Flexible buildings: key enablers of the new energy system


In the Azores, Terceira Island is due to increase its share of renewable energy to more than 60% by the end of this year, cutting its dependency on imported diesel and decreasing CO2 emissions by over 3,500 metric tons per year. In Austria, Aspern Seestadt, on the outskirts of Vienna, expects to house 20,000 residents while operating 100% on renewable energy and injecting surplus energy into the grid. Amsterdam's Johan Cruyff Arena can run a whole evening football match on the renewable energy it has generated and even charge electric vehicles in its car park and help with local grid stabilisation.

These are all real-life examples of how we can decarbonise our buildings and accelerate the energy transition. All of them focus on making buildings active and flexible participants in the energy system.

Energy efficiency is rightly at the heart of the EU’s approach to boost the energy performance of buildings. Buildings are currently the single largest energy consumer in Europe, responsible for about 40% of EU energy consumption and 37% of greenhouse gas emissions; and most are very energy inefficient. According to the think-tank Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE), some 97% of EU building stock needs to be upgraded to reach Label A and be 'very energy efficient’.

To achieve that level of energy performance while transitioning away from fossil fuels, flexibility is key; and not only in buildings but also in transport. Consider that an electric vehicle charged at home can double the electricity used by a residential property and the electrification of heating can treble electricity consumption. If buildings - and transport - were simply consumers of energy, this would quickly lead to grid overload.

Instead, smart, flexible or active buildings, equipped with energy management systems, can become a flexible energy source in themselves. No longer only a consumer of electricity, they become virtual powerhouses that produce energy, store it, and make their energy consumption more flexible in response to external signals.

The good news is that the technologies that make all of this possible already exist – from smart meters and home energy management systems, to larger scale power management systems, building information modelling, digital twins and other grid edge technologies. Activating flexible buildings in distribution systems across the EU could help save 5bn per year up to 2030 by avoiding investments to reinforce the grid and costs for back up generation and fuel

So how to accelerate their deployment? Orgalim made a number of recommendations in the frame of the public consultation on the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), notably these three concrete steps:

  • Set minimum requirements for digitalisation to support the transition to smart buildings alongside Minimum Energy Performance standards.
  • Expand the Smart Readiness Indicators scheme, once the initial testing phase complete, by mandating it for buildings above a certain energy consumption threshold.
  • Strengthen the requirements on electromobility, notably around the installation of recharging points to support smart charging, allowing to monitor, control and optimise energy usage when recharging electric vehicles.

As our energy system undergoes the fundamental and irreversible transformation of decarbonisation, decentralisation and digitalisation, active, smart and flexible buildings will be key enablers of the new energy system. It is high time to unleash their potential.

Orgalim is a partner of the EU Sustainable Energy Week, of which Construction21 is a media partner. Registrations for the event taking place 25-29 October will open soon.

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Orgalim represents Europes technology industries, comprised of 770,000 innovative companies spanning the mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and electronics, and metal technology branches.

Orgalim commits to champion an EU policy agenda for sustainable growth; to support the industry in its transformation; and to advance dialogue between business, policymakers and citizens on the relationship of technology to society. We are shaping a future that’s good.

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Disclaimer: This article is a contribution from Orgalim, Europes Technology Industries

 buildings
 energy efficiency
 smart building
 low carbon
 technology

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