Powering the European Green Deal with Energy Renovation

As climate change migrates from the margins to the heart of EU policymaking, it bears reiterating that the state of EU buildings holds the key to achieving the energy, emissions and environmental targets set in the European Green Deal.  

Buildings account for 40% of EU energy demand and 36% of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. According to the Danish Energy Agency, approximately 85% of the buildings we will live in by 2050 already exist today. Therefore, to move further towards a green transition by 2050, we need to decarbonise the existing buildings. The EU’s 2050-vision requires the majority of buildings to be highly energy-efficient; in other words, to be at least compliant with ‘Label A’ energy certification. A study by Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE), with data from 16 countries/regions across the EU, shows that 97% of the building stock must be upgraded to achieve the 2050 vision. The EU funded HEART project is proposing a solution by offering a prefabricated retrofit toolkit that can simplify and make the renovation process quicker and more holistic. 

Energy Renovation: sum of all things 

The pillars for reducing building carbon emissions are energy efficiency, electrification of buildings’energy consumption and the spread of Renewable Energy Sources (RES). A higher RES penetration and the increase of building-related electricity consumptions require smarter energy management at building levels, as outlined by the revised Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD 2018/844/EU). The integration of RES introduces several electric systems management problems because of their unpredictable energy production profiles and high variable rates, e.g. solar energy. 

As RES integration increases in the building sector, the need to properly manage and dispatch energy at the building/district level becomes crucial, as buildings must balance their on-site energy generation and consumption. In such a framework, electricity-driven heat pump (HP) systems for heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) needs, combined with photovoltaic (PV), are effective options to increase RES coverage of building primary energy consumptions. However, the increase in electricity consumption and the extensive diffusion of non-programmable RES technologies may overload the power grid, thus requiring strategies for peak demand reduction and demand-response. The reason is attributable to the different distribution of thermal loads and solar radiation, making it necessary to exchange electricity with the grid, with consequent reduction of local RES self-consumption. An Energy Storage System (ESS) is a solution to store excess energy for later use, reducing the mismatch between solar radiation and energy demand. 

At the HEART of energy renovation

Renovation toolkits are integrated packages of prefabricated components such as: insulation/façades; heating; ventilation; air-conditioning; (renewable) energy systems; user interfaces; and digital solutions. These are offered by a group of suppliers to ensure quicker, higher quality and more cost-effective home renovations. One such solution is the HEART Toolkit. The HEART project is developing and testing several components that will facilitate renovation by using: a multifunctional prefabricated facade system; universal photovoltaic tiles; a high-efficiency water storage tank; direct-current smart fan coils and heat pumps; a multi-input/multi-output controller; and a cloud-based platform to support decision-making and energy management phases. Toolkit installation and envelope technologies are structured as a function of their synergic action, practicality, installation time and non-invasiveness. Applying the HEART’s envelope solutions (thermal insulation and windows) ensures thermal loads reduction while applying novel installation technologies (PV, heat pump, fan-coils, storage system) provides energy efficiency and RES exploitation. HEART’s control system optimises the building energy performance, enhancing synergies between different installation and technology sub-systems and operating according to an integrated logic.

HEART – Functional Flow-Chart – insert graph

This allows the HEART multi-technology toolkit to transform an existing building into a highly efficient Smart Building. The use of this toolkit optimises a building’s energy performance and makes it extremely reliable, while also tracking and documenting energy use. This is one of HEART’s greatest strengths as it provides an instrument of control and guarantees the stimulation and promotion of incentives and (private or public) financial investments in building energy retrofit.       

The development of the HEART Toolkit is, at present, in an advanced stage and is currently being deployed in two demo cases in Italy (Reggio Emilia) and France (Lyon).

HEART’s Demonstration Buildings 

The Italian demo case is a social housing residential building from 1985 with 12 residential units and is located in a residential area of the Municipality of Bagnolo in Piano (RE, Italy).

HEART started the retrofit intervention of the Italian demo building in September 2019 with the retrofit of windows. Such intervention alone shows a reduction in the annual heating demand of about 16% (from 65.2 to 54.3 (kWh/m2). In September 2020, the site activities were carried out related to the building and plumbing works of the thermal power plant, laying of the lifeline on the roof, installation of the external thermal façade system, and a part of the works necessary for installation of corrugated pipes for the distribution of electrical cables. The works will continue with installing the photovoltaic  system of the smart fan coils inside the units and with the activation activities of the technological systems installed that will have to communicate with each other and with the future cloud platform.

The second demo case is located in Saint-Priest, Lyon, France. It is a multi-family building of subsidised public housing built in 1960 with 26 residential units of 1120 m2 and is located in a residential area.

The French demo case design is in an advanced stage of development, continuously incorporating the details and optimisation of the whole HEART system, also based on the experiences gained during the Italian demo case activities. To date, the relevant activities have been carried out on the existing architectural and technological parts of the building, and the intervention on future new window systems has been assessed in detail. Based on the experiences that are being gathered following the continuous collaboration between the HEART partners and on the Italian demo case construction site, the French project is constantly evolving for the implementation of the HEART Toolkit.

Research has widely demonstrated how the fight against climate change and the reduction of emissions and energy consumption requires a substantial rethinking of the building sector. Improving buildings’ energy efficiency has been considerably developed and applied in recent years. However, this is often done in an uncoordinated and fragmented manner while underestimating synergies and benefits gained through different technologies’ systemic integration—a problem the HEART project addresses. 

Implementation of the European Green Deal needs to unlock the substantial benefits of energy efficiency across all sectors in a strategic way. To truly put people at the centre of policy, prioritising energy renovation is the most direct way to improve the health and well-being of EU citizens while also advancing towards energy demand and emissions reduction goals. HEART project fits in at the centre of the current debate, proposing a systemic solution that can deliver excellent results in reducing fuel consumption, cutting costs, and raising the quality of life for inhabitants. By providing a holistic renovation toolkit that ensures quicker, higher quality and more cost-effective building renovations, HEART Project could make a crucial contribution to the EU Green Deal initiative Renovation Wave by making European building stock energy efficient.