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When the home is the polluter

An energy revolution in buildings is needed to move towards efficiency and reduce emissions. We discussed it with Lorenzo Tavazzi.

by Luigia Ierace
09 April 2019
6 min read
byLuigia Ierace
09 April 2019
6 min read

Energy efficiency and safety, environmental sustainability and the circular economy are issues that also affect the oil & gas supply chain in the delicate balance between construction and the environment. Because the fact that even homes pollute and that a real revolution will need to take place in real estate and infrastructure is increasingly acknowledged, and energy companies will be among the main players. Industry experts, opinion leaders, institutional representatives and business communities have analyzed the main aspects related to energy innovation in Italy and Europe. From improving air quality through energy efficiency, to the importance of energy certification for buildings, for an effective reduction of polluting emissions, to the latest analysis highlighting how technological innovations, high energy consumption standards and consistent action strategies can contribute to regenerating Italian real estate. These were the issues discussed by the fifth focus group on “Regenerating real estate: the energy revolution in buildings”, run by The European House – Ambrosetti working group with the “ENGIE Energy Innovation Observatory”, which focuses on residential buildings and, secondly, on buildings used as offices or dedicated to the service sector without considering, if not marginally, industrial buildings.

We discussed this with the Project Leader, Lorenzo Tavazzi, Associate Partner and Scenarios and Intelligence Area Manager of The European House – Ambrosetti.

What are the key points that emerge from the Energy Innovation Observatory?

The Report highlighted an aspect often underestimated in the analysis of Italian emissions and energy consumption: the fundamental role that buildings play with 40% of energy consumption, 28% of which is attributable to the residential sector. With over 12 million buildings and about 35 million residential units, in Italy the incidence of this segment is among the highest in Europe (84% of existing buildings are residential compared to 76% in France and 68% in Germany).

So homes pollute as well as cars?

Exactly: emissions from buildings are extremely significant. Furthermore, recent European rules establish a definition for zero energy buildings (known as nZEBs), but this category only applies to new buildings. With a renewal rate of 0.7%, the key to improving the efficiency of buildings therefore lies in the existing stock, primarily urban apartment buildings. Around 50 percent of homes are in buildings over 40 years old, a figure which rises to 75% in metropolitan cities.

Improving the efficiency of real estate also requires action by energy companies. What role can they play?

Energy companies play a crucial role in making energy efficiency improvements in large apartment buildings possible, as they reduce the cost of initial intervention by receiving tax credits. Moreover, where work is not eligible for deductions, ESCos can finance the investment that would be repaid through the savings generated by the work itself. As a result, the cost for apartment buildings, which is the real obstacle to the work being approved, can be further reduced.

Home 4.0 becomes a real integrated energy supply chain system.

What we have defined as “Home 4.0” is a horizontal integrated system between the different supply chains, characterized by the interoperability of the various devices connected to it and capable of satisfying the growing needs for livability and sustainability perceived by consumers. It is a concept that encompasses the transition from “passive home” to “active home”, the use of renewable energy sources, smart grids and system interoperability. It is an integrated system that will be further strengthened with the deployment of the 5G network, where interoperability and the connection of different devices is the key to development.

European rules on the energy efficiency of buildings began to be introduced in 2000 and Italy is lagging behind. What can it borrow from other European countries?

Every country has its own peculiarities in terms of real estate. The priority for Italy is undoubtedly to align public stakeholders (State, Regions and Municipalities) to harmonize the rules and establish a multi-year plan to improve the energy efficiency of buildings. These actions have already been taken by many European competitors; Germany in fact launched a similar plan as early as 2015 and it is more appropriate than ever for Italy to move in this direction.

Can investments, incentives and a Guarantee Fund help with this transition?

The report highlighted the importance of mechanisms to facilitate the financing of work which, as previously mentioned, constitutes the major obstacle to work being done in highly inefficient urban apartment buildings. The establishment of operational procedures for the National Energy Efficiency Fund in January 2019, 4 years after its creation, is a sign that the Government is paying attention to energy efficiency issues.

But it isn’t just a funding problem. Should citizens and companies be made more aware?

Absolutely yes, there is still a lack of awareness about the benefits that could be achieved through energy efficiency. For this reason in our Report we spoke about the appropriateness of adopting a real “home maintenance booklet” that informs the user of the investments needed to keep the performance levels of the home high and, possibly, to be able to plan maintenance work over time. 

Tell us about some cases of international best practice.

With reference again to the multi-year programming, which is too often neglected in Italy, we could mention the example of Denmark, which was the first to introduce energy efficiency measures for buildings. These measures have been gradually revised upwards, preparing the industry almost ten years ahead of the introduction of the new requirements. France is also a good example of standards being gradually improved over time, as evidenced by the excellent performance of the country in the construction of buildings that today comply with almost zero emission standards.

Will there be a follow-up to the research? And what will be the points of reflection?

In the context of the activities we are currently carrying out at The European House - Ambrosetti, we have several initiatives relating to the energy transition, particularly in light of the ongoing debate on the Integrated National Plan for Energy and Climate. In this respect, work on buildings is a fundamental aspect in achieving the goals of reducing emissions and achieving energy efficiency set by the country.