Energy efficiency cuts down emissions and costs

2020-06-05 Liisa Harjula and Merja Haliseva-Soila

Improving your energy efficiency now uses smaller amounts of energy to create the same impact or yields better results using the current amount of energy. Producing the necessary energy without fossil fuels, optimising the use of said energy and bringing down the costs is the best type of energy efficiency.

An energy efficiency agreement for municipalities offers a framework for municipal management of energy efficiency

In a municipal economy, the energy efficiency of real estate is an important factor. Even the easiest means of improving energy efficiency are curbed by the fact that monitoring the functions and energy consumption of architectural engineering is often scattered and the resulting data is not sufficiently analysed. Investments in basic renovations compete with the municipality’s other development needs. Therefore, it is important to execute any investments and even the smallest corrective measures aimed at improving energy efficiency in a systematic manner with the long-term results in mind.

Energy efficiency agreements are a well-tried method of improving the energy efficiency of municipalities and businesses on a voluntary basis. When joining the agreement system, the municipality is given the framework for planning, executing and monitoring the measures. Financial support is also possible. Therefore, the energy efficiency agreement is a great tool for municipalities seeking to become carbon neutral.

Recovering waste heat and understanding the value of maintenance work

Valonia’s ELLE project sought solutions for improving the energy efficiency of municipal real estate and increasing the use of renewable energy in cooperation with businesses. The largest number of suggested measures had to do with increasing and repairing heat recovery in ventilation systems. Regardless of automation and controls, the settings may be less than optimal and the system may not be properly monitored. At worst, the maintenance crew may not even know the exact and practical operating times of the ventilation system or the number of users.

Working hours must be reserved for improving energy efficiency. Surveys show that many of the sensible and necessary measures, such as adding LED lights, improving airtightness and servicing thermostat valves, are ignored for the benefit of more urgent tasks. User know-how should also be improved by, for example, providing instructions on how to reduce unnecessary use of lighting, computers, roof ventilators and drying cabinets as well as excessive ventilation. When it comes to improving energy efficiency, even the smallest measures can amount to savings in the tens of thousands at an annual level. The energy cards produced in the ELLE project offer practical solutions.

Producing the necessary energy without fossil fuels, optimising the use of said energy and bringing down the costs is the best type of energy efficiency.

The need for information is dire – subsidies encourage effective measures

The maintenance backlog is vast. Most of the building stock from the 1970s to 1990s is in need of basic renovations. Implementing new solutions and technology is challenging. Municipalities and real estate companies need reliable, comparable information on the implemented solutions, their technical characteristics and the cost effects. Nobody wants to talk about their failures, but it is necessary to hear that side of the story as well. Operators also need expert help for the subsidy application process, the interpretation of the subsidy criteria and, in particular, the selection and planning of the corrective measures. The climate roadmap project of Southwest Finland highlights energy efficiency as one of its key themes. The regional energy guidance experts are ready to share information, but the information also needs to be produced.

The improvement of energy efficiency in housing cooperatives and one-family houses is supported by the energy subsidies of the Housing Finance and Development Centre of Finland (ARA), and the appropriations granted for the subsidies have increased. People have been concerned about the strict criteria for receiving a subsidy. It is important to ensure that the criteria are high to truly improve the energy efficiency of real estate. More moderate measures would not sufficiently reduce the consumption of the buildings. The subsidies also serve to accelerate the measures and encourage pioneers.

Subsidy for high-risk investment would be a great help for housing cooperatives. Operators are not able to try out new real estate technology as the investment may turn out to be unprofitable. Housing cooperatives cannot pilot new innovations as the Finnish Limited Liability Housing Companies Act requires consent from each shareholder for any refurbishment exceeding the standard level of the time.

In his report on the coronavirus, climate action and green stimulus, produced under the Vihriälä working group, Professor Markku Ollikainen evaluates the impact of six stimulus packages on employment, GDP and emissions. According to the evaluation, investments targeting energy efficiency and heating have the largest proportional impact on employment. Therefore, these measures not only directly and quickly impact emissions but also affect employment in the area.

From old tricks to new, intelligent solutions

Some old buildings still have the familiar text on their door frames, reminding people to “Turn off the lights!” The oil crisis of the 1970s made Finns prudent in conserving energy. We lowered our room temperatures and turned off our lights. Now, these settings can be controlled automatically by an intelligent system. Motion detectors turn the lights on and off, and artificial intelligence conserves heat in the control room of the housing cooperative.

Now that we are all working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us long for physical activity and choose to cycle to the shop instead of driving there. We cook larger batches of food, make use of our scraps and may worry about our electricity bills after lay-offs, thinking about ways to save money. Multiple generations of Finns have learned tips and tricks for energy efficiency. We need to use this knowledge when making decisions for our housing cooperatives.

Energy Expert Liisa Harjula, Valonia and Information Services Chief Merja Haliseva-Soila, Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment for Southwest Finland

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