Columnists: Adrian Joyce, Renovate Europe Campaign Director

Published on: 14 Jan 2020

How building renovations support EU’s “Man on the Moon moment”

Launched as “the EU’s Man on the Moon moment”, the European Green Deal is massively ambitious in scope and scale. While we appreciate the breadth of its eight “deeply transformative policies”, Renovate Europe finds that the underpinning roles of energy efficiency and building renovations are not fully considered.

We offer a sampling of projects already undertaken to dramatically reduce the energy demand of buildings in the EU. We have solid data on what is achievable in the buildings sector, and practical knowledge on how to achieve it.

Strategic renovation could transform a large portion of the existing EU building stock into “energy sources” capable of “supplying clean, affordable and secure energy”. Buildings also have a central role in the overarching aim of “increasing the EU’s climate ambitions for 2030 and 2050.” Considering that 90% of existing buildings will still be in use in 2050 and that 97% of them require deep energy renovation to be considered efficient, they could “make or break” the overarching ambition (more facts and figures at:

Rapid action on a much larger scale would, by 2050, reduce the EU’s total energy consumption by >30%. Aside from slashing CO2 emissions, this would deliver multiple social and economic benefits to individuals and society.

Ljubljana, Slovenia: Building and renovating in an energy- and resource-efficient way

The rate of new builds in the EU is low compared to the number of existing buildings that are resource and energy inefficient. Renovation needs to be given much higher priority across all building types: individual homes, large apartment complexes, schools, hospitals, public facilities and heritage buildings.

With its turn to be the European Green Capital on the horizon, the City of Ljubljana needed to take action on upgrading old buildings. To leverage technical expertise and secure financing, the City created a public-private partnership (PPP) with Petrol, an energy company, and Resalta, an energy services company (ESCO).

Since 2017, the partners have renovated 48 public buildings, including schools, libraries, cultural institutions, sports centres, etc. Twenty-five of the projects were undertaken to standards qualifying for deep energy renovation while actions on some buildings were constrained by their heritage status. Even so, the initiative achieved an average energy reduction of 70% to 85%. The City’s energy bills have been slashed by €1m annually while building occupants benefit from greater comfort.

Measures implemented


  • Diverse energy efficiency upgrades and installation of renewable energy systems
  • Insulation of roofs and walls; replacement of windows and doors; installation of new heating systems
  • Installation of renewable energy sources covering 25% of total demand
  • Connection of buildings to an energy management system.

Annual average energy savings

8,245MW (70%-85%)

Average CO2 emissions reduction


Total investment



Bergamo, Italy: Buildings can go beyond “helping” to mitigate climate change

“The European Green Deal needs to recognise that buildings can do much more than just contribute less to climate change. When properly considered within local contexts, they can deliver clear and long-lasting gains. “

Students at the Masana di Carvagio School are subject to three particular risks. The area has high precipitation and large temperature swings. Close proximity to transportation routes means students are exposed to high levels of emissions and noise pollution. Finally, the school (constructed in the 1950s) was closed in 2014 after seismic activity raised concerns regarding structural stability and safety.

The local government took a holistic approach to building upgrades that put high priority on student comfort and security. The structure was seismically reinforced, and an improved building envelope reduces heat loss and provides a more effective sound barrier, while optimised daylight reduces the need for artificial light and better ventilation significantly improved indoor air quality.

Measures implemented


  • Seismically strengthened loadbearing reinforced concrete frame; over clad facade
  • Replaced old windows and doors
  • Installed air-source heat pump with heat recovery ventilation along with an energy management system

Annual energy savings (against average of schools in region)


Floor area


Total investment

€440,000 (€1,850 per m²)

Portsmouth, UK: Efficient buildings boost occupant health, reduce national health-care costs

Acknowledging that healthy citizens and a healthy environment are both critical to a healthy economy, the European Green Deal has the stated aim of a “zero pollution ambition for a toxic-free environment”. Renovating the existing building stock is vital to improving indoor and outdoor air quality.

Wilmcote House, a complex comprising 107 homes, is situated in one of the country’s most deprived zones. For decades, residents experienced high heating bills and had to cope with mould, damp and condensation that affected health. Today, these buildings meet passive housing standards (EnerPHiT): energy consumption has plummeted by 90% and residents report dramatically improved living conditions and quality of life.

Measures implemented



  • Apply cladding over original prefabricated, reinforced concrete sandwich panel system
  • Install triple-glazed windows
  • Replace old, inefficient heating with a mechanical ventilation and heat recovery system

Annual energy savings


Floor area (after works)


Total investment

15.3m (1,058 per m²)

**ETICS = external thermal insulation composite systems for facade insulation.

Increasing climate ambitions for 2030 and 2050: buildings have a central role

Thanks to a strong push by the International Partnership for Energy Efficiency Cooperation (IPEEC), energy efficiency is on the G20 agenda, with buildings recognised as a key sector. Insights from IPEEC offer food for thought for the European Green Deal.

IPEEC calls for strategic action to secure energy efficiency’s place as “the first fuel” and to appropriately “fuel” its role as such. Arguing that every unit of energy not produced and consumed has the highest value to climate change objectives and to a just, clean energy transition, IPEEC identifies three disconnects that governments need to address:

  • Low understanding: Governments do not recognise energy efficiency as the most cost-effective way to address energy security and climate change; nor do they grasp how lower energy demand at national level can help meet international targets.
  • Insufficient investment: Governments have invested heavily each time a new source has been discovered (e.g. coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear and renewables). Energy efficiency is not yet viewed as an “energy source” but similar public engagement is needed to attract private investors.
  • Lack of vision: Energy efficiency is perceived as limited to “quick wins”. Scenario modelling shows its long-term value when applied strategically at large scale.

Cleverly, IPEEC framed the call as ‘2-Es that need 6-Ds’, saying that the ‘desirable’ goal of a global clean energy transition will require disruptive action in four key areas:

  • Decouple economic growth from energy demand;
  • Decarbonise both supply and demand;
  • Optimise decentralisation, as lower demand requires less infrastructure; and
  • Integrate digitalisation through energy management systems to collect more data and optimise operations.

Renovate Europe believes that a large portion of activities across these areas must urgently take place in buildings, ensuring the building stock in the EU is as energy efficient as possible as soon as possible.

For a more in-depth briefing , please visit the Renovate Europe website here.

The views expressed in this column are those of the columnist and do not necessarily reflect the views of eceee or any of its members.

Other columns by Adrian Joyce