Housing and other buildings constitute a crucial lever for achieving the transition to renewable energy. Our building stock is one of the major CO2 emitters and is still highly dependent on fossil fuels.
Around 95% of existing buildings do not comply with the 2050 targets. Their energy performance needs to increase substantially. This means: consumption must be reduced by improving insulation and more efficient installations, and we have to switch to renewable energy sources.
Renovation of our outdated homes also means a leap in terms of housing quality. Local energy generation means the profits are retained by consumers. If we adopt a collective approach, not only can we force the price down, but also boost the sense of community and social cohesion in a district.
There are already a number of fascinating examples and test cases: cooperative organisations that are installing solar panels on the roofs of schools, cities that are rolling out heat grids, district directors who are facilitating the development of local energy communities, and private companies that are pre-financing large-scale energy renovation works.
However, we have not yet succeeded in developing an approach for tackling all the outdated 19th and 20th-century neighbourhoods. The big challenge involves mainstreaming energy districts. An integral approach should ensure that it is not only the straightforward or obvious projects that get off the ground.
Crucial components of an energy district are: mobilising local and collective action, testing new finance schemes for collective renovation, experimenting with organisational models and coordinating energy projects in a coherent manner.
Getting all the residents of a district on board appears to be quite a challenge. In the best case scenario, projects involving someone actively going from door to door succeed in mobilising just 10% of people in the district. Can we develop the organisational capacity, the business model and the trust in order to approach residents with regard to their particular needs, problems and motivation? For example: insulating properties not only reduces energy bills and provides a solution for humidity and draughts, large-scale renovation work also creates local jobs.
What if we designed an approach with several district platforms that coordinate the roll out of energy districts, supported by a local district director who knows the neighbourhood and helps people set up sub-projects in a supra-local context, which provides the necessary tools, knowledge and a funding and monitoring logic? Can we then achieve the acceleration and replication of energy districts?