REPowerEU is basically a plan for saving energy, producing clean energy, and diversifying EU’s energy supplies. It is backed by financial and legal measures to build the new energy infrastructure and system that Europe needs. Ending the EU’s reliance on Russian fossil fuels will require a massive scale-up of renewables, as well as faster electrification and replacement of fossil-based heat and fuel in industry, buildings, and the transport sector.
In this context, high energy consumption in buildings means high bills, negative impact on energy security, but also on the environment and the climate system. European legislation in this area is increasingly ambitious, requiring buildings to switch to efficiency requirements whereby they produce their own energy needs from renewable sources with zero carbon emissions from 2030.
Moreover, thanks to technological advances and digitization, buildings of the future could become energy ‘micro-hubs’, consuming, producing, storing, and supplying energy, giving flexibility to the energy system. Energy efficiency in buildings will also be increasingly linked to improving the quality of life, comfort, and health of users. Thus, the fourth edition of the international event Romania Eficienta Forum – The Role of Buildings to REPowerEU, which took place on November 24 in Bucharest, brought together experts who highlighted the critical role of energy efficiency in the coming period.
“Never before has the need to promote energy efficiency been more pronounced. For Romania Eficienta (Efficient Romania), the fundamental belief is that public schools are the best place to start, as major renovations of schools save a massive amount of energy and create a more comfortable and healthier environment for students and teachers. Renovating schools to nZEB (nearly zero energy building) requirements also reduces carbon emissions, while creating spaces that are much better adapted to the current context. And, just as importantly, the renovation of schools has tremendous educational relevance for the younger generation, on whom the very success of our energy transition depends,” said Christina Verchere, CEO of OMV Petrom.
“We are just starting to get to grips with the nZEB standard and it is not clear how we will be able to introduce mandatory zero energy building (ZEB) requirements from 2030. However, I am more optimistic that we will be able to move more easily from nZEB to ZEB. I already see a vibrant ecosystem of companies in the energy efficiency and sustainable renovation materials industry bringing technologies, systems, equipment, materials to market on an unprecedented scale,” said Radu Dudau, Director of Energy Policy Group and coordinator of the Romania Eficienta program.
The changes needed to achieve the proposed energy efficiency targets for buildings are backed by European experts.
“Without a fundamental change in the use of the building stock we will not achieve our climate and energy targets. In the current geopolitical context, I think what we have seen in recent months shows that we need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels in buildings, and heating and cooling them is one of the real priority areas to address. We need to fundamentally transform the sector, so it is necessary, on the one hand, to improve energy efficiency and, on the other hand, to make buildings participate more actively in the grid, developing renewables and really making a change in terms of renovations,” said Paula Rey Garcia, Deputy Head of Unit, Directorate-General for Energy, European Commission.
Julian Popov, Chairman, Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE), added: “Buildings become micro-hubs of energy as technologies develop. Buildings are not just consumers or just producers, they are far beyond what we call prosumers. Buildings could also develop as storage, grid balancing tools and we need to start thinking about buildings in this way, because every energy element of a building could be connected and start playing a role in the big national energy system. This is what is already starting to happen, thanks to existing technologies.”
“Rooftop photovoltaic panels will be the future of buildings. Increasingly, we are seeing that it makes sense to install solar panels on roofs, but also on balconies and facades. There is also great potential to install them on structures above the car parks of large shopping centres. These places represent a large area on which photovoltaic panels can be installed, avoiding competition with the agricultural industry for land,” added Naomi Chevillard, Head of Regulatory Affairs, SolarPower Europe.
“Buildings play a role in the energy system, but also in people’s quality of life and health. They also have a role to play in adapting to climate change. In the future, if you look at heat waves, for example, a well-insulated building will be much more habitable than a building with very poor insulation, so this is also a direction: to make the building stock future-proof. The policy we are now designing for buildings triggers a series of changes that can be beneficial to society as a whole if designed properly. I think it’s clear that investing in energy efficiency and building renovation is a no-regrets investment because it will continue to deliver benefits over time. It’s not a cost, it’s really an investment,” explained Adeline Rochet, Senior Policy Advisor, E3G.
According to Adrian Joyce, Campaign Director, Renovate Europe, short-term measures to counter the energy crisis are needed to bring relief to consumers. “But we need to keep our eyes on the horizon and understand where we are heading and, in parallel, put in place structural measures that will help in the medium and long term and allow the energy and digital transition to take place effectively in the EU. Focusing investment on the worst performing buildings is a very good place to start.”
An efficient technology, which is a solution to the mentioned challenges, is represented by heat pumps. “I believe heat pumps are the key technology for decarbonization and efficiency in buildings. It is an incredibly efficient technology and a key technology for any country where a lot of heating is done with solid biomass,” said Andreas Graf, Senior Associate, Agora Energiewende.
The nZEB standard has been introduced into European legislation since 2010. The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive then set a deadline of 2020 for all new buildings to meet this standard. In Romania, from January 1, 2021, the nZEB standard has become mandatory for the construction of all new buildings, including major renovations.
Investments in energy efficiency are necessary to reduce energy consumption and to achieve the targets Romania has set for the European Commission, says Oana-Marciana Özmen, Secretary of the Committee for Industries and Services of the Chamber of Deputies. “We need to encourage the construction sector to use sustainable, environmentally friendly materials. We also need experts, good engineers, and manpower in the sector to implement such renovations.”
“The industry is ready to provide materials and the best available technologies to increase the energy efficiency of buildings. But there is a need for a change of mindset and also for better government involvement to support media campaigns to increase understanding of what deep energy renovation of buildings means. This leads not only to energy savings, but also to improved quality of life and well-being. We don’t just want schools to be warm during classes, but also to make sure that the ventilation systems are correct, the lighting is good and all these very important aspects that are neglected in Romania,” concluded Mihai Moia, Executive Director, Romanian Association for Promoting Energy Efficiency (ROENEF).
About Romania Eficienta
Romania Eficienta is a nation-wide private project developed by Energy Policy Group (EPG) in partnership and with funding from OMV Petrom. The project started in the summer of 2019 and consists of carrying out a national program for the promotion of energy efficiency. Romania Eficienta aims to support achieving Romania’s targets for 2030 in terms of reducing carbon emissions and increasing energy efficiency, both through information and education campaigns, and by carrying out concrete major renovation projects in public schools in different regions of the country.
About Energy Policy Group
Energy Policy Group (EPG) is an independent, non-profit think-tank specializing in energy and climate policy, market analysis and energy strategy, founded in 2014. EPG advocates for a technologically advanced, sustainable, and socially equitable energy system. EPG also promotes long-term decarbonization policies and actions in all economic sectors, with a focus on the energy sector.