Renovation projects are usually carried out for each dwelling or office space separately. Sometimes a group of apartments or office units located in the same building are renovated together as part of a single project. Rarely do projects extend beyond the boundaries of the building to tackle renovation on a larger, more comprehensive, scale. And yet, when it comes to improving energy performance and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, scaled-up renovation projects can create synergies and bring system benefits unachievable if buildings are renovated one at a time.
This is particularly true in urban environments where population density is high, space is limited and many buildings are old. In such environments, scaling up the renovation to street, district or community level can pave the way for advanced heating and cooling systems that would be difficult to install in individual dwellings. As set out by the European Commission in A Renovation Wave for Europe (p.18), scaling-up can be a cheaper way to decarbonise heating and cooling since it can offer system efficiencies on an industrial scale through fuel switching, increased flexibility, waste heat recovery, and thermal storage. Such a district renovation project could also be combined with setting up an energy community sharing renewable energy generation and storage capacity, as well as a smart micro grid to maximise self-consumption.
The major barriers to district renovation projects are very apparent: multiple owners and users have to be ready to act simultaneously. These kinds of projects can only have a chance of succeeding if they are either initiated by local authorities, or if they play an active role from a very early stage in the project. These authorities, in turn, need to be backed up by regional, national and European regulations and incentives. According to A Renovation Wave for Europe (p.19): “Member States, regions and local authorities should further seize the opportunity to finance investments in a local context as part of the territorial instruments within the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD)”.
Scaled-up renovation can create synergies and bring system benefits that are unachievable for one building at a time.
The Lavatrici social housing district in Genoa, Italy: energy consumption fell by 50% following a district renovation project. Source: European Commission, Build Up / The European Portal for Energy Efficiency in Buildings, “District renovation project in Genoa meets energy saving expectations” (December 2017)