In February 2019, Open Exp and The Right to Energy Coalition released new data regarding the four main factors contributing to energy poverty in the EU, comprising share of energy expenditures within household expenditures, inability to stay sufficiently warm in winter or cool in summer, and the quality of housing – in particular noting dwelling with leaky roofs. As evident by the green bars in Figure 1, in many cases poor quality buildings play a dominant role.

What the figure does not convey is how poor quality housing influences the other factors: inefficient dwellings compromise thermal comfort and drive up energy expenditures. Arguably, rather than being ‘on par’ with other factors, inefficient dwellings are a ‘root cause’ and tackling efficiency first would alleviate the other pressures.

Figure 1 Poor quality housing a dominant factor in energy poverty

Poor quality homes lead to poor health

>80 m Europeans live in damp homes.

~15% of EU homes have moisture problems.

~10% of homes are infected with fungi.

Indoor mould is responsible for 12% of new cases of childhood asthma.

Treating asthma in the EU carries an average healthcare cost of ~€1,725 annually.

A second key point is not represented in the figure: we know that poor quality buildings lead to poor health and to healthcare costs. The Warmth and Well-Being Scheme currently being piloted in Ireland recognises that a deep energy renovation – carrying a one-time cost of 20,000 – can quickly be paid back through reduced recurring costs of treating elderly people with chronic cardio-pulmonary conditions.

A growing portfolio of projects that apply advanced technologies and building methods disproves the old argument that deep renovations are too costly.

In Bordeaux, France, a social housing complex known as Le Grand Parc was slated for demolition – meaning 530 families would need to be re-housed. A feasibility study convinced authorities to renovate instead, at a total cost of 28 million over 67,500m2 – i.e. €415/m2. The complex was equipped with new heat recovery ventilation and all new electrical installations. In parallel, using prefabricated modules for exterior insulation created the opportunity to increase useable space, improve daylighting and add winter gardens to most units. Remarkably, as renovation works on each apartment were completed in just two days, residents were not required to move out. Already, the project is delivery 60% savings in energy consumption and there has been no increase in rent.

Wider proof of potential is most obvious in massive roll-out of deep renovations in Croatia. Between 2014 and 2016, using just half of €411m in awarded in Structural Funds, the government oversaw the transformation of more than 15,600 family homes and 2,300 multi-unit buildings (as well as 80 commercial buildings and 262 public buildings). While data are not at hand, we are certain those families will experience greater comfort and lower energy costs – with some being lifted out of energy poverty.

An overarching lesson emerges from such case studies – i.e. that the alliance of government entities, industry players, social organisations and building operators and occupants underpins the success of deep energy renovations. The takeaway is that those who do take bold action on deep renovation reap the diverse and valuable rewards that arise when buildings use less energy and have lower emissions, and people who use them are more comfortable, more productive, healthier and more prosperous. When we prioritise people and accelerate renovation, we all benefit, we all win and secure a better future for ourselves and future generations.

The Renovate Europe Campaign (REC) calls for an 80% reduction in energy consumption in the EU buildings stock by 2050. With this ambitious target in mind, we want to see two things: an end to debate on the feasibility of deep energy renovations and bold action by policymakers to rapidly advance towards the achievement of a highly energy efficient and decarbonised building stock in the EU.

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