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A Change of Course is Needed

26 July 2021
Increasing Efficiency in the Building Sector
Depends on Renovations

Climate action is one of the stated goals of the European Union. Greenhouse gases are to be reduced to a minimum by 2050. The building sector will play an important role in this, as 40 percent of total energy consumption and approximately 36 percent of all CO2 emissions can be traced back to buildings. There is an enormous potential for energy savings here. Refurbishing existing buildings is the primary way to realize these savings.

The Key Information a Glance:

  • The building sector is a major energy consumer: To achieve greater overall energy efficiency, significantly more existing buildings need to be refurbished.
  • Sophisticated building automation supports savings: Building technology processes can be monitored and controlled efficiently. Networked systems create additional value.
  • Retrofitting efficiency: The controller, sensors and actuators required for energy-optimized building operation can also be retrofitted into existing buildings.
  • Smart readiness: Building automation is also a policy requirement.

Non-Residential Buildings Are Significant Energy Consumers

At the moment, there are an estimated 2.7 million non-residential buildings in Germany (dena Report, 2019), which represent a total of 13 percent of German building stock. At the same time, non-residential buildings represent one-third of total building energy consumption. Reducing that will require more than just efficient new construction. We need to focus on energy efficient renovation – going beyond just improvements in insulation or innovative heating technology to include retrofitted building automation, which is critical for increasing the energy performance of existing buildings.

Building Automation Supports Targeted Energy Use

Sophisticated building automation systems, which detect, control and regulate building technology processes while networking equipment and building systems, can achieve significant energy savings. Individual systems communicate with each other or with a higher-level management system. Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning, lights and shading interact and leverage synergies for energy-optimized operation. This allows demand-driven use of primary energy only where it is essential. For example, indoor climate conditions can be automatically adjusted according to room occupancy, giving users a comfortable working environment where they can be productive. When the room is not in use, the systems self-regulate to avoid unnecessary energy consumption. The controllers, sensors and actuators required for this can usually be retrofitted without much difficulty.

The Rate of Renovation Is Too Low

Across Europe, the rate of renovation is approximately 11 percent, and only a few of these projects focus on efficient, sustainable building operation. Renovations that actually achieve improvements in energy efficiency account for only around 1 percent of projects. The proportion of so-called “extensive building renovations” that include energy savings of 60 percent is even lower: a mere 0.2 percent. So why aren’t more buildings retrofitted with suitable automation technology during renovation? In addition to a lack of information, building operators and investors often believe that energy efficient technologies are less economical than conventional solutions. Access to financing is usually available, but it is often difficult to understand what kind of funding is available for what objectives and what requirements the programs need to meet. In addition, many building owners lack sufficient information about the energy consumption of their buildings and the options current technology offers. Therefore, action is urgently needed: If the EU is to achieve its goal of a climate-neutral building sector by 2050, the rate of renovation must at least double within the next 9 years at most.

Building Renovation Has Long Been an Issue in EU Politics

Politicians have come to understand that renovations and building automation make a crucial contribution to energy savings in buildings and have set corresponding requirements, like the European “Energy Performance of Buildings Directive” (EPBD), which EU members were supposed to incorporate into their national legislation by the beginning of this year. Until 2018, the EU Building Directive focused on the building envelope, but the amendment recognizes and incorporates the potential savings that building automation offers.

The directive also focuses on digitization in the building sector and increased networking of all technical systems, including smart sensors and actuators. This is because extensive networking, recording and monitoring of information are basic requirements for a sustainable, smart building.

The EPBD’s Focus

  • Communication capability/monitoring

  • Installation of self-regulating equipment

  • Intelligent charging of electric vehicles

  • Smart readiness indicator

Smart Readiness Indicator: Getting Buildings Ready for the Future

The goal of the EPBD is not only to get existing buildings up to the current state of the art and exploit the associated potential for energy savings, but also to ensure that building technology is ready for the requirements and systems of the future The smart readiness indicator mentioned in the amended Directive provides orientation for measuring a building’s compatibility with intelligent systems. The smart readiness indicator “cover[s] features for enhanced energy savings, benchmarking and flexibility, enhanced functionalities and capabilities resulting from more interconnected and intelligent devices” (EPBD, Annex IA). The indicator is intended to provide orientation about how buildings and their current technology can satisfy present and future demands and where optimization is possible and necessary according to the current state of the art. However, it has not yet been fully clarified how this indicator will be used in the future to evaluate buildings, for example, in relation to energy certification.

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