City Syd, one of the largest shopping centres in Norway, will undergo a green upgrade.

It is Sustainable Energy Week in Europe, where the European Commission is running a series of conferences, debates and discussions so that industry, NGOs, policymakers and others can feed in their views on how to incentivise consumers to help build the so-called Energy Union – a plan to harmonise the way European states deal with energy in the marketplace, including energy efficiency.

High on the agenda are discussions of the Energy Efficiency Directive and the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, and how they can help reduce costs to consumers, fight climate change and improve energy security by reducing imports. A great many exciting initiatives are being presented.

Energy Union chief Maroš Šef?ovi? and Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete have both previously promised to “put efficiency first” in the strategy. This includes renovating Europe’s existing building stock, of which 70 per cent is highly inefficient and responsible for 40 per cent of the bloc’s energy consumption and 36 per cent of its carbon dioxide emissions. Currently, the rate of renovation of buildings is as low as one per cent a year.

Discussions about the Energy Union will reach far beyond buildings to embrace other policy sectors including energy, transport, research and innovation, foreign policy, regional and neighbourhood policy, trade and agriculture.

But in buildings there is plenty to discuss. Intrinsic to the task is making the heating and cooling of buildings and industry more efficient. This energy demand accounts for a staggering 59 per cent of European Union gas consumption. Many installed boilers are older than their technical life.

A session on How to make the EU number one in heating and cooling? is attempting to address this, as are Heating and Cooling Strategy: A promise of transformation and decarbonisation and The Heat Under Your Feet, which will be followed on Friday by a webinar on District heating and cooling solutions for the future.

In the same “networking village” as the geothermal energy event is being held, the projects CERtuS and NeZeR is presenting during the week mechanisms for nearly zero energy building (nZEB) renovation of the existing public building stock.

One thorny issue being faced across the world is making shopping malls use energy more wisely. An EU-funded CommONEnergy organisation is aiming to turn “highly energy guzzling shopping centres into temples of energy conservation”. Its recently launched website contains much in the way of benchmarking data, tools and resources including training modules. It is planning to develop other tools including a Shopping Mall Assessment tool.

Existing “temples” include Mercado del Val, a local 19th-century market situated in the old town of Valladolid, Spain, which has had a deep retrofit; “City Syd”, one of the largest malls in central Norway; and Modena Canaletto in Italy.

Events during Sustainable Energy Week are taking place right across Europe and online, which may be viewed by people throughout the world. An initiative called My Smart City District, co-run by Climate Alliance, is holding a webinar on financial resources for energy efficiency and two EU-funded projects, CITyFiED and CITY-ZEN, are discussing citizen engagement in a session entitled Buildings don’t use energy, people do…!

Smartening cities

Smart technology is featured prominently during the week’s events. The projects R2Cities and City-ZEN will hold a webinar on how to Design, implement and deliver smart retrofitting at district level on Wednesday, and on the same day the Buildings Performance Institute is presenting Smart consumers and smart buildings: the active role of buildings in a transforming energy system.

On Thursday the European Commission is scheduled to discuss smart homes at the session New standard for smart appliances in the smart home: getting buildings ready within the new electricity market design. On Friday a webinar Smarter and more energy efficient faster, with less risk: replication and achieving scale in smart cities will be run by SINFONIA and CITyFiED.

On Tuesday night the EU Sustainable Energy Awards Ceremony will celebrate the best European sustainable energy projects. One of the nine contenders is the WE-Qualify project about training installers and workers in the construction sector in energy efficiency and renewables. Another is the CLEAR project, which gives guidance on the purchase of domestic renewable and low-carbon energy technology in five European countries.

On Wednesday there are two more sessions, Energy Efficiency: a business opportunity for SMEs and Local solutions for the fight against energy poverty.

Delegates to all of these discussions face an uphill task in getting governments and the public as enthusiastic as they are because historically member nations have dragged their feet in implementing their local versions of the relevant directives. Many lawsuits have been launched against reluctant states.

The Building Efficiency Accelerator

However, Europe is no doubt further ahead than most of the rest the world in this regard, but even that is slowly changing.

Last week at the American headquarters of the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All initiative, which hosts the Building Efficiency Accelerator partnership, it was announced that 12 new cities have joined the partnership. None is from the European Union, because this project is intended to focus support on making cities in developing countries more energy efficient.

Leading these cities is Mexico City, which has been busy localising its national building code and beginning a project of retrofitting its municipal buildings. Five of the new members to the partnership — Belgrade, Bogota, Da Nang, Eskisehir and Raijot — are joining Mexico City to form a “learning laboratory: for the Accelerator partnership. They’ll be drawing on support from the World Resource Initiative’s guidebook, Accelerating Building Efficiency: 8 Actions for Urban Leaders, which includes eight policy actions to scale up energy-efficient buildings.

A key message that all of these projects want to get across is that making cities and buildings more energy efficient also improves productivity and quality of life. But even that attractive idea will not motivate action unless it is clear where the investment is going to come from.

David Thorpe is the author of:

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