Building Market Briefs: a BTA initiative to help innovators to tackle European markets

Building Market Briefs: a BTA initiative to help innovators to tackle European markets

To take on the challenge of delivering low carbon buildings all over Europe, stakeholders need comparable, pan-European data to support their efforts and target the right niches. Although many reports exist from one country to another, the information remains fragmented. BTA decided to address this need by delivering Building Market Briefs, which are condensed reports per country and based on a unique methodology. The first issued BMB gives unique insights on the Swiss building market. Interview with York Ostermeyer, Associate Professor at the Division of Building Technology, at Chalmers. and Sybren Steensma, BTA Program Manager.

How did the idea of a Building Market Briefs was born and what are its goals?

York Ostermeyer: When the idea of the briefs emerged, I was working as an innovation platform manager. I organized several iterative workshops, and the participants repeatedly expressed the need of a perspective on national markets. Innovators need that kind of overview to identify the niches they can target when they want to enter a market. To address that need, we had to set the scale and the granularity of the data to collect and to render. And last but not least, we wanted the result to be easy to read, interesting and understandable.

Sybren Steensma: The paradox here, is that hundreds of reports already exist on the various European markets. But they’re all focused on a certain niche, on a sector. Nobody thought to combine them into one brief… or maybe they did think of it and backed off before the workload it represents. With the Building Market Briefs, we compile available relevant data to make sense of it at a European level. This clearly matches Climate-KIC’s mission. Beyond giving interesting and relevant data, we want to make it scientifically comparable from one country to another, and that’s a big challenge, given the wide variety of standards, methods and measurements across Europe.

Why did you choose to focus the first brief on Switzerland?

York Ostermeyer: The first reason is practical (laughs). When we came up with the idea, BTA’s headquarters were in Switzerland. Joke aside, Switzerland is an interesting country to start with: it’s not a big country and a lot of data is available. For our first case study, we needed to work on a manageable scale that allowed us to deliver the brief rather quickly.

On what data do you base your briefs?

York Ostermeyer: The brief’s data are sourced in three ways: statistics, massive online survey and description of the building stock.

For statistics, there is the tricky part of the standards differences. Net floor areas are a good example of that. Put a French, a Swiss and a German engineer in a building and ask them to calculate its net floor area, none of them will come up with the same result as the others.

We base the briefs also on a massive online survey, that we co-created with industrials and professionals of the sector. It is meant to assess perceptions and feelings around the building market. We ask questions to professionals on their last projects. Questions like: What do you typically do in a building project? Why do you do it?  How did project stakeholders communicate within the project? Who was influential in decision making around energy and low carbon issues? In Switzerland, these surveys allowed us to identify a certain attachment to heat pumps preferred to other heating/cooling solutions, unlike the German market where heat pumps are generally disliked due to a series of public failures.

Last but not least, the description of the building stock is essential to understanding the market. Innovators, industrials need to know the level of refurbishment of the stock, the type of materials typically used in projects, what kind of subsidies are available, if there are national action plans to push forward on some solutions, the labor cost and the available manpower.

All those information help innovators to assess if the ROI in this market would be superior to 5%, which is the necessary threshold to exceed to be profitable.

Sybren Steensma: Aside from the summary of statistics and descriptions, we propose a list of documents and reports our readers can consult to complete their view on said market. We invite the reader group to comment and give us their feedback on these briefs. Their insights will be very useful for the next versions, as we intend to publish updated BMBs with up to date data and additional featured asked by our readers.

Working on the Swiss BMB and preparing spin offs in other countries, were you able to identify trends in sustainable buildings across Europe?

York Ostermeyer: The construction sector, allover Europe, is facing a massive transformation. On paper, that transformation looks easy, but there are a lot of barriers that vary from one country t another. But the common issue we identified in Europe is the struggle to get the momentum going for the green transition of buildings. That’s where tailored innovation comes into play and helps each country to reach that momentum and make it last, by adapting to each country’s specific context. Climate-KIC is the right vessel to address these specific needs with innovators and their ideas.

Sybren Steensma: There is a paradox at play here. The barriers we talk about are not technical. Solutions already exist, technologies are available. Barriers are not about people either. From our surveys we can tell people want the sector to change, to evolve. But there is not much more they can do against national regulations, the slow evolution of policies and customs.

Where will you take the BMB next?

York Ostermeyer: We plan to release 4 to 5 briefs per year. The next to come are scheduled to be released in middle of 2018. This time we’ll cover 4 of the biggest building markets in the EU: United Kingdom, Germany, France and the Netherlands. At the end of 2018 we’ll publish 3 or 4 more: Poland, Denmark, Italy and/or Spain. This second batch is meant to balance our briefs according to climate areas. We think it’s important to introduce diversity, for a more inclusive perspective on the global European market, with BMB from the North, form the East and from the South and not only from the west of Europe.

Sybren Steensma: The BMBs also allow us to mobilize out local Climate-KIC partners and to strengthen our network, to help start-ups reach local markets and guide them through their development.

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Catherine Ouvrard

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