The Guest Blog

Guest blog post by Katerina Bezgachina, Associate Director for Communications at Habitat for Humanity EMEA.

A latest EU Energy Efficiency report showed how new co-design and energy labelling requirements for products are saving consumers both energy and money. By 2020, potential energy savings will reach approximately 9% of the EU’s total energy consumption and a 7% reduction in carbon emissions. But we can do more. Much more. And save up to 50% of energy. Wonder how?

Residential sector is responsible for up to 40% of the totally consumed energy, ahead of industry and only slightly behind energy consumption in transport. Yet, there are only pilot attempts to improve energy consumption in residential buildings. It is understandable. For investors, it is easier to manage big infrastructure projects rather than break up these amounts into smaller sums and deal with a myriad of individual residential buildings and their residents. But given the potential to reduce energy consumption, the business case for energy retrofits is compelling. We just need to find a way to lift it off the ground and bring to scale.

With large-scale pre-fabricated building blocks as the remnants of socialist heritage in Central and Eastern Europe and South East Europe, a lot still needs to happen to bring them in line with the EU energy standards. Built with little or no consideration for energy consumption, in those days energy was cheap, these buildings contribute to the rising utility costs of their residents, up to 50% of their income, and push them into energy poverty. At the same time, space and water heating of residential buildings are responsible for the better part of the energy consumption and emissions. So energy poverty and carbon emissions are two sides of the same coin.

The countries’ building stock and tenant structures transitioned into the mass privatization of homes in the 1990s. Without a clear framework to govern in its place, the responsibility for the building blocks’ maintenance became fragmented. Around the same time, energy prices went up and residents faced much higher utility bills. To make energy retrofitting possible, we need policies that stimulate and govern this work as well as finances to actually undertake it.

Hence, energy efficiency policies in CEE and SEE should be built around the homeowners who, after the privatization waves in the 1990s, became the heart of the region’s housing markets. This approached was voiced by Habitat for Humanity, an international housing organization, at the conference dedicated to residential energy efficiency which took place in Brussels at the end of April, 2017. The organization released its recommendations for policy makers and international organizations to fight energy poverty in CEE and SEE.

To make sure we leap to retrofitting, nation states in the region need to implement mandatory provisions for coordinating bodies to assist homeowners’ associations in the renovation process and set up a clear system of responsibilities for housing management that integrates energy efficiency into its operational practices. To reduce payback periods, this needs to go hand in hand with affordable financial mechanisms that are available to collective legal bodies such as homeowners’ associations, and with government intervention through targeted subsidies or loan guarantees.

If we follow this path we can achieve three targets. Lower the region’s energy consumption and energy dependency, improve environment through lower carbon emissions and make citizens’ well-being and living conditions better.
Cities in Central and Eastern Europe will no longer have grim and grey skylines but instead can boast comfortable and bright residential areas. And save not 9% but up to 40% of energy.

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