In Europe there are a number of programs and tools that financially support cooperation, exchange of experiences and joint work towards improving the energy efficiency of European cities. Begun two years ago as part of the Intelligent Energy Europe program, the SECURE (Sustainable Energy Communities in Urban Areas in Europe) project brings together seven European partners to create Energy Action Plans for four cities: Malmoe, in Sweden, Hilleroed, in Denmark, Dublin, in Ireland, and Tallinn in Estonia.
The Energy Action plans focus on long-term transformation of the energy systems within these cities, including measurable targets on energy use and the share of energy from renewable resources. In order to achieve comprehensive plans, work is done on several levels with different stakeholders: from the city level, including local authorities and enterprises, to the building industry and finally to the citizens themselves.
The main working platform in the project is the European Directive for Energy Performance of Buildings, which sets requirements for energy consumption in the building sector. Therefore, direct contact with the all of the players in the building sector is important in order to identify reasons why energy efficient measures and technologies are not widely implemented in buildings and therefor allow the plans to succeed.
The plan compares the energy performances at building demonstration sites in each of the four cities, while non-technological barriers to energy-efficiency measures such as legal, financial, institutional and social, are identified. For the purpose of the evaluation process, a “best practice” energy performance of buildings has been identified from a benchmark study of best practices in Europe. Different conditions and building practices in Europe have made it difficult to identify a single best case but a good overview has been made.
While some projects focus only on energy issues, others include other aspects of sustainability as well, unfortunately most often resulting in lower ambitions for energy targets. The passive house concept is being more widely implemented, resulting in significantly lower energy consumption, while energy producing technologies such as solar panels and solar cells are increasingly being applied to buildings. However, there is still a lot that needs to be done to bring these practices into everyday use.
In fact, the speed at which these practices are being mainstreamed, to a large extent depends on different measures and incentives introduced by the authorities to support the implementation of renewable energy producing technologies especially in the building sector. Different financial incentives are most often the first step taken to support it. Grid connectivity and the possibility for different stakeholders to gain profit from producing extra renewable energy is gaining more acceptance among private stakeholders in countries where such measures are allowed. While this option is available in only a few European countries, it could potentially greatly increase the adoption of renewable energy technologies if other counties were to introduce the practice. Since the benchmark study covered a wider European area, its results gave a valuable input to the development of energy action plans in the four cities.
Besides technology and buildings, users play an important role in energy use and action is being taken to raise awareness on the importance of lowering energy consumption with tips on how to do it. So far a number of campaigns were organized in Malmö, Hillerød and Dublin, one of them being the Climate Smart Campaign for the City of Malmö. An assessment of effects of the campaign has shown that citizens have become more aware of activities of the City of Malmö regarding climate change and what kind of effect climate change might have on their lifestyles.
As part of the SECURE project, an interactive online game has been developed giving citizens the ability to learn how to decrease their own greenhouse gas emissions. The work of the local authorities with citizens has proven to be very important for lowering the energy consumption but at the same time initiating other activities for lowering impacts on climate change.
In addition, the SECURE project has also helped to develop and test tools that will assist companies in becoming climate neutral. As a result, some of the first participating companies have already achieved this goal. In Dublin, initial studies have even shown that lower CO2 emissions have a direct financial benefit for companies. The Greenhouse Gas Calculator, a tool developed by a project partner, helps calculate a company’s greenhouse gas emissions and identify key areas where it can improve its performances.
In the past, energy issues in the four cities have been dealt with in different ways. While Malmö appears to be ahead with its successful Western Harbour project, the result of which is that the city area is powered by 100% renewable energy, Tallinn is facing a lack of strategic plans and know-how concerning renewable energy issues by the city authorities. The SECURE project has initiated many activities on the city level in Tallinn, resulting in improved communication and cooperation between different city departments on energy efficient topics. Dublin, on the other hand, is introducing district heating, with which the Danish and Swedish partners have a long experience.
The SECURE project has so far been a great learning process for all parties involved and the exchange of experiences and information greatly supports the work of involved partners. The project will run until the end of 2008, when all tools, documents and results will be finalized and available to the public. Check the SECURE project’s website for continuous updates or to receive its newsletter that is issued every six months.
Ivana Kildsgaard is an architect and researcher at IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute. She works in the area of sustainable buildings, including passive houses, low energy buildings and zero emission buildings. Ms Kildsgaard works in a number of European projects, including SECURE and PASS-NET, which is a cooperation network for passive house promoters that aims at the promotion and diffusion of the passive and very low energy houses and technologies in Europe.
IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute is an independent research body that has been involved since 1966 in the development of solutions to environmental problems on behalf of the business sector and the community. IVL undertakes research projects and contract assignments in the broad field of environmental issues, including the climate, environmental engineering, waste management, work environment, environmental measurement and environmental quality evaluation areas, as well as studies of the environmental impact of air, water and soil pollution. Long experience and broad expertise makes IVL a leading institute for applied environmental research and consultant services in Sweden.