Energy retrofitting of social housing – a European priority

Buildings account for 40 per cent of the European energy consumption and around 36 per cent of CO2-emissions. Speeding up energy retrofitting of existing buildings is vital to achieving the Nordic and European targets for CO2-reductions, says Ryan Weber of Nordregio. He is project manager for Social Green, an Interreg Europe initiative that supports local and regional authorities in designing policies and building capacity to apply for regional and European funds to improve energy performance in social housing.

Need for action to improve energy efficiency

“Buildings are one of the areas where there’s the most potential to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, and thereby meet our targets,” Weber says. “In Social Green, we’re looking at the challenges that our partners face in terms of acquiring European funds and implementing them into measureable energy efficiency projects.”

Nordic Energy Technology Perspectives 2016, a report by the International Energy Agency and Nordic Energy Research, highlights accelerated renovation to improve energy efficiency in existing buildings as a core action area to reach Nordic climate targets in 2050.

“The building turnover rate, i.e. the creation of new building stock, is one per cent per year,” Weber explains. “Therefore, building perfectly green new buildings alone will not get us anywhere. We need to significantly reduce energy consumption in buildings, especially in urban areas, and that can only be done by picking up the pace with which we retrofit existing buildings.”

Bridging the competency gap

The Social Green partners are developing action plans for policies and projects with potential to green their social housing sector, ranging from improving access to funding to initiating renovation projects. The project has revealed a competency gap with regards to obtaining EU-funding.

“Many of our partners simply don’t have the resources or organisational capabilities to plan and execute a proposal to get European funds. The result is that in many regions, there’s a pool of resources available for investments in energy efficiency, but very little of it, if any, is actually used.”

Another topic of interest is to adjust the conditions for receiving EU funding to better suit the needs of those seeking the funds. Weber mentions as an example that in some cases, funding can only be used to cover costs for energy efficiency measures.

“Energy refurbishment of social housing will often be part of a larger renovation effort, where you also renovate the kitchens or update the entryways into the building. Our partners find that they’re more successful in applying for support for this type of urban revitalisation projects.”

“We should provide more tailored support at EU-level,” he continues. “The European Commission acknowledges this and recently launched the Smart Finance for Smart Buildings Initiative. This new financial instrument bridges some of the gaps that we’ve identified.”

Successful energy efficiency scheme in Estonia

One of the best practice examples highlighted in the Social Green project is an Estonian support scheme, managed by national financing institute KredEx, which provides grants and technical consultancy services for energy renovation. The scheme is open to homeowner associations in multi-apartment buildings as well as local authorities, provided that they own more than half of the apartments in the building.

“There are three levels of support, depending on the energy efficiency measures,” says Martin Kikas, Director of Tartu Regional Energy Agency, one of the Social Green partners. “The KredEx grants cover between 15 and 40 per cent of the total cost of renovation. To receive the largest grants, the energy consumption must be reduced to 150 kWh per m2 per year or less.”

The renovation of Sõpruse 202, a large apartment complex in Tallinn, was partly funded through KredEx. The refurbishment included better insulation of the roofs and outer walls as well as new ventilation and heating systems.

“Energy consumption for heating was reduced by an impressive 60 per cent to 61 kWh per m2,” says Kikas. “In addition, the air quality and indoor climate improved considerably.”

Energy efficiency for all Europeans

The total cost of the Sõpruse 202 renovation was around €2 million, but the project only resulted in a rent increase of two per cent. Keeping the cost for social housing residents at a minimum is a key priority in the Social Green project.

“We need to develop schemes that allow people to retrofit their buildings, preferably at zero cost, i.e. where the energy savings offset the majority of the cost to retrofit. This allows us to include people that cannot afford any extra expenditure.”

“Big apartment blocks are of course a big issue,” Weber continues. “However, we also need to target individual homeowners of all types. The point is that we should treat buildings and building infrastructure as investment in the future, just like we do in terms of e.g. transport and innovation.”

(1)Photo by Dana Naghiu

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