IF ENERGY EFFICIENT BUILDINGS ARE SUCH A GOOD IDEA… WHY DON’T WE DO IT?

Buildings are responsible for at least 40% of total energy consumption in the member states of the European Union. Residential use accounts for 63% of this energy consumption. While the bioclimatic architectural design plays initially the most significant role, today new technologies and recent advances in building materials yield remarkable improvements in energy efficiency.

In residential buildings, most of the energy required is used for space heating, hot water, ventilation, lighting and cooling. The figures concerning energy savings from measures implemented in Greek residential buildings are impressive: thermal insulation of external walls (exposed facades) and thermal insulation of roofs (exposed side) can, respectively, save up to 60% and 14% in energy consumption for space heating. The installation of double glazing and ceiling fans accounts for energy consumption savings of up to 20% in space heating and up to 60% in cooling. Solar collectors for hot water production can save up to 80% in electric energy consumption. Implementation of these “green” technologies raises the construction cost by approximately 15%, but the return of the investment from energy savings is usually projected to 5-6 years.

Consequently, a reasonable question comes up: “If energy efficient buildings are such a good idea, then why don’t we do it?”.

The answer lies in the fact that the real estate market is diverse and complex and that incentives to reduce energy usage are usually conflicting among different players.

Contractors are the primary actors in building construction and they, usually, focus on the building’s short-term financial value. An energy efficient construction costs approximately €150-200/m2 more than a conventional one. In that way, due to the use of more expensive building materials and the installation of passive energy systems, higher construction costs produce smaller profit margins.

The lack of know-how and experience, plus the absence of incentives, as far as engineers and architects are concerned, are also important barriers in implementing energy efficiency measures. The bioclimatic architectural efforts in Greece have been limited to some public pilot projects and to a few privately owned buildings. Additionally, the lack of integrated cooperation among architects, civil engineers and mechanical engineers, limits their respective contributions to the whole design and construction process of such ventures.

On the contrary, the end users (buyers/renters) are in the best position to benefit from reduced operational costs and energy savings. Nevertheless, they are either not in a financial state to make such investments or lack the necessary environmental culture. The Greek society is not appropriately aware of issues related to the environment in general and, specifically, of sustainable construction. Recent research shows that “more than two thirds of the population does not believe that their buildings are responsible for environmental degradation”. Furthermore, the state has not focused on raising public awareness and on giving financial incentives for people to invest in energy efficiency, until very recently.

Progress on energy efficiency in construction depends on people in the building industry being aware of the importance of the issue and then being able and willing to act on it. Effective improvement measures could help Greece reduce its dependence on energy imports and, fortunately, positive signs of a change of attitude and perception exist. For that, all steps in this direction should be decisive enough for Greece to overcome the challenges and foster a sustainable future and that is of the utmost importance.

By Alkisti Zina,
iMBA, FT14