Session 4Reducing energy use

One of the key ways for municipalities and local citizens to reduce emissions is to reduce their energy use. Transport and buildings are the sectors with highest emissions. According to the UNEP, buildings account for 40% of global energy usage. Making homes more energy efficient is one of the best ways of reducing energy usage globally. In this project, we focused on reducing emissions from buildings (homes and industrial), in the construction cycle and through home retrofit.

Initiatives to reduce energy use typically range from the use of ‘passive’ measures that do not use high end technology for example smart use of natural daylight, natural ventilation, insulation/isolation, and evaporative cooling—to more ‘ active’ measures that use sophisticated technological systems, for example, high-efficiency heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems, LED lighting, and energy efficient appliances. When doing this work on existing building stock (rather than on a new building that is being built), it is called retrofit.

Reducing energy use is crucial to reducing carbon emissions. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), low-carbon and energy-efficient heating, cooling, building shells, and lighting, coupled with system control technologies for buildings, have the potential to lower emissions by as much as 83 percent below business-as-usual for the buildings sector by 2050.

Most of these technologies are commercially available today and many of them deliver positive financial returns within relatively short payback periods. Nonetheless, strong policies will be needed to create the economic conditions that will enable such a transition to low-carbon buildings. Such as stronger regulations on housing standards for existing and new housing stock, and financial incentives and support for homeowners to make the necessary changes. Local authorities across Europe are managing to find ways to finance this work for municipal owned buildings and homes, but more work needs to be done to consider how to support home owners to also make the necessary changes. Check out the chunk below to see what Burgas did to engage people living in council homes in the process.

In addition to the climate impacts there are a raft of economic, social and health benefits from reducing energy use. Adopting the recommended low-carbon measures could support the equivalent of 87 million jobs by 2030 across Europe (mostly from deep building efficiency improvements). In addition to decarbonisation benefits, this transition also offers an opportunity to eradicate poverty and improve living standards for all; bills reduction is a tangible way to eradicate fuel poverty and to ensure everyone can live in decent homes. Finally, air quality in both indoor and outdoor environments can be improved through efficiency in buildings. Approximately 3.3 million deaths per year are caused by energy-related outdoor air pollution.

It should be noted that there are, of course, other ways that energy use can be reduced (see chunk below for more detail). Moving to a more efficient vehicle, using more efficient appliances in the home, eating food that is locally sourced (and has less air miles) and taking public transport or cycling are all ways that energy use can be reduced. However, when thinking of personal measures that citizens can take, we have to consider who has the means to be able to participate. Some lifestyle changes are accessible to all, but many require a significant income. Particularly when it comes to retrofit, which, as we have laid out, is one of the most impactful ways to reduce emissions. Many people do not own their homes, or do not have the savings to be able to future proof their homes.

As a citizen reading this, we have found a huge amount of citizen-led projects have found success when people have come together to form cooperatives, or worked with the municipality to deliver projects. You can read more about this in the Plymouth case study, in the handout from this chunk and in session 9.

mPOWER has created some fantastic best practice guides for creating future proof homes, whilst considering those who are more vulnerable to energy poverty, ensuring democratic engagement and different models of collaboration. You can read these here.

Further reading: