Energy efficient buildings in central Europe

An article by Giulia Paoletti and Valentina Ciolli (Eurac Research)

 

Subscribe to The Beam Magazine to read more on the subject.


One of the most important goals of the European Union is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, favouring the use of renewable sources. On this regard, increase the energy efficiency of the buildings, new and existing ones, is an important objective of the EU, established also in the legislative directive about energy efficiency requirements and renewable energy sources production.

This directive identifies an innovative energy performance target for new and existing buildings, private and public, called “nearly zero energy building” (nZEB) target: but what does nZEB mean? It means a very high energy performance building with nearly zero or very low amount of energy required that should be covered by on-site or nearby energy production from renewable sources.

Currently, it is not so easy to achieve the nZEB target. The challenges are more than only simple one: the complex decision process, the solution sets development, long term investments, financing schemes and final indoor quality. nZEB target penetration in the building sector is also reduced by social (lack of trustworthy information or lack of skilled worker or doubts on the possible benefits), economic (energy savings are not clear or guarantee and the investment results reduced) and financial (scarce capital or limited financing scheme available or knowledge) barriers.

EU supports and finances several programs, initiatives and projects that aims to share knowledge and best practices in technical, financial and management development process for high efficient buildings.

eCentral project is an example of EU project financed by Interreg Central Europe program that aims to support public authorities to increase their capacity on nZEB target implementation and development: it is basically based on an intensive transnational cooperation and exchanges of positive practices between experts coming from several regions (AT, HR, HU, IT, SL).

In order to identify the state of the art of the nZEB target implementation in the renovation processes of existing buildings the researchers of Eurac Research, together with the other project partners, organized a survey for building experts. 48 were the survey participants. The main result was an overview on nZEB target implementation in the renovation process of existing buildings. Below some results:

nZEB target definition results quite different in CE countries (Table 1). Only three countries involved in eCentral project — Austria, Italy and Slovenia — have already defined a nZEB definition for residential and non-residential buildings, new or existing one.

Overview nZEB-definitions in Central Europe. Source: eCentral project deliverable D.T1.1.1 Report on nZEB initiatives from the Central Europe region * Overview nZEB-definitions in Central Europe. Source: eCentral project deliverable D.T1.1.1 Report on nZEB initiatives from the Central Europe region *

These results tell us that it is necessary to increase the initiatives to raise the knowledge of the involved stakeholders from the design-construction to utilization-maintenance phase. More guarantees on the energy savings planned are required, also using a structured process as certification protocol or specific instruments to monitor, verify and guarantee the planned (calculated) savings during the lifetime of the building. In this regard, benefits come from nZEB target should be real and concrete, in terms of energy savings and comfort (Figure 1).

Measures that should be implemented in the nZEB realisation process for existing buildings in case of renovation and its usability. Measures that should be implemented in the nZEB realisation process for existing buildings in case of renovation and its usability.

Energy Performance Certification (EPC) is a crucial instrument to enhance the energy performance of the buildings (art. 11–13 of Directive 2010/31/EU). EPC tells us: which is the energy performance of a building, its annual energy consumption, how much energy comes from renewable sources and give us advice about the cost-optimal or cost-effective improvements in energy performance of the building or building unit, completed of payback periods or cost-benefit over economic life cycle period.

EPCs can be useful instruments for stakeholders (including final users) enabling to compare several buildings from different issues: to compare heating, cooling and electric energy consumption, to know further necessary improvements (as facade renovation) or to know other benefits and problems that guide the purchasing/renting decision process. Unfortunately, EPCs may be difficult to understand for non-professionals and the general public which lead to a negative impact on their use during the renovation or selling and rental processes. Increase and facilitate the use of public incentives in case of energy efficiency achievements is a good strategy to boost investments in the renovation of existing buildings.

A last important piece of the puzzle is represented by the economic instruments activated in order to boost energy renovation: not only public funds but also grants, loans, tax incentives, energy efficiency obligations and white certificates are necessary to realize the full potential of nZEB standard. Innovative third-party financing and investing models such as Public Private Partnerships, Energy Performance Contractings and crowdfunding could be interesting solutions that need to be developed at a larger scale. In this direction the eCentral project issued a “decision making tree” of analyzed financing schemes strictly connected with the public monetary resources available, payback time of the investments, internal personnel resources and risks. To achieve the EU energy efficiency targets is, as said, complex but not impossible, we only need to increase and facilitate the use of public incentives. The tools developed and the survey results of e-Central project could be a concrete help for Public Authorities to boost investments in the renovation of existing buildings. The results of the survey are available on the projects website www.interreg-central.eu


*  based on data from

http://bpie.eu/uploads/lib/document/attachment/128/BPIE_factsheet_nZEB_definitions_across_Europe.pdf, 

https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/publication/towards-nearly-zero-energy-buildings-europe-focus-retrofit-non-residential-buildings 

and statements of eCentral project partners.

 

Subscribe to The Beam Magazine to read more on the subject.

This article is also available on our Medium page.