Bengreen: Zero Carbon is a major battleground for climate change

Carbon-neutral housing is a major battleground in the fight against climate change and global warming, as the apartment building sector across Europe has the potential to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and reduce emissions.

This means that Europe could reduce its annual gas import bill by 15 billion euros in 2030 and 43 billion euros in 2050.

Converting private homes to sustainable, carbon-neutral energy consumption will provide key economic benefits, Cambridge Economics said in a recent report commissioned by the European Climate Foundation.

The report comes as rising temperatures are driving up demand for air conditioners, driving up electricity demand in the summer months. This means that domestic cooling, as well as home heating, is a major source of CO2 emissions and a ready decarbonization zone if Europe is to meet its qualifying 55 emissions reduction targets and its 2050 net ambitions.

carbon free housing

Cambridge Economics said the deployment of greater energy efficiency measures in buildings would reduce energy demand from homes in the long run.

Changing heating technologies could reduce demand for fossil fuels, reduce dependence on Russian gas and reduce electricity demand within Europe.

“A transition dedicated to carbon-neutral housing alone could increase GDP by 0.7-1% in Europe in 2030-2050,” says Dóra Fazekas, Managing Director of Cambridge Econometrics in Budapest.

Moreover, Europe could reduce its annual spending on gas imports by 15 billion euros in 2030 and 43 billion euros in 2050, while 1.2 million additional net jobs could be created thanks to carbon-neutral housing measures by 2050.

Cambridge Econometrics said buildings account for 40% of energy consumption in the EU and will likely continue to grow unless immediate action is taken.

The European Commission has launched a “renewal wave” as part of the Green Deal programme, which aims to focus on upgrading the existing building stock and creating a new generation of climate-resistant homes.

These renovations would boost GDP growth in the short term, while electrifying the heat supply and reducing the need for heating through renovations would result in a 0.7% increase in annual GDP in 2030 and a 1% increase by year 2050.

Decarbonizing the housing stock would reduce Europe’s dependence on energy imports, primarily by reducing gas imports. Europe could reduce its annual spending on gas imports by 15 billion euros in 2030 and 43 billion euros in 2050.

Besides financial savings, reducing energy dependence provides more security repercussions, ridding economies of additional burdens, as well as improving trade balances of European countries without the need to import oil and gas.

Building stock renovations in Europe and electrification of heating supplies using heat pumps will help create 1.2 million additional jobs by 2050, a 0.5% increase over baseline GDP forecasts.

For the consumer, the combination of heat pumps and solar heat means less energy expenditure.

keep calm

In addition to heat, building renovations will also reduce air conditioning demand in the summer months, an issue that has been high on the energy agenda during the current heat waves. Rising temperatures mean the Alpine glaciers are melting at their fastest rate ever.

Data from Eurostat shows that local cooling has increased in recent years, while heating requirements have decreased.

In 2021, there were an average of 100 days when cooling was needed across Europe, compared to 37 days in 1979, which means that the need for air conditioning in a given building has tripled over the past 30 years.

By contrast, the need to heat a particular building has decreased slightly over time: the value of degree days for heating decreased by 11% between 1979 (3,510 degree days) and 2021 (3,126) in the European Union. In other words, only 89% of heating needs were required in 2021 compared to 1979.

With the need for air conditioning tripled over the past 30 years, the need to invest in more energy efficient buildings is vital in order to reduce the electricity demand for air conditioning in the summer months.

Energy Monitor warned that the main problem is that cooling technologies are still largely powered by fossil fuels. Production and use of refrigerants called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) threatens to worsen global warming by as much as 0.4°C by 2100.

In 2016, the signatories to the Montreal Protocol approved the Kigali Amendment, pledging to restrict the production and use of HFCs from 2019. One alternative is natural refrigerants, which are natural substances such as carbon dioxide or ammonia. While natural refrigerants cause negligible carbon emissions and do not damage the ozone layer, they are controversial due to their potential chemical effect. The European Technical Committee for Fluorocarbons, which represents suppliers and producers of HFCs, warns that ammonia can lead to changes in soil and water quality, for example.

If rising global temperatures continue to counteract current cooling practices, their higher emissions risk making the world a hotter place.

Necessary policies

However, the main challenge is how governments put in place policies and economic incentives for consumers to invest in such changes in order to make their homes climate-resistant.

Dóra Fazekas adds: “Modeling shows that the best approach is to improve efficiencies, which leads to lower energy consumption, but it does not take into account how such transformations can be achieved.”

“The main challenge for policy makers now is to identify policy mechanisms that can be used to drive transitions, and in particular to achieve low or no regrets outcomes such as improving energy efficiency across the EU residential building stock.”

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