Sustainability through market development

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The condition of the existing building stock and the current national energy efficiency standards outline significant market potential for the introduction of the PH standard. In some regions, serious attention is paid to the development and promotion of a market for materials and components for passive houses, which in a situation of supply shortages are likely to remain relatively expensive. The understanding that the main obstacle to markets is the insufficient knowledge of the nature and advantages of the PH concept is more or less unanimous. It is proposed more than once that national governments should pursue active policies on information and skills to build more confidence to PH. Additionally, shortage of specialists, lack of knowledge of the effects of passive houses within the life cycle of buildings (especially by banks), and scarce real examples of passive houses in many countries are identified as significant barriers to the development of the markets - and all the PassREg regions offer various forms of impact.

Market support policies / Market incentives (no direct financing involved)

It is quite logical that, especially in regions with low level of decentralization, non-financial stimuli are preferred in the policy-making efforts of the local and regional authorities. There are several directions in which these efforts could be classified under the common denominator that they are targeted to ensure a stable institutional and organizational framework for market uptake of low-energy solutions in the building sector. Of course, long-term strategic planning is a necessary prerequisite for the attraction of major market players. Sustainable development strategies, including such targeted at broader issues like the protection of environment and climate (Hannover), are key for provision of security and stability, so important for the large investors’ interest. The approach for implementation of the concept of energy independence is the next logical step, which is already undertaken by several PassREg regions. Staying at local/regional level, political solutions for obligatory achievement of the PH Standard (or EnerPHit for renovations), especially for the public buildings – and especially when public money is invested – rightfully attract the attention in many of the success models developed through PassREg. Directly related to this, the decision to build only to PH standard on municipal land, as initiated by Hannover, is also well appreciated by the participating partners. As mentioned above, for example, in the city of Antwerp the PH standard applies for all new public buildings and major renovations since 2013. Setting a strict target to reduce the energy consumption in the residential sector is also viewed as a positive step in this direction. To no less extent, measures to stimulate the networking among related stakeholders and capacity building activities are well understood as necessary for the continuous development of the market and elimination of the weak points in the PH market supply chain. Memoranda with local NGOs and civic associations (Hanover, Tyrol); alliances for Sustainable Development with companies operating in the municipality (Hanover, Brussels); support for innovative companies - manufacturers and distributors of components, materials and technologies for low-energy construction, with a focus on SMEs; establishing of "ecoclusters" (Hanover) are just some of the examples for such activities with the participation of the local authorities, stimulating innovative patterns for public-private partnerships. Of course, these efforts are well combined with organizing and conducting of specialized construction fairs, conferences, seminars, etc. and engaging in knowledge sharing initiatives, e.g. through European projects. What is most promising, however, is the well-spread conviction that the best working market instrument is the direct experience, for which exemplary building projects has to be delivered – and most of all, by the local authorities themselves.

Networking and partnerships with market actors

The widespread uptake of the Passive House as a means of delivering nZEBs across Europe inevitably leads to an increased demand in suitable products and services. However, many of the required products are not yet common in the mainstream construction, yet they will need to be available at an acceptable cost in order to allow nZEBs to be delivered affordably. The Passive House approach is flexible enough to accommodate the entire range of construction methodologies and designs, whilst delivering cutting edge environmental performance across buildings of various uses and scale. For example, there is a great potential for manufacturers of building products to adapt and diversify their offerings with vast opportunities to expand into new markets. Such manufacturers play a critical role in the successful EU-wide delivery of nZEBs on the basis of Passive House supplied by renewables. Raising awareness amongst designers and clients as well as exchange with other experts will be key to delivering needed products. This drives forward the availability of suitable products critical for wider EU uptake, while at the same time offering enhanced market opportunities and recognition to manufacturers who demonstrate performance in line with Passive House criteria. Within PassREg regions, both frontrunners and aspiring, there are many initiatives in support of the market uptake of the available solutions. As early as mid-1990’s, Hannover local authorities recognize that implementation of the goals of their ecological and energy policy is unthinkable without the active public and market support. The implementation of the environmental programme Agenda 21 was based on the establishment of permanently functioning networks (e.g. “Environmental Communications Network), directly involving citizens and market players in the sustainable development of the region. Other instruments included the “Environmental Hot Line”, the “City Forum” and the Planning Ombudsman institution. Specific attention is paid to the involvement of businesses and local industries through public-private partnerships, branch initiatives and consultations. The permanent exchange of environmentally sound technologies is also a main priority, as support efforts for continuing education of professionals in the area of EE and RES are maintained. The situation is quite similar, for example, in Tyrol, where professional networking is exemplified by Ecoplus Cluster, Green Building Cluster of Lower Austria, and Low-Energy-Building Cluster Tirol, with the understanding that innovative and economically sound projects between business and research community are becoming increasingly important for the building sector. In Antwerp, the planning and execution of the district Nieuw Zuid is one of the most valuable examples for implementation of large-scale public-private partnership projects in the area of urban development, with a strong focus on energy efficiency and environmental protection.

Impact of Beacons

One of the highlights of PassREg, the so called “Beacon Projects” represent distinguished best practice examples of nZEBs implemented in the European “Passive house regions” - both frontrunners and aspiring - which make exemplary use of the PassREg strategy: Passive House principles plus renewables to cover the remaining energy demand, reaching optimal profitability and significant GHG emissions savings. These case studies teach us a lot about the applicability and effectiveness of solutions for both the development and the continuous optimization of PassREg success models; moreover, they provide an insight into the future of the European urban development and building practice. The PassREg beacon projects are either new builds or renovations, ranging from larger individual buildings to entire urban settlements. While many of the beacons have benefitted from support by the municipalities/regions in which they are located, some of them are private undertakings without any special public support. All of them, however, are shining examples of Passive House and RES principles and are all implemented within the scope of a “success model”: a regional development framework applying various financial, capacity building, technical, quality assurance, political and communication solutions and approaches. This complex approach, in fact, is what makes them so valuable in terms of market support: without combining and analysing the synergy effects of the different factors, their impact on the actual building market would be limited. Developed as detailed case studies, the analyses of the beacon projects provide valuable information about the applicability and effectiveness of the solutions applied in the PassREg regions and serve as a source of tested, effective examples for execution of ambitious building projects in various conditions. Additionally, they all play a major role as information and know-how exchange hubs, practically transferring effective solutions and approaches onto the actual building sites. Indeed, for some of the less advanced regions, successful beacon projects proved to be the best possible driver for the energy revolution in the building sector.

From "Success models" through "Beacon projects" to a definition of nZEB

Actually, it is really the implementation of whole models and not of single solutions which leads to the building of optimal nZEBs. Each regional model of success makes use of a complex set of approaches (financial, technical, political, communicative, etc.) and rely on particular infrastructure (capacity building in Passive House and renewables, legislation, financial incentives, etc.), required for the successful uptake of PassREg concepts. The beacon projects provide the best possible illustration of the interplay between all factors of success, a large window into the models in which they fit so well, thus allowing for a deeper look at the approaches and infrastructure used – and sometimes in the new solutions needed. And this is what the European approach is all about. The analyses of the specific technical solutions implemented in the beacon projects (including implementation of RES) and the aggregated results of these projects with reference to specific socio-economic and climatic conditions brilliantly showcase the feasibility and economic viability of the approach. They aim to show how the PH concept, applied in accordance with the requirements of the EPBD (recast of 2010) and supported by renewable energy, can serve as a proven model for the nZEB. The facts are already more than convincing: it is not only the energy efficiency that wins over the curious reader; PassREg beacons are also comfortable, healthy, environment-friendly and cost effective.

Stimulating public demand (awareness raising activities)

One of the most underestimated issues in the efforts for implementation of the nZEB concept at all levels, the raising of end-users awareness and increasing of their interest towards the opportunities offered by the energy efficient solutions is the key factor for sustainable market uptake of the proposed concepts. In many of the less advanced regions, there are tangible shortages in citizens’ culture in respect to energy savings in everyday life, in information about the effects of the use of specific new materials, systems, technologies and solutions in terms of energy savings and comfort of habitation, and in understanding of the environmental, economic and social impact of the targeted energy efficiency and RES policies, especially at the local level. There are many different approaches in this respect, some of them with undoubted success. But even though there are some opinions that the good building projects are the best (and self-sufficient) communication, it is evident that a clear multi-level communication strategy is necessary for achievement of the strategic goals set in the regions. Here, the role of the state is not to be underestimated, as in many cases it has the necessary resources and channels to create general awareness and to move the energy efficiency and RES-related issues higher in the public and media agenda. However, to stimulate the actual end-user’s uptake, the local level of communication should fulfil its potential in terms of demonstration capacities, consulting services and building of trust within the local communities. This major challenge (to both market uptake success and multilevel governance organization) should be faced now, without any delay. Although it may seem that the year of 2020, supposed to serve as a benchmark for the introduction of the nZEB standards, is still too far away for heavy investments in intensive communication activities, this notion is quite misleading: the goals, action plans and the supporting instruments for the 2014-2020 multiannual framework are set-up today (if not already in place), and it would be extremely hard to devise a comprehensive communication approach when the available resources are already deployed elsewhere. And what is even more important, changes in the attitudes and social values require fair amounts of time and efforts, so, in the highly competitive European market space of ideas and concept, any advance is worth taking on. Of course, there is no general recipe for success of a communication campaign: it should be tailored towards its goals (always in terms of change of attitudes and/or consumer’s behaviour), target groups and external environment. However, lessons learned from PassREg show that the political acts at all levels of governments could (and should) serve as serious incentives for the start – or reinforcement – of the communication efforts targeted to increased market demand. This conclusion should be seriously taken into account as the respective resources should be allocated up front in order to set the space for actual success of the policies: it is well-known that if the civil society’s attitude is not favourable towards a policy action, it starts working against itself – and its initiators.