Milestone though it was, the EU’s Sustainable Energy Week showed that we are still not doing simple things to cut carbon emissions – like turning lights off.
Mine was just one of the bemused faces looking at the German-sponsored More Light! installation in the European district of Brussels at the end of January. It wasn’t so much the choreography of light pipes and background noise; it was more the positioning of the flashing steel structure, 43m wide, right in front of a huge banner proclaiming EU Sustainable Energy Week.
It made an unfortunate start for a project that should be applauded. Sustainable Energy Week, which brings together a host of EU bodies and a wide range of private and public organisations, reflects the work of initiatives such as the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), the Intelligent Energy programme, ManagEnergy and the Civitas Forum for urban transport (go to www.eusew.eu for a full list).
The built environment, which produces 40% of carbon dioxide emissions, was an obvious focus of the week’s events. On the one hand, quick win solutions seem straightforward. Studies and simulations showed that loft and wall insulation coupled with intelligent and efficient lighting are the cheapest and easiest ways of increasing the energy performance of existing buildings. On the other hand, who pays for the upgrades – especially if the building is not owner-occupied? How is sustainable social housing financed outside central and eastern Europe? What (if any) role is there for public–private partnerships?
While there is growing evidence of a shift in demand for energy-efficient buildings, most people are not yet prepared to pay a premium to be green. The European commission is working on business models to overcome the financing challenges and has promised proposals for this year. It also said financing was the responsibility of each member country and that governments could provide incentives according to demand.
Quick-win solutions seem straightforward … but who pays for the upgrades, especially if the building is not owner-occupied?
So what of the EPBD? A workshop organised by the EPBD Buildings Platform on the implementation of the directive showed there is still clear resistance to change. The certification of new buildings is still at project stage in many countries and only a few have started work on existing buildings, as the methodology is not fully developed.
Projects are under way to assess data on existing buildings under the auspices of the Intelligent Energy Executive, funded by the European commission. It calls for findings to be published in late spring. One official indicated discussions on the revision of the EPBD could start as soon as 2008 and invited suggestions for inclusion in an updated EPBD.
So, plenty to take away from the week. There’s just one thing left: raising awareness. Maybe More Light! was there to do just that?
Jill Craig is head of public affairs at the RICS