Mon, 18 January 2021

Renovation wave and Smart buildings

The European Union's plan aims to double the rate of building renovation, cutting emissions, stimulating recovery and reducing energy poverty; to do this it needs more and more smart buildings

European policies on the energy efficiency of buildings, initiated with the EPBD in 2002, have produced very positive effects, but this has happened almost exclusively for new buildings, which today consume only half as much energy as those built more than 20 years ago.

However, noting that 85 % of EU buildings (over 220 million!) are over 20 years old and that 85-95 % are likely to still be in use in 2050, in October 2020 the European Commission presented 'Renovation wave', a new common strategy to improve the energy performance of existing buildings.

The Commission's aim is to double the rate of building renovation between now and 2030 to reduce the consumption of energy and other resources. At the same time, it also aims to improve the quality of life of people - who on average spend more than 90% of their time indoors - reduce greenhouse gas emissions and give a decisive boost to digitalisation in buildings. Within ten years, the aim is to renovate 35 million buildings, an initiative that could generate up to 160,000 new jobs.

To reach the target of reducing emissions by 55% by 2030, the European Union will have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buildings by 60%, final energy consumption by 14% and energy consumption for heating and cooling by 18%. But today it is not just a question of reducing energy bills and emissions.

The Renovation wave can generate numerous opportunities and generate social, environmental and economic benefits. Thanks to smart technologies, buildings can be made healthier, more comfortable, more sustainable, more interconnected and more resilient to natural events.

Renovating yes, but for smart buildings

The central role of Smart buildings, already affirmed in all the latest EU measures, is given new impulse by the Renovation wave to jointly address the dual challenge of green and digital transition.

Whether at the level of an individual home, an entire neighbourhood or a city area, it is recognised that only smart buildings allow for the efficient production and use of renewable energy to fully enter the era of zero-emission buildings.

Among the key areas for action, the Commission has identified the implementation of comprehensive and integrated renovations to achieve truly intelligent buildings. This should include the integration of renewable energies and the possibility to measure actual energy consumption to make end-users more aware.

Energy certification is also evolving

In its communication to the European Parliament, the Commission highlights the usefulness of the Smart Readiness Indicator (SRI from Smart Readiness Indicator), recently introduced by Directive 2018/844, as a tool to measure the intelligence of buildings and raise awareness among end users. In the case of the Renovation wave plan, the SRI indicator becomes a driving factor to promote the digitisation of buildings to be renovated.

What's more, since the various energy performance certificates at EU level do not reflect the interconnectivity and intelligence of buildings, the Commission also proposes to update the certification schemes, integrating solutions and technologies to measure and optimise energy performance during the operation of buildings.

This proposal is based on another extremely important, but often overlooked, feature of smart buildings highlighted by the EU Commission: smart buildings with their digital infrastructures generate large amounts of data: this allows for much better management throughout the life cycle of the building.

From consumers to energy producers

Compared to the first wave of implementation of renewable energy systems, the Renovation wave has new and encouraging aspects. Renewables will no longer be driven by unrealistic and unsustainable incentive schemes, but will be part of an integrated and complex building system that will include smart management as standard.

Refurbished buildings will have a lower energy demand and will be equipped with photovoltaic systems, while maintaining a connection to the electricity grid. This grid will evolve towards a highly stable smart grid that will match electricity supply and demand as efficiently as possible, thanks in part to the roll-out of second-generation smart meters.

Renewable Energy Communities (RECs), recently established by the MISE decree, will become a reality. Locally produced electricity will be used more for self-consumption than it is today, thanks to home automation load control solutions. Surplus energy can be used instantly to power a heat pump or to recharge electric vehicles, stored in batteries or converted into thermal energy, available in a water tank for heating or hot water production. In a short time, many European citizens will be called upon to actively participate in the energy system as prosumers: consumers and producers at the same time.

Source: COM(2020) 662 final "A Renovation Wave for Europe - greening our buildings, creating jobs, improving lives".

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