Copenhagen Case Study

Building renovation strategy before and after COVID19: the Copenhagen case study

In this interview with Theis Hybschmann Petersen from the City of Copenhagen, we discuss the city’s efforts in achieving its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2025, with a focus on the impact of COVID-19 on its building renovation strategy.

Copenhagen is a model for many big cities around the world for its efforts to reduce carbon emissions. What is the Copenhagen Climate Plan and how will it help the city in achieving its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2025?

The Copenhagen Climate Plan 2025 supports the city´s goal of becoming the first capital in the world to attain carbon neutrality by 2025. Copenhagen plans to achieve this goal through a transition of the energy supply, building retrofits, waste management, public infrastructure and mobility, as well as other key initiatives to support the transition on both a short-term and long-term basis.

The CPH 2025 Climate Plan is a holistic plan, consisting of initiatives within four main areas -energy consumption, energy production, green mobility and the city administration. Each main area has specific measurable goals connected to them.

To be able to adjust the initiatives of the Climate Plan, it will be implemented in three phases, and each phase has been described in a Roadmap. This is done to ensure that the Climate Plan incorporates new knowledge, current framework, and technologies. In 2021, Copenhagen will go into the last phase and ‘Roadmap 2021-25’ will set out the parameters for the last 4 years of the Copenhagen Climate Action Plan.

Existing buildings have a key role to play in the green transition. What is the current refurbishment strategy in Copenhagen City Properties and how are climate and energy efficiency a part of this process?

The Copenhagen Climate Plan 2025 includes goals for existing buildings in two categories:

  • The private building stock is set to reduce emissions by 20 % in 2025, as compared to 2010.
  • City-owned buildings have a 40 % reduction target in the same time period.

Along with the reduction target, actions taken by the City of Copenhagen on building energy efficiency is to be used as inspiration for private building owners to exemplify actions to reduce consumption.

In 2018, the City of Copenhagen adopted a new refurbishment strategy and allocated more budget to implement this strategy. It is envisioned to bring the state of the public building portfolio up to a satisfactory standard. This includes, to some extent, energy-consuming components as well as building envelope projects. Due to ambitious national standards for insulation, most scheduled façade or roof renovations will include an upgrade in terms of insulation and window standards.

Over the past few years, the City of Copenhagen has imposed strict capital expenditure restrictions on the renovation of public buildings. How have these restrictions impacted the transition to more energy-efficient buildings?

Around the same time as the refurbishment strategy was implemented, the Danish national government imposed strict capital expenditure restrictions on all the Danish municipalities.

Each year, the Danish Government and the Local Government Association agree on a set amount for public spending in the public building sector. Since the building sector was booming in the years prior to the Coronavirus pandemic, the government’s arguments for the restrictions are to reduce the risk of overheating the building sector and the Danish economy as a whole where the sector plays an important role. By reducing public spending on the area, the government can, to some extent, prevent unhealthy inflation in the market.

Has COVID-19 affected building renovation in Denmark/Copenhagen and in what way?

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Danish government has decided to abolish the expenditure restrictions in 2020, which has allowed the Municipality of Copenhagen to accelerate the pace of refurbishment of public buildings to some extent. The restrictions will be back in 2021, resulting in the requirement to prioritize certain projects for the Copenhagen Municipality.

Access to buildings used by high-risk groups has been made more difficult due to COVID-19. In some cases, and periods of time during this pandemic, it has only been possible to gain access for necessary repairs, halting larger renovation projects in these areas.

Overall, the lift in restrictions due to this pandemic has meant that we have completed more renovation projects than initially planned. However, sudden extra budgets result in the need for further project-manager capacity, and this is usually only possible through hiring extra staff, which can be a slow process as both hiring and training need to be considered. On top of this large-scale renovation projects often stretch across several years, and a short sudden lift in capital restrictions does not impact the long-term goals substantially.

In conclusion, the lift of the capital restrictions has led to additional energy efficiency projects being completed, but the real limit is when relief packages result in extra budgets causing the staff to reach bottleneck capacity.

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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.