EUKI Interview: Reducing Energy Consumption in Buildings

by Fabia Speth, GIZ / EUKI

Energy consumption in buildings plays a significant role in climate change with the operations of buildings accounting for 30% of global final energy consumption. But how can energy-efficient upgrades in buildings be implemented on a large scale? What data is needed to do so? And how can these upgrades be sustainable without burdening low-income households? That (and more) is what we asked Hanna Lewandowska from the City of Bydgoszcz and Justyna Janosz from their partner organisation PNEC. Both Hanna and Justyna are working on EUKI project DUET.

Published: 26 January 2024

Energy management in buildings poses one of the key challenges in the EU and Polish climate energy policy. Lots of European buildings, however, do not perform well in terms of energy efficiency. Which “settings” in buildings can easily be changed in order to reduce energy consumption?

A very important element to reduce energy consumption is to take comprehensive care of buildings, which is a precondition for any further actions. Additionally, different retrofitting measures can be used to upgrade or modify existing buildings to make them more energy efficient. Bydgoszcz adopted the Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Plan 2030 (SECAP) in 2021, which estimates that future retrofitting of public buildings can reduce CO2 emission by 13.000 tones and will cost around 100 million EUR.

Despite the cost, measures such as implementing an energy management system in buildings can be immensely beneficial as it can address aspects that may go unnoticed by occupants and easily identify points of energy loss. Solutions like these enable the monitoring and analysis of energy consumption through energy management systems, making the process more efficient and user-friendly. However, in addition to investments that require additional funds, we also need to raise awareness for a more conscious energy consumption. It is worth taking care of behavioural changes and small habits: turning off the lights, the right temperature, and good ventilation. The systems can also help with that, but it’s the people that are needed for the new beginning.

Hanna Lewandowska, Project Manager at the municipality of Bydgoszcz, Poland

Hanna has been dealing with transnational projects for 15 years and is currently working in the Energy Management Office. Her field of expertise includes brownfields, nature-based solutions, climate and energy transition.

Implementing sustainable energy management approaches is often perceived as costly and far-reaching changes, especially for low-income households. How can cities ensure that energy management is sustainable? What do you tell those in charge when they confront you with these aspects?

By adopting inclusive policies and innovative technologies, cities can ensure sustainable energy management without burdening low-income households. As part of our EUKI project DUET, where we support Bydgoszcz’s authorities, we can prioritize targeted funding for energy-efficient upgrades in low-income areas and provide financial assistance as well as incentives. Also, we encourage public-private partnerships by developing affordable renewable energy projects. During our participation in the Energy Poverty Advisory Hub, an EU initiative on energy poverty, we learned about and shared our knowledge on energy poverty in our city. It was a space to understand and learn how to solve and prevent energy poverty. What is worth saying is that implementing an effective energy management system, like the one in Bydgoszcz, ensures transparency and cost-effectiveness. We always emphasize the long-term benefits of sustainable energy practices by reducing utility bills and improving living conditions to promote widespread acceptance of sustainable energy initiatives.

With your EUKI project DUET, you aim to implement new tools to expand on the Polish city of Bydgoszcz’s system for energy data collection. Why is collecting data in energy management so important?

Collecting data in energy management is essential for optimising energy use, meeting regulatory requirements, and achieving sustainability goals. It helps to reduce costs and understand energy consumption patterns. In Bydgoszcz, our Energy Data Management Database, underwent a transformative shift in 2020 with the implementation of Robotic Process Automation (RPA). With 41,000 invoices and 2,300 consumption points annually, RPA streamlined our processes and automated our data collection, storage, and our data analysis. This not only saved substantial manpower but also enhanced accuracy. Our system sends alerts for invoice discrepancies, facilitating swift resolutions with energy operators. The Energy Management Database has already saved us 1 million PLN. Continuous data analysis optimises energy consumption and eventually helps to reduce CO2 emissions. Originally only covering electricity and heat, our system has since expanded to include water and gas, thus broadening our impact on sustainable energy management.

Justyna Janosz, Project Manager at the Association of Municipalities Polish Network “Energie Cités” (PNEC)

Justyna graduated with a specialisation in Urban Planning and Transport from the inter-faculty faculty of Spatial Management at the Cracow University of Technology. As part of the Association of Municipalities Polish Network “Energie Cités” (PNEC) she supports the implementation of international and national climate projects.

How can other cities and municipalities eventually follow Bydgoszcz’s example, especially those that are working with limited resources? Are you working on a “one size fits all” solution?

In the realm of energy management IT solutions, the market often leans towards catering to companies, creating a gap for city-focused solutions, which are either rare or come with a hefty price tag. What sets our solution apart is its versatility as a “one size fits all” option, specifically tailored for medium to large cities. Even for smaller cities that may resort to manual energy data collection, our system’s tailored functionalities provide significant benefits. This adaptability is hugely beneficial. We enhance it as needed, exemplified by our collaboration with EUKI. Notable advantages include paperless invoicing, automatic Energy Management Database updates, and precise invoice data checks. The system alerts discrepancies, eliminates payment requests, and enables quick, detailed reports on consumption, costs, CO2 emissions, and facility analysis. It facilitates budgeting by cost or consumption and provides swift access to contracts and annexes.

What sets our solution apart is its versatility as a “one size fits all” option, specifically tailored for medium to large cities. Even for smaller cities that may resort to manual energy data collection, our system’s tailored functionalities provide significant benefits.

DUET supports Bydgoszcz’s goal in implementing energy management by organising trainings for local authorities based on German exemplary cities’ experiences. Could you tell us one good example you’re using in your training?

Choosing just one is not easy! The experience from German cities provides us with new ideas and motivation for further development. Local authorities are eager to delve into the experience, work, and activities of institutions and companies related to energy management, efficiency, and responsible resource use. Thanks to the trainings in the DUET project, we have the opportunity to learn more. Using our study visit to Hamburg in the framework of the DUET project, we have discovered more about effective management and social engagement strategies in the context of sustainable energy management. In each training session, we aim to showcase various aspects of energy management, spanning the viewpoints of local authorities, public and private companies, and educational institutions. Exploring these different perspectives is genuinely interesting. That’s what gives a chance to faster growth. We plan to share practices from DUET project, making them accessible to a broader audience.

What do you hope for as the long-term impact of your project, not just in Bydgoszcz but potentially on a broader scale for other cities facing similar challenges in energy management?

Embarking on our climate protection and energy management journey 15 years ago with the LAKS project under the LIFE program, we were novices. Now, we’re eager to share our expertise and are actively engaging in EU-funded initiatives and are part of national and international networks. While metropolitan areas hold a special place in our hearts, our openness extends to any interested city. In the DUET project, we have outlined detailed specifications for five cities that we are offering trainings and workshops. Additionally, Bydgoszcz hosts an annual energy conference for municipalities, NGOs, and enterprises, underscoring our commitment to knowledge exchange. We are going to continuously show gained effects and support other cities with energy management changes.

What is your personal motivation that made you want to work on this project or, more generally, in the field of sustainable energy?

I’ve served as a project manager in environmental initiatives for many years, specialising in areas such as brownfields, nature-based solutions, and climate projects. A significant turning point for me was the establishment of the energy office which led to the recruitment of dedicated individuals for developing energy management. This began our active participation in various initiatives within the dynamic energy sector.

The current energy landscape is both thrilling and challenging, witnessing the emergence of groundbreaking technologies and transformative shifts in organisational structures. Amid continuous legal changes, from centralised to decentralised systems, rising prices, and uncertainty, the sector is fuelled by ambitious climate neutrality goals with substantial financial support. It’s a field where boredom is simply not an option. The EUKI program appealed to me with its concrete focus on results, standing out from financing programs that often entail bureaucratic processes without tangible outcomes. Cooperation with EUKI, gives space to share solutions and exchange experiences, which I greatly appreciate. This is a chance for development for the city as well as personal. What more can I say? The implementation of the DUET project fulfils me.

Thank you for the interview, Hanna and Justyna!

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