Energy efficiency in buildings – from commercial to residential

21 Apr 2021

Author: Tobi Elusakin, Trilateral Research

Over the past year, we have observed a significant shift in the way most people work and school as a result of the pandemic and the national lockdowns that followed. During lockdown the majority of daily activities occurred at home which led to a considerable rise in the energy consumption of residential buildings. With this happening, energy efficiency in homes has become more important than ever, and this blog looks into how it can be addressed in the areas of policy, technology and investment.

Prioritising efficiency

Energy efficiency, which can be described as producing the same output while using less energy, has become a priority in the 21st century as countries race towards net zero carbon emissions. While much focus has been placed on other avenues of emission reduction, such as renewable energy, energy storage and carbon capture, energy efficiency is just as important as it is the easiest and cheapest avenue to reduce carbon emissions.

According to the European Commission, buildings in the EU account for approximately 40% of the final energy consumption and 36% of greenhouse gas emissions of the trading bloc. This means they present a significant opportunity for reducing carbon emissions and achieving a net zero emissions economy. Commercial buildings have historically been the primary focus of both research and investment as they provide significant opportunities for energy consumption reduction. However, the recent pandemic has required individuals to stay in their homes (for work and school), causing a dramatic shift in energy demand from commercial to residential buildings.

This change in behaviour necessitates a shift in attention, as the post-pandemic world will feature some of the current ‘work-from-home’ and ‘school-from-home’ paradigms. A prominent example of this shift can be seen through the actions of large multi-nationals such as Google, who have committed to a ‘work-from-home’ scheme through to summer 2021.

What will this shift in attention require?

The shift in attention from commercial to residential buildings will require a commensurate change in the direction of research and development as well as influx in capital. The Energy White Paper, reported that residential buildings accounted for 77% of total building emissions in 2018. With the emergence of Covid-19 in 2020, this number is expected to have dramatically increased. It is therefore imperative that energy efficiency in residential buildings is addressed, especially in the areas of policy, technology and investment.

With regards to policy, avenues which can be explored include:

  • National and local government policies to promote greener heating systems in homes.
  • Building new homes which are zero-carbon ready (i.e., homes which are able to eliminate carbon emissions).
  • Government schemes for improving building energy efficiency such as the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund in the UK.
  • Developing and enforcing stringent energy efficiency standards for existing homes such as the energy performance of buildings (EPB) standards.
  • Introduction of discounts for energy poor households like the Warm Home Discount Scheme.

In terms of technology, the following avenues can be addressed:

  • Development of affordable smart building energy management technologies that allow building residents to better manage energy use and consumption.
  • Development of affordable grid-enabled technologies for lighting, space and water heating which help to drive consumer behaviour change.
  • Development of market-ready clean heating technologies such as heat pumps and clean hydrogen.

With respect to investment, both the public and private sector – from governments to landlords, to businesses and homeowners – are required to provide investment for renovations to improve energy efficiency and alleviate fuel poverty in both newly built and already-existing homes. Funds such as the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) have already provided key avenues for private and public financing for energy efficiency in buildings over the past decade. Similar initiatives are required to noticeably make a difference over the next few years.

As part of the European Commission-funded EERAdata project, Trilateral Research is conducting research into energy efficiency in buildings, by addressing the challenge of gathering evidence on the impacts of energy efficiency in the context of European building stock. The goal is to promote the integration of energy efficiency into the policy-making process. The project partners, including Trilateral Research, aim to make a significant contribution to a more energy-aware Europe, raising societal and governmental awareness of this crucial topic as we move further into the 21st century.

About the author

Tobi Elusakin is Research Analyst at Trilateral Research. He is part of the Applied Research and Innovation (ARI) team at Trilateral. His research focuses on technological and policy development aspects of energy and sustainability within the EU. His areas of research include energy efficiency, energy poverty, asset integrity and risk management within the renewable energy space.