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Is Europe ready for a nearly Zero future?

The Final Report of the POWER HOUSE nearly Zero Energy Challenge

Brussels, 2 June 2015 | Published in Energy, Economy
Design: Diane Morel
Design: Diane Morel

Public, cooperative and Social Housing Providers pave the way for a fair energy transition and provide solid policy recommendations before it’s too late.

The clock is ticking for the buildings sector in Europe, since the 2020 milestone is approaching and many things have to change, so that the EU climate targets won’t get off track. With 70% of Europe’s 2050 housing stock already built and responsible for 40% of the energy consumption in the continent EU legislation defines that by the end of 2018 all public authority buildings should nearly Zero Energy while by the end of 2020 the same thing should happen for all new buildings (according to the EPBD- Energy Performance of Buildings Directive).

With all these facts in mind 14 public, cooperative and social housing providers from 10 countries have joined forces over the last three years to exchange expertise and realistic best practices and to generate evidence-based policy recommendations. Housing Europe has gathered the findings of this pan-European initiative known as the POWER HOUSE nearly Zero Energy Challenge in a report that proves the crucial role of housing providers in Europe’s energy future.

The President of Housing Europe, Marc Calon suggests that 2015 might be a key year for the success or failure of EU climate and energy policies:

“The initiatives proposed within the framework of the Energy Union and the UN Climate Conference in Paris will decide the direction the EU will take regarding climate and the environment. The findings of the ‘POWER HOUSE nearly-Zero Energy Challenge’ project could not be timelier.

If I had to summarise their essence in two sentences, I would say that: yes, a green building revolution is under way in the EU thanks to the professionalism of the Public, Cooperative and Social Housing sector, the involvement of all relevant stakeholders including tenants and residents and driven by already ambitious legislation on nearly-Zero Energy Buildings; but no, this revolution cannot take place everywhere at the same speed and the EU must continue to support a pragmatic and differentiated approach to a fair energy transition in the housing sector.”

The POWER HOUSE nearly Zero Energy Challenge network has structured its work in 4 thematic inter-European Task Forces focusing on Warm/Mediterranean Climates, on Cold/Continental Climates, on Divided/Cooperative Ownership and on the financial aspect of housing renovation and construction. The outcome of the work carried out may be summarized in five points:

  1. Housing Associations can retrofit at scale
  2. A flexible approach to the level of energy performance is the guarantee for success
  3. Cost optimality is a relative concept
  4. Projects and funding must be brought together, whereby the role of intermediaries is very important
  5. Quality assurance is needed for the housing organisations and for the tenants
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Along with the field experience that has generated the main findings based on study visits, workshops, conference the added value of the POWER HOUSE initiative lies in the development of the first concrete online database that tracks real energy consumption in buildings. The HIVE platform is a user-friendly tool that helps to map, monitor and understand actual energy consumption under real use conditions in buildings. The system allows the data to be presented online with the possibility for the user to choose between different options such as total consumption per square meter; energy / primary energy / CO2 / price and make comparisons between different buildings.

Through this methodological approach Housing Europe, as the leader of the POWER HOUSE alliance, has drafted a set of policy recommendations that are able to bridge the gap between ambition and reality. POWER HOUSE Chair, Marco Corradi says:

  • Housing renovation to reduce energy consumption and bills is an integrated part of effective neighbourhood, city or region-wide energy transition planning. This must be seen in the context of job creation, therefore reducing the social and economic costs related to unemployment, the burden of which is felt by the whole neighbourhood, city, region and country.
  • While there is huge potential for energy efficiency gains in buildings, the measures needed are not always cost effective for housing providers – even over the long term. We need to ensure that the renovation of housing will be among the projects eligible to apply for various types of EU funding.

It is important to monitor the performance of RES used to avoid malfunctioning and explain to owners and tenants how to operate and make the most out of the devices installed.”