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The Renocally Report: A Guidebook for Local Authorities to Lead the Decarbonisation of Buildings in Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia

This Renocally report analyses the recast of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), the flagship policy for decarbonising buildings in Europe. After being adopted by the European Council on 14 April, the EPBD recast has been published in the EU official journal on 08 May 2024. The EPBD recast has been under revision as part of the European Green Deal, aimed at making the European economy, including the buildings sector, climate neutral by 2050. New elements in the EPBD recast include, among others, voluntary building renovation passport schemes, one-stop-shops, and a zero-emission building standard.

Local authorities have an important role in the implementation of the EPBD recast. The EPBD says that local authorities should be consulted and supported by national governments to enable successful transposition of the Directive into national laws. More specifically, the Directive says that local authorities need support in the form of technical information, useful tools, accessible financing and capacity building. Building renovation passports (BRPs), like the ones developed in Renocally, are excellent examples of useful information tools.

Besides the EPBD recast, the report looks at the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) and the REPowerEU plan. The EED, which was published in 2023, highlights the exemplary role of public authorities in saving energy from buildings, and sets out specific renovation targets applicable to public bodies. The REPowerEU on the other hand, highlights the importance of installing solar PV on roofs and heat pumps.

The webinar elaborated on those matters, and provided practical examples of BRPs in Romania and Bulgaria. Energy experts presented BRPs developed for an administrative court in the Gabrovo municipality of Bulgaria and a medical centre in the Lipănești municipality in Romania.

Presentations were followed by a lively and interactive Q&A discussion. The number of questions raised by the audience highlighted the need for clarification and guidance in relation to the EPBD text. The European Commission is preparing a technical guidance document for the Member States, however the Renocally policy report is a good starting point for those willing to be initiated on the topic.

The policy report is available for download in English, Bulgarian, Romanian and Slovakian here.

Insulating Buildings with By-Products of Rice Cultivation

Lessons and Inspiration from the SURF Renovation Lunch

At previous online events, EUKI project SURF had already explored the use of climate-friendly building materials such as clay, straw, hemp and paludiculture plants in order to offer inspiring examples of circular and sustainable construction and renovation.

At the latest SURF online Renovation Lunch, SURF had the opportunity to host Alessio Colombo, the co-founder of Ricehouse. With their projects the Italian benefit corporation managed to absorbe 266 tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2021 (the equivalent of more than 50,000 planted trees), 765 tonnes in 2022 and 1,200 tonnes in 2023. How is this possible?

As consultant and implementer, Ricehouse is working with municipalities and artists to retrofit public buildings with by-products of rice. They manufacture insulating materials, plaster and outdoor floor tiles made of rice husks or rice straw.

Insulating with rice by-products solves a double problem: GHG emissions in construction and agriculture

  1. Construction related emissions: In Europe, the construction industry is responsible for one third of all waste as well as for 36% of the emitted carbon dioxide additionally to the emissions due to the heating and cooling of buildings. That is why the production of building materials generates huge amounts of carbon dioxide: half of the CO2 emissions in the building sector is emitted before their construction. This can be reduced by using recycled and/or natural materials (wood, clay, straw, etc.) – Ricehouse has chosen to do the latter.
  2. Agricultural emissions: Currently, the agricultural by-products, rice straw and husk, are burned. Yet, the burning releases carbon dioxide and harmful substances.

Solution: If rice straw and husk are used as building material rather than being burned, they can sequester significant amounts of carbon dioxide in our buildings.  

What makes rice by-products a sustainable material?

  • Their high silica content makes them extremely durable, resistant to mould and insects.
  • It is a good thermal and sound insulator and fireproof.
  • It is a local resource: Rice is grown on 230,000 hectares in Italy, 1.6 million tonnes a year, more than 90% of which is grown in northern Italy, where Ricehouse is located. The rice husk and straw are therefore sourced from local producers in the area between Turin and Milan. In this way, the carbon emissions caused by transportation are not significant.

The housing tower blocks in Milan – An example of insulation with rice by-products were

The Clever Cities project renovated four eight-storey social housing tower blocks in Milan, owned by the Lombardy region.

Before the renovation:

  • The façades were originally 12 cm thick; they neither provided protection against the cold in winter, nor against the heat in summer.
  • In the project they were insulated with fire-resistant panels of compressed rice straw, covered with ricehusk-based plaster.

After the renovation: the energy efficiency of the buildings has improved dramatically

  • Energy consumption decreased from from energy class G to class A4 (A++++) They were upgraded to nearly zero-energy (nZEB). The annual energy demand, originally close to 60,000 kWh/m2, has been reduced to less than a tenth, to around 5,000 kWh/m2/year.
  • The roofs have also been insulated and roof gardens have been created.
  • Solar panels were installed on parts of the roof. This works in combination with the roof garden, as evaporation from the garden cools the air temperature on hot days, which helps to prevent the solar panels from losing power due to the heat.  

The aim was to enable low-income residents to grow healthy, chemical-free fruits and vegetables for their own consumption at low cost. In the long term, however, they want to make the gardens profitable and provide jobs for the people living in the buildings. Rooftop gardens increase biodiversity and reduce the heat island effect, which is common in cities in summer. The implementation of the green roof was financed by the Clever Cities project, but also involved several local stakeholders: universities, public and municipal institutions as well as private companies. 

The project was made possible by Italy’s introduction of a so-called super bonus scheme in 2020 in response to the economic downturn caused by the COVID epidemic.

Participating municipalities seized the opportunity to ask questions, share their views and exchange about best practices following the presentation given in the informal Renovation Lunch. The lunch was attended by participants from eleven EU and non EU-States: the participants were from Romania, Hungary, Germany, Slovakia, Croatia, Estonia, Kosovo, Albania, Lithuania, Spain and Portugal. They asked about the compostability of rice-based building materials and suggested that EU member states should have a lower tax on bio-based insulation materials to increase their uptake. Our next renovation Lunch will be in June 2024. More information will be posted on the SURF-website.

Riga Circular Economy Centre Gets State-of-the-art Interior Solutions

The municipality of Riga is creating the first Circular Economy Centre in Latvia to address the issue of inefficient use of resources, where useful things are often disposed of and can be given a second life. Many residents have expressed their desire to repair or redesign their goods, but the urban environment limits such possibilities.

In preparation for the opening of the Circular Economy Centre, REA invited students of Latvian higher education institutions and students of vocational training schools to submit proposals for modern, ergonomic and functional interior design elements of the Centre. On the 3rd of May, Riga residents had the opportunity to become acquainted with the ideas and works created by young designers, while a jury of material design experts, architects and local government representatives evaluated them and chose the most suitable ones.

Riga Energy Agency (REA) Project Manager Ieva Kalniņa admitted after evaluating the submitted proposals:

“We want Riga City Circular Economy Centre to carry a message of circularity in its interior elements, wall finishing and other solutions. This means that the layout of the premises must be creatively and interestingly designed demonstrating circular economy solutions. We are pleased that the submitted works are both contemporary and workable. The ability of young people to respond and mobilise in a short time to create ideas shows that the circularity concept is topical and easy to understand.“

Ieva Kalniņa, Riga Energy Agency (REA) Project Manager

Based on the CURE+ project findings, as well as on the learnings gathered during the study visits to successful Urban Resource Centres in Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Spain, REA has proposed to launch the Centre as a space for community activities and repair.

“We see an opportunity for the municipal companies to collaborate by creating a centre as a demonstration site for co-creation and sustainable urban solutions. Private sector entrepreneurs can also come with cooperation offers in the setting up and operation of the Circular Economy Centre.”

Ieva Kalniņa, Riga Energy Agency (REA) Project Manager

7 youth teams from Riga Technical University, Vidzeme University, Art Academy of Latvia, and Victoria Vocational Secondary School participated in the competition.

The joint proposal of the team formed by students of interior design of the Art Academy of Latvia and the sustainable construction of Vidzeme University was recognized as the best. They covered the entire scope of the Centre and specifically considered accessibility solutions.

Riga Circular Economy Centre is being established within the framework of the project “Centres for Urban Resources, Reuse and Remanufacture (CURE+)”. The Circular Economy Centre will be a multifunctional place where citizens will get acquainted with the principles of the circular economy, as well as repair and prolong the life of different goods in a woodwork workshop; it will also host events such as masterclasses, seminars and lectures.

Riga Energy Agency is implementing EUKI project CURE+ in cooperation with the Tartu City Government, Municipality of Kavala, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences and Elisava Barcelona School of Engineering and Design. The project aims to improve the management of construction and demolition waste generated by households through reuse and repair respecting the principles of the circular economy.

Photos: by Riga City Council.

A road trip to peatland strategies

The importance of peatlands in climate change mitigation efforts appears undeniable when we consider the substantial amount of carbon trapped in them. Their significance gave the basis of the ‚Peatlands as Key Habitats in Climate Mitigation Efforts‘ workshop held between April 25-26 in Budapest and the Fertő-Hanság National Park, where stakeholders could discuss various aspects of peatlands relating to their field.

The event was organized by CEEweb for Biodiversity in the frame of the project „Building the European Peatlands Initiative: A Strong Alliance for Peatland Climate Protection in Europe“ with the objective of sharing perspectives and information regarding the role of peatlands and soils in national-level climate mitigation efforts and in science-based emission reduction pathways.

The presentations as well as a more thorough insight to the workshop can be found here.

LANDCARE EUROPE is nominated for the Natura 2000 Award

Peatlands, grasslands, organic soils and agroforestry systems are natural carbon sinks. The way agricultural land is used influences its capacity for carbon storage. A great amount of these areas are located in Natura 2000 sites. Natura 2000 sites are special protected areas in which a good ecological condition must be achieved by the Member States to preserve biodiversity in Europe (EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030). Consequently land use in them is subject to specific regulations which makes farming challenging. With the aim of having 30% of Europe’s land and maritime area covered by the Natura 2000 network till 2030, these areas need special consideration for climate mitigation of agricultural landscapes.
Landcare Associations demonstrate how it is possible to combine the sustainable and agricultural development of these important eco systems. The nomination of LCA’s European umbrella organization “LANDCARE EUROPE e.V.” for the European Commission’s Natura 2000 Award is a special recognition of this cooperative approach. Apart from the nomination as Finalist in the category “cross border cooperation”, there is the possibility to win the Natura 2000 Citizens‘ Award which is decided by a public voting.

Two of the Natura 2000 sites from the award application will function as best-practice examples for the EUKI project “Landcare Europe Captures Carbon”. The Natura 2000 sight and mountain region “Munții Ciucului” in Romania is characterized by a outstandingly high biodiversity. Important elements of the agricultural landscape that foster biodiversity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions are extensively managed grasslands, small scale farming, a high density of landscape elements and wooden pastures as traditional agroforestry systems. The Natura 2000 sight “Nemuno delta” in Lithuania is a best practice example for agricultural activities in peatlands. While organic soils with high water levels store a large amount of carbon dioxide, farming on them is a huge challenge as it requires special equipment and limits the possibilities for crop cultivation.

These and other examples of climate friendly farming are highlighted and multiplied in the project Landcare Europe Captures Carbon – together with recommendations for political decision makers to improve the framework conditions for farmers in this field. In case Landcare Europe wins the Natura 2000 award, it will thus be a great opportunity to better promote the work of Landcare Associations on natural carbon sinks in agricultural landscapes. Vote now.

Online Survey of Experts in the fields of Green Technologies and Education – Results at a Glance

The aim of the EUKI project ‚GreenVOCnet – Vocational Empowerment for a Green and Socially Just Transition‘ is to develop vocational skills in two exemplary climate-relevant technologies, heat pumps combined with renewable energies and green hydrogen. GreenVOCnet addresses the shortage of skilled workers, the lack of expertise and also the lack of acceptance that inhibit the green and social transition in the partner countries.

In order to identify the current needs for the design of new vocational training programmes for the two selected technologies, an online survey was conducted in the participating countries – Greece, Slovakia and Spain – from 1 February to 14 March 2024. A total of 173 experts in the field of green technologies from vocational training centres, enterprises and other stakeholders participated.

The survey revealed some very interesting results. In all three countries there are often identical challenges in the labour market and in vocational training. Common solutions are essential to enable and realise the social and economic transformation in Europe.

The results of the survey once again show the importance of cooperation between European countries and the high relevance of joint EUKI projects for the success of the necessary transformation process with the aim of reducing CO2 emissions and becoming climate neutral.

If you are interested in the detailed results, they are available for download here.

Conclusions After the Last Ready4NetZero Web Seminar

The web seminar was organized by PNEC- Association of Municipalities Polish Network „Energie Cités“, the coordinator of the Ready4NetZero project, and hosted by Izabela Kuśnierz. She gave a brief presentation of the Ready4NetZero project and a summary of the 5 web seminars organized so far, with indications of the recorded materials and presentations that can be downloaded from the project website.

The first speaker was Michał Gruszczyński, a lawyer specialized in administrative law and also an inspector in the Energy Management Team at the Bydgoszcz City Hall. He described in detail the city’s goals and ambitions, completed and planned activities and investments in the areas of energy efficiency and production. They started this journey in 2013 with only one position of Urban Energy Manager and in 2016 established an Energy Management Team of 8 members, setting a target for Bydgoszcz city to achieve energy self-sufficiency in 2025.

Photo by OER, Michał Gruszczyński.

The first innovative solution that made a real difference for the Bydgoszcz administration was launching a unique 100% digital database, the “Energy Management Database”, based on an RPA (Robotic Process Automation) which automatically collects invoices, calls for payment, contractual penalties, interest notes and other data; extracting all needed figures from these documents and transmitting alerts and feedback. Another important measure was established following the introduction by the Polish state of a new tax in 2019 for the consumption of reactive energy. Conceding that Reactive power can account for up to 40% of the monthly electricity distribution invoice, Bydgoszcz Municipality invested in installing 30 active reactive energy compensator devices. In conclusion, Mr. Michał Gruszczyński emphasized that the new challenge now is finding solutions for energy storage, as building storage units remains a problem to be solved.

Dora Biondani, the second speaker, is a Project Manager at Energy Poverty Advisory Hub (EPAH) – Climate Alliance, the leading EU initiative run by the European Commission at the request of the European Parliament, to eradicate energy poverty and accelerate the just energy transition of European local governments. She explained that in the current context, “Energy poverty means a household’s lack of access to essential energy services that provide basic levels and decent standards of living and health, including adequate heating, hot water, cooling, lighting and energy to power appliances, in the relevant national context, existing social policy and other relevant policies, caused by a combination of factors, including but not limited to non-affordability, insufficient disposable income, high energy expenditure and poor energy efficiency of homes”, a broader definition encompassing the whole issue of home heating at European level. EPAH offers tailored support to 85 municipalities, out of which Zagreb – Croatia and Metz – France were given as an example.

Photo by OER, Dora Biondani.

It also offers an e-learning platform (elearning.energypoverty.eu) which can be used, 3 online courses and some very useful publications (like the Energy Poverty Guide – a practical guidebook aiming to give local governments and practitioners concrete procedures and a clear path on how to address energy poverty), that can be downloaded from the website. Mrs. Dora Biondani concluded her presentation by emphasizing that awareness on energy poverty is growing across Europe. She also mentioned a big upcoming event, “Empowering Local Governments: Bridging Policy and Practice in Tackling Energy Poverty”, a Policy Conference co-organized with the European Parliament on April 10, 2024, in Brussels.

The complete recording of the web seminar can be accessed here.

This web seminar was the last one from of a series of 6 other similar events, all part of the Ready4NetZero project. This capacity-building programme targets the municipal administration staff from the project pilot cities, but also other local authorities in Croatia, Hungary, Poland or Romania. Throughout the project, the team will organize in-person workshops to address country-specific needs, online train-the-trainer events, as well as a study visit to several forerunner cities in Germany, for a good practice transfer and experience sharing among local public administrations converging on developing and implementing local long-term climate strategies.

Ready4NetZero is a EUKI funded project coordinated by the Polish Network “ENERGIE CITÉS”, with a consortium formed of the Ecologic Institute from Germany, ENERGIAKLUB from Hungary, REGEA from Croatia and Energy Cities Romania. Ready4NetZero aims to support cities from the participating countries in developing and implementing 2050 climate neutrality strategies and seeks to do this by building capacity, knowledge and skills among local leaders, municipal staff and local stakeholders, facilitating experiences exchange and dialogue between local authorities.

MediterRE3: Another Opportunity to Share

Fire-prone landscapes in the Mediterranean

In the framework of the MediterRE3 project, led by Istituto Oikos (Italy), 4 partners and 8 members of the Medforval network (Network of Mediterranean Forest Landscapes of High Ecological Value) gathered from 2nd to 5th October 2023 at the Luberon Natural Regional Park (France).

The purpose of the meeting was to disseminate the outputs of the project across the Mediterranean region and to address common challenges and explore possible solutions related to the implementation of fire-smart landscapes (FSL) measures.

Does the FSL management work?

The National Observatory of Athens, partner of the MediterRe3 project, presented the effectiveness of FSL in reducing GHG emissions (WP2), showing how the FSL management in the three target landscapes, will delay and reduce the projected increase in burnt areas due to climate change, and consequently in GHG emissions from wildfires, especially in Greece and Montenegro.

Photo © Istituto Oikos

Innovative approaches to Identifying and managing fire-risk areas sustainably

Representatives from the Luberon Natural Regional Park presented a cartographical technic to identify high fire risk areas based on overlaying a map of different combustibility levels of vegetation with a map depicting various risk categories for fire ignition. This methodology serves as a valuable tool for strategically planning Fire-Smart management across the landscapes. 

One of the measures already implemented in the Luberon Natural Regional Park is the establishment of a network of firebreaks. In alignment with the project objectives, experts from the Durance Luberon Verdon Intercommunity, recommended employing pastoralism as a sustainable alternative to maintain a low biomass fuel load in the firebreaks network. This approach not only effectively reduces the risk of fire ignition and spread but also brings additional benefits to the local farmers and contributes to the overall biodiversity of the region.

First-hand experience in the field

Participants had the opportunity to gain first-hand experience during the field visit which was organised across three distinct locations. Firstly, they explored 240 ha of burnt forests in order to understand the dynamics of fire evolution and restoration operations aimed at encouraging vegetation regrowth. Subsequently they visited a firebreak, understanding its practical implementation and effectiveness. Finally, the field trip concluded at the Saint-Michel Observatory, where participants observed oak (Quercus pubescens) adaptation experiments to climate change.

Photo © Istituto Oikos

Think globally

The workshop was also an occasion for the Medforval network to discuss the main challenges and barriers in addressing fire-smart landscape restoration, distinguishing between economic, governance, know-how transfer and cross sectoral fire management barriers. All agreed on the importance to influence policies and to attract funds for the restoration of our landscapes rather than to focus on single landscapes benefits of FLR principles.

Ownership, laws and responsibilities fragmentation as well as lack of cooperation and knowledge gap emerged as key topics during the discussion. This, led to the consciousness that common challenges require a global perspective. Participants acknowledged the need of “think globally”, beyond regional boundaries, drawing inspirations from case studies also far from Europe.  Cross-countries collaboration facilitated through networks as Medforval, plays a vital role in collecting experiences and sharing solutions.

Study Visit on Bulky Waste Management to Denmark and Sweden

The purpose of the study visit was to get acquainted with the structures and initiatives of Copenhagen, Gothenburg and Malmö in the recycling of bulky waste and the operation of material reuse centres. The visit included six material reuse centres: three in Copenhagen, two in Gothenburg and one in Malmo. The material recycling centres that hosted the mission mainly operated on municipal land, in the vicinity of the Municipality’s recycling plants, and in most cases, the Municipality also covered the salary costs of their operation.

The best organized and closer to the Greek reality were those managed by the Municipality, having created a unique service for their operation. The partnership between the Municipality, the waste management and reuse companies and the social services in Gothenburg was impressive, where, in addition to the collection, sorting and reuse unit, a social restaurant operated in the same area, staffed by vulnerable social groups, the unemployed and people in reintegration and open to all the „customers“ of the material unit.

The participants were also interested in the Malmo municipal reuse unit, which gave the feeling of a well-organised supermarket of reused materials, with full sustainability, minimal staff (only eight people for a 500 sq. meters space) and profitability, which was returned as income to the Municipality. It is worth noting that all the examples of plants included in the visit were sustainable and with high reuse rates of their materials in countries where the culture of reuse is, of course, well established.

The visit concluded with a summary of what was presented during the trip and highlighting examples that could be adopted in Kavala city. In the framework of this project, Kavala has created an electronic platform for the management of bulky materials, which is expected to be presented in the coming weeks, and in the next phase, a small workshop for the processing of materials will be attempted. Municipality of Kavala is implementing EUKI project CURE+ in cooperation with the Riga Energy Agency (leading the project), the City of Tartu, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences and Elisava Barcelona School of Engineering and Design. The project aims to improve the management of municipal waste through the reuse of useful waste by respecting the principles of the circular economy

Implementing Lessons from MENERGERS

The training aimed to prepare the expert teams of the three pilot municipalities in Bulgaria – Ruse, Sapareva Banya and Svilengrad for the implementation of the compiled model of the Energy Manager Services. This model, developed to enable municipalities to fulfil their role as local energy managers successfully and thereby contribute to national climate goals, was created through an intensely interactive process that combined 2 workshops, a study visit to Germany to exchange good practices, face-to-face meetings with municipal mayors and teams and guided needs assessment in each municipality.

Photo © NTEF.

As a result of the training, the relevant experts now have the needed knowledge and skills, as well as the relevant materials and sample documents to launch the implementation of the institutional model as effectively as possible. Also, a manual for implementing ISO 50001 for Municipal Energy Management systems and the original software for its implementation were developed in the frame of a previous EUKI-supported project for Bulgaria. This original information system will serve the functions of information management and analysis as a basis for decision making in the field of municipal energy management.

This photo shows the people participating in training, sitting at their desks and listening to the expert.
Photo © NTEF.

The training team includes experts from SOFENA, NTEF, the Center for Energy Efficiency EnEffect and a currently active Municipal Energy Manager from a Bulgarian municipality. All the Bulgarian municipalities involved in the project have already made the necessary changes in their structures and from 1st of March, they are applying all the lessons learned.

This image is a group photo of the training participants, took inside the building.
Photo © NTEF.

Click here for an infographic on MENERGERS.