When we talk about energy efficiency, many people think above all of electricity. But actually heating accounts for most of the energy used. Anybody who wants to cut costs and save resources should start here.
Some 30 per cent of the electricity used is now produced from renewable energies. That is great progress in times of climate change but it is not enough for a successful energy transition. After all, heating accounts for over half of the energy consumed in Germany and a large proportion of CO2 emissions. That means space heating consumption has to be considerably reduced.
Saving energy through energy-smart building upgrades
Energy-smart building upgrades offer considerable potential for cutting CO2 emissions. On average over 80 per cent of all the energy used by a private household is for heating and hot water production.
80 % of all energy consumed is for heating and hot water production.
Three-quarters of the heating systems in Germany are not state of the art, are too old and use an unnecessary amount of energy. On top of that, poor thermal insulation or a complete lack of it means that expensive heat can escape. More than half of the roughly 19 million residential buildings in Germany have currently not been refurbished at all. Therefore, in its “Climate Protection Plan 2050”,the German government stresses how important it is to reduce energy consumption in the building sector and offers subsidies to finance measures. “Actually there is a very large number of subsidy programmes for energy-efficient construction and refurbishment – many consumers are not aware of this at all,” says Hanno-Lang Berens, who, as an energy advisor in Munich, regularly informs people about such subjects.
Cutting heat consumption through energy-smart building upgrades
Naturally the potential for saving heating energy depends on the extent of the refurbishment work, but it can be considerable. “In the area surrounding Munich, there are many, many old terraced houses which were built in the mid-1960s. Some of the houses whose owners I have advised have been completely upgraded, with the roof and façade insulated, the windows replaced and a new condensing boiler for the heating combined with a solar thermal system. An evaluation after a year showed that many of these houses needed 60 per cent less energy than before. Some of them are better than a comparable new build,” energy expert Hanno Lang-Berens explains, talking from his own experience as an energy advisor.
However, despite state subsidies, building upgrades such as the installation of a new heating system or thermal insulation initially involve high investment. But even people who have no money for such things or who, as tenants, have little influence on the fabric of a property can save heating costs effectively and reduce the impact on the environment.
Reducing heating consumption
The crucial point is always the users’ behaviour – without which complex and costly energy-smart refurbishments have no effect whatsoever. A building can be as energy-efficient as possible but if the residents turn the heating up too much or leave the windows wide open for hours, energy consumption will not be reduced. In a joint pilot project “Saving money through clever heating”, the German Energy Agency (dena), the energy service provider ista, the German Tenants’ Association and the Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) have together shown that tenants who deliberately keep a close eye on their heating consumption save significant amounts of energy. The important thing is that the consumer receives regular information on how much energy he is using and where.
If the consumer adopts the right heating behaviour, modernisation measures such as proper thermal insulation can, on the one hand, reduce heating costs and, on the other hand, make the home more cosy and ultimately also increase the value of the property. In addition, the fact that less oil and gas is then used also means that people are not so badly affected by unforeseen fluctuations in prices, which is a great advantage for both building owners and tenants.
Replacing the pump of the heating system or improving the insulation of the heating pipes can also lead to considerable savings. Possible energy-efficient options are, for example, combined heat and power units, condensing boilers, heat pumps as well as solar thermal systems.
Investing to increase Germany’s refurbishment rate
One possibility of promoting energy-smart building upgrades throughout Germany and at the same time earning money is to invest in green property funds. Such funds invest directly in real estate such as residential buildings that are being constructed or modernised according to sustainable criteria. The money invested in the fund is used to thermally insulate the facades of the buildings, to install a new heating system or to perform other work to optimise energy use. The returns are generated from rental income and interest and rising property values. By investing their capital in this way, private investors can help to improve the refurbishment rate in Germany.