energy consumption for heating, ventilation and air conditioning by 50% compared to a comparable office building. A new layer of double-glazed windows was added to the listed windows on the inside of the main Facade. The windows on the backyard were replaced with triple-glazed ones and the wall insulated from the outside in a conventional and effective way (mineral wool). All the needs for heating and cooling are covered by renewable energy sources: solar- and geo-thermal support the pellets boiler for heating and cooling. PV provides a contribution to the power supply which is certified 100% renewable.

Bearing in mind that the building sector accounts for over 40% of the EU’s energy demand, and the environmental commitments of the 2020 EU strategy, in the coming years it will be key to multiply efforts in the energy retrofitting of historic and traditional buildings. The Renewable Energy House is certainly a good example of how the building sector has to evolve in the near future to tackle climate change without compromising quality of life and heritage values.

That’s all Folks! I promise the next one will be shorter!

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