Mr. Oliver Rapf: “Overall improvement of the quality of the building increases the quality of life of people living there.”

Mr. Oliver Rapf is the Executive Director of the Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE). He presented the report “Near Zero Energy building” at the conference “Energy Efficiency
Investment Mechanisms
”, organized by the Bulgarian School of politics “Dimitry Panitza” and the German Embassy to Bulgaria.

Could you tell us more about the Buildings Performance Institute Europe?

The BPIE is a relatively young organization. We were found in about two and a half years ago by two foundations , i.e. Climate Works, the European Climate Foundation and the European Council for Energy Efficient Economy to do a research in the field of energy efficiency in buildings and in particular to do policy analyses, to analyse how well the member states transpose the directives, which come from Brussels and are decided in Brussels on a member state level, if they develop policy, which really has impact on energy efficiency in buildings, if they monitor the compliance with any regulations, etc. We analyze and check whether the policies that have been agreed to prove the efficiency of buildings do really work. That is our key question, with which we are dealing. We are a relatively small team and are currently nine people. But we found that the research which we are doing has met many open doors because we are relatively unique in the position of taking the European look. We have of course excellent research going on in many member states and lots of excellent research institutes but hardly anybody is looking at the European Union as a whole and that is an issue which occupies our work.

What is the European energy efficiency potential? What will happen in the next years?

We did a big survey in 2011 to find out what the energy performance on the European building stock is. It is very important to know the baseline if you have to decide where you want to be in a few years or in a few decades from now. We collected data from all European member states and used that data to run a model for future scenarios how the European building stock would develop. So we modeled a number of renovation scenarios and came to the conclusion that if we really follow very ambitious policies and ensure a deep renovation of the building stock, we can reduce the CO2 emissions of the building sector by around 90 % by 2050. But of course we know that to achieve such a long-term goal we need to have intermediate goals, and also policies. Right now we do not have the policies in place to achieve that deep renovation. But this is a potential. Most of the European buildings, of course with a few exceptions, can be transformed to nearly Zero energy buildings. By the end of this decade it will be mandatory for any new building to be nearly Zero energy one. It is already possible to construct buildings which produce more energy than they consume, so called “positive energy buildings” or “plus energy buildings”. There are examples of such buildings since a decade or so in Germany for example.

Do you think that these goals are achievable?

We are absolutely convinced that these goals are achievable if we put the right policies and incentive schemes in place. There are no technical barriers. There may be barriers in political will or people’s awareness, or finances. And when we talk about finances, I think it is important not to look at financing in terms of costs, but in terms of investments. When you invest in a building, it is an investment which will pay off over a longer period. And this is not only because of reduced energy costs – this is always given as you pay less energy costs. But because by the overall improvement of the quality of the building, you increase the quality of life of people living there, and the real estate value. In this way, you improve the urban situation. There is a big difference if there is a well renovated and nice quarter in a city, or you have a rundown quarter. And this makes a big difference for economic attraction for how people feel. So there are many, many benefits beyond just saving energy costs to the renovation of the building stock.

What is the situation in Bulgaria according to the Near Zero Energy building report? Actually we have a huge problem with buildings and their renovation.

We looked at what Bulgaria could do to achieve the nearly Zero energy building standard, which is mandatory according to the European buildings directive from 2020 onwards and to model what it will actually cost to achieve that. We modeled a large set of different technological options, which we ought to combine with each other, and analysed how much these different options would cost. And we came to the conclusion that for example for new single family houses there are many technological options, which would not cost more than 5 euro per square meter a year to build. There is a small increase, but it is not a dramatic one, and some of these technological options are actually even cheaper to build, than what the standard is now. We did an exercise for single family houses, for multifamily houses, and for office buildings. For all these three categories of buildings we modeled the different technological options and how much it would cost. We came to the conclusion that they are absolutely affordable. But, and there is always a “but”, first of all it requires a training of the workforce. Building companies right now probably do not know how to construct those nearly Zero energy buildings. So, this is a key barrier to overcome and we need to train and educate the building force – architects, designers, planners, etc. The other thing is that there is not enough awareness yet, both within the population and with the decision makers, that these standards are really visible, that they are not very expensive, and that they are not some wishful thinking, but can be build and become a reality even with limited economic power.

But we should take these standards according to a European directive, shouldn’t we?

Yes, Bulgaria has to transpose the directive from the EU, but it is left to every member state to define the national standard for Nearly Zero Energy buildings. So, there is a degree of freedom to do that. And of course, the country can decide to go for a more ambitious or less ambitious standard. And I think that is the key question to answer.