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Renovation must energise a post-virus green recovery

By Pauline Pelous
April 23, 2020

The way Europe acts today will determine everyone’s post-pandemic future.

And that future has to be defined by the compassion, solidarity and renewed sense of community that has brought out the best in everyone in this terrible crisis.

We will need a laser-sharp focus on uniting behind common goals – hitting the reset button to make Europe a better, more sustainable place defined by climate neutrality. And we will need the resources to rebuild shattered economies while protecting the health and well-being of the most vulnerable in our societies.

Where to start? The European Commission’s Green Deal, announced in December, unveiled a series of proposals with the aim of making Europe the first carbon-neutral continent in the world by 2050. It was an ambition described as a “man-on-the-moon moment” with the promise that during a “just transition” towards neutrality “no-one would be left behind”.

After this crisis we will need this sort of positivity more than ever.

Among the Green Deal proposals was a call to “at least double” annual building renovation rates from their present rate of 1%. This “renovation wave” must now be put at the heart of a new post-crisis world to create a green recovery that is environmentally, economically and socially transformational.

The first priority is public health. The pandemic has exposed appalling inequalities in housing. For the vulnerable living in homes that are cold, damp and poorly insulated, weeks of lockdown will have inevitable consequences for physical and mental health. As the European Commission has continuously stressed: “Fifty million consumers struggle to keep their homes adequately warm.” It is not acceptable.

Next, a shattered European economy will need rebuilding from its lowest point since the Great Depression. An EU commitment to annually renovate 3% of Europe’s buildings will create a million new jobs and support the 16 million Europeans that already work in the construction industry and contribute 9% of Europe’s GDP. The crisis has devastated millions of small and medium-sized businesses. They will need a secure lifeline.

And, finally, the flagship ambition of the Green Deal, to achieve climate neutrality. There are 210 million buildings in the European Union that emit 36% of Europe’s CO2 emissions and devour almost half of its energy. Without renovating these buildings at a minimum rate of 3% that 2050 climate target cannot be achieved.

At Knauf Insulation we have consistently called for an ambitious approach to scaling up renovation in Europe and making the finance available to make this a reality. Post-crisis this will be more essential than ever.

So how can key commitments of a renovation-driven green recovery be leveraged by Europe’s leaders for the benefit of society, the economy and the climate?

Katarzyna Wardal, our EU Public Affairs Manager, says the cornerstone consideration is ensuring that the deep renovation of buildings achieves its core objectives. From the beginning that means a focus on performance.

There are many factors required to maximise the potential of energy efficient renovation from good quality materials to installation expertise. So, it is vital that the commitment to the renovation wave ensures that energy savings promised across Europe’s buildings are delivered in reality
Katarzyna Wardal

“In the past we would focus on measuring and metering energy supply. Today the technology exists to measure potential savings and audit whether those savings have been achieved after work has been completed. When it comes to any large-scale renovation programmes, particularly for social housing, real quantifiable performance must be achieved and must be measured.”

New research by the end-use Efficiency Research Group of the Polytechnic University of Milan, supported by Knauf Insulation Italia, shows that deep building renovation using high-quality wall and roof insulation can generate energy savings of up to 80%.

Katarzyna added: “In addition to dramatically saving emissions, such renovation also converts buildings into giant ‘batteries’ that store comfortable temperatures for several days. This in turn optimises buildings giving them the flexibility to tap into cheaper off-peak energy supplies or renewable energy. This flexibility could play an important role in the decarbonisation of Europe.”

A critical component of making high performance renovation possible is finance. Ondrej Sramek, our Director Corporate Affairs Eastern Europe, highlights the importance of leveraging funds from the EU’s Emissions Trading System for maximum impact.

“After the crisis, large-scale renovation programmes will need to be mobilised as fast as possible using overstretched resources. A great deal can be learnt from a scheme initiated in the Czech Republic where revenues from the EU’s ETS have been channelled into home renovation programmes for over 10 years.

“These schemes have been adapted over time and offer different levels of subsidy that range from 30% to 50% and inspire home-owners to carry out deep home renovations, often to a very high standard. The initiative has proved to be highly successful and Knauf Insulation has been working with the Ministry of the Environment to promote the programme in other countries.”

There are also other sources of funding. In Germany, financial giant KfW issued almost €100 billion in loans and grants for energy-efficient construction and renovation in the decade to 2017 triggering further investments of more than €260 billion and securing 320,000 jobs every year in the process. In the first quarter of 2020, despite the corona virus, demand for these programmes remains high providing a major driver for climate protection and for supporting growth and employment.

For Peter Robl, our Public Affairs Manager for Eastern Europe, European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) offer another unmissable opportunity to maximise the renovation wave.

“The remaining financial resources from the ESIF 2014-20 programming period should be allocated for green recovery. Already there are national building renovation programmes in place that show how this money can be leveraged to maximum effect.

“The Green Deal proposals also announced the revision of state aid guidelines for energy and the environment. We need clarification on how they can be adapted to support energy efficient renovation.”

Our EU Public Affairs Manager Katarzyna Wardal adds: “The pandemic has sent shockwaves across Europe and the world. However, when this crisis ends, an exciting green recovery inspired by renovation will provide the energising force that Europe needs to build a better society, better environment and better economy.”