A post-COVID-19 outlook on building energy renovation: the Slovenia case study

In this article, our partner KSSENA explores the new challenges and additional complexity of post-COVID-19 energy renovation projects and the current and planned energy renovation strategies in Slovenia.

In accordance with the recommendations of the EU and the agreements made between the member states, the European “Green New Deal” should provide the foundation for the economic and societal recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic moving forward. Due to its critical role to help rebuild the impacted economies, increase resilience, facilitate job creation, protect human health and increase transnational cooperation, the importance of the deal on the recovery package and the new 7-year budget for the EU reached on the 21st July 2020 cannot be overstated.

Despite the unavoidable economic downturn most member states will be facing over the short term, and with it, an almost certain reduction in household investments for energy renovation of buildings, the focus must be shifted towards optimizing the allocation of recovery funds in order to achieve the highest benefit.

Energy renovation of public buildings together with investment into sustainable renewable energy technology can and will be an important part of supporting the economy and social cohesion of the EU in the period up to 2030. As such, the recently adopted Long-Term Strategy for Mobilizing Investments in the Energy Renovation of Buildings in Slovenia is considering to increase the co-financing rate from 40% to 49% as only one of the possible measures to mitigate against negative impacts of COVID-19 in order to maintain the targeted annual renovation rate despite fewer funds available in the private sector.

Building renovation in Slovenia

In the context of developing and implementing a multi-year energy renovation strategy for buildings, as mandated by the Energy performance of buildings directive (EPBD), Slovenia passed the Long-Term Strategy for Mobilizing Investments in the Energy Renovation of Buildings or DSEPS in October 2015 (revised in 2018).

One of the most important focuses of the renovation strategy that remains in 2020 is to facilitate at least a steady annual renovation rate of 3% for public buildings. To achieve this, the Ministry of Infrastructure of the Republic of Slovenia published this year’s public call for tender for co-financing the energy renovation of the municipal building stock at the end of February 2020.

The co-financing aims to address the main financial barriers related to energy renovation which range from limited borrowing capacity of public institutions, lack of access to financial sources (for both the public and private sectors), underdeveloped EPC/ESC markets and also very problematic in terms of achieving energy savings, prioritizing quick rates of return (favouring partial renovation measures that are most economically interesting).

The indicative amount available for co-financing in the following years is 25 million EUR, of which 21,25 million will be obtained from the EU’s Cohesion fund and 3.75 million EUR as a contribution of the national budget. The tender will provide up to a 40% co-financing rate in order to comply with the desired ratio of public-to-private investment into building renovation.

There have been 5 cutoff dates for applying the renovation projects in 2020, 2 of which (September 14th and November 16th) remain active if the funds are not prematurely allocated to preceding projects. The public tender will remain active throughout 2021 and 2022. The public call for tender was, however, prepared and published prior to the realization of how wide and long-lasting the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic might be. As such, it does not directly take into account within its tender documentation specific measures related to minimizing the likelihood of disease transmission and increased security of building occupants.

However, the draft of the renewed version of the long-term renovation strategy until 2050 (Dolgoročna strategija energetske prenove stavb do leta 2050) has been published by the Ministry on 23rd July 2020 and will remain open for public discussions until the 10th September 2020. The strategy considers that the pandemic has and will in the future have a severe impact on economic growth which will also affect the rate of investment into energy renovation assumed in the National Energy and Climate Plan (NEPN).

Post-COVID-19 energy renovation

It’s highly likely that adapting energy renovation and energy efficiency in general to the new public health hazard could present new challenges in terms of decreasing economic feasibility and realistically obtainable energy savings of certain measures.

For example, according to the guidelines on how to manage ventilation and air conditioning systems for mitigating against transmission of COVID-19 published by the Federation of European Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Associations (REHVA), mechanical ventilation systems should run more intensively; in places where mechanical ventilation is not adequate or non-existent, opening windows much more frequently is recommended. Air recirculation should be avoided and safe use of thermal recuperation systems, where a complete separation between the air streams is not ensured by the technology, should not be taken for granted.

The guidelines have been developed for the specific situation of local epidemiologic outbreaks and are meant to be considered as an annex to the WHO’s general guidelines elaborated in the Getting your workplace ready for COVID-19. However, the new challenges and additional complexity of post-COVID-19 energy renovation projects are, nevertheless, evident.

Energy renovation of the public pool and sports centre in Velenje

Improved awareness of ensuring public building spaces a good living quality and health standards may assist to transcend the still very limited view of energy renovation as a mere return on investment.

Wider benefits of building renovation can also improve almost every other aspect of living quality in public buildings which brings healthier, more satisfied individuals and a better functioning society.

Never before has this perspective appeared to be more relevant than today. Even more so, properly designed deep energy renovation projects with highly efficient ventilation and EMIS systems can actually present a big part of the solution even when considering the new demands for mitigating against the spread of the novel disease.

In this regard, the City municipality of Velenje will continue its mission to provide the best attainable living quality for its citizens where energy renovation of public buildings, together with its broad positive effects on health and socio-economic systems, is still regarded as a highly efficient way of moving beyond the current crisis.

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 847101.