5 sustainability challenges for housing associations

Older buildings in need of energy renovation are a major challenge in the North Sea Region. INDU-ZERO provides a streamlined solution to accelerate renovations and meet the European climate goals on time.    

Buildings are the single largest energy consumer in Europe, responsible for approximately 40% of the total energy consumption and roughly 36% of carbon emissions.    

In the North Sea Region alone, 22 million houses built in 1950-1985 are causing 79 Mtonnes CO2 emissions per year. Mass uptake of home renovations towards energy-neutral in the  region is therefore needed to meet EU energy and climate targets.

The building sector in Europe is lacking the necessary production facilities. This is one of the reasons why housing associations are facing huge challenges in the coming years to make their housing stock sustainable before 2050.

Current renovation solutions like Zero on the Meter and other initiatives are far too expensive and lack the capacity to improve all homes in time. This makes the sustainability transition almost impossible within the agreed timeframe. Yet housing associations have to provide a sufficient number of affordable, good and CO2-neutral homes for their tenants by 2050!

What are the exact challenges that housing associations struggle with and what are the solutions?

1. With the current approach, tenants will not be able to afford their energy costs  

Due to increasing energy costs, many tenants will eventually become unable to pay their rent. According to DG Energy, energy poverty is already “a widespread problem across Europe, as between 50 and 125 million people are unable to afford clean indoor thermal comfort [….]. A common European definition does not exist, but many member states acknowledge the scale of this socio-economic situation and its negative impact translated into severe health issues and social isolation.“

How can we prevent this situation from happening?

2. The current approach requires huge investments

In urban areas, there is already a shortage of social housing. One reason for this is that the number of single to two person households increases. In addition, people are urged to live independently as long as possible into their old age.

Housing associations are therefore encouraged to build additional properties and new houses in the next few years.  At the same time, existing homes and buildings have to be made more energy-efficient. The total investment needed is huge. That is why governments have to contribute as well.

How can we ensure sufficient investment into energy renovations as well as construction of new energy-efficient homes?

3. The current project focus prevents a major sustainability transition

The phased approaches that are now often used can result in the so-called ‘lock-in effect’. Because of the continuous stacking of measures, the necessary big steps are not being made. In addition, the infrastructure for gas, electricity and heat must also be maintained. The fossil fuel dependency remains unacceptably large.

At the moment, the costs of Zero on the Meter renovation are so high that even the Energy Performance Compensation (EPC) does not make the business case lucrative.

This calls for lower prices and more standardised renovation solutions and packages. This can only be realised when housing associations are willing to co-invest in product development, production facilities and industrialisation, leading to substantially lower prices and better products.

How can we help unite forces so we can meet the climate agreements?

4. Current and future labour shortages limit renovation

The construction industry is struggling with a serious shortage of labour that is expected to increase during the years to come. Traditional construction and renovation work involves thousands of workers on the construction sites. These workers are already hard to find. We have to identify new ways of getting the work done.

This calls for more standardised production and renovation methods. How can we do that?

5. The current project focus will not lead to the necessary mass production

The current project-based approach of housing associations is too expensive and too small-scale. There is a lack of energy refurbishment products with professional handling processes across all trades, including guaranteed energy savings, guaranteed costs and a significantly shorter amortisation.

Housing associations will need to move away from their current role as developers and become long-term investors in cooperation with other housing associations. This will reduce transaction costs substantially and enable partners to learn from each other with a positive impact on price, satisfaction and efficiency.

How can we support housing associations to look beyond their own boundaries?

Solution: The INDU-ZERO approach!

The Interreg North Sea Region project INDU-ZERO offers a solution to all of these challenges.

INDU-ZERO aims to design a blueprint for a factory which can produce energy renovation packages at half the current cost and can boost the capacity to 15,000 packages per factory per year.

These innovative factories can be built in the participating countries right after the project delivers its main results (expected in 2021). The INDU-ZERO factories can be a key part of the solutions mix that makes it possible to reach the 2050 climate targets.

Follow INDU-ZERO and think along in generating the solutions for the future!

About the authors
The two authors are from the Netherlands. Ulla-Britt Krämer is project leader of INDU-ZERO and works with sustainable energy at the Dutch Province of Overijssel, whilst Rutger Vrielink is the managing director of the company Pioneering.

The INDU-ZERO project is a collaboration between partners in 6 countries: The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Norway. The partnership includes local authorities, educational institutions, and industry organisations. INDU-ZERO is funded by the Interreg North Sea Region Programme.

Learn more about this project

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