Energy saving construction sector seeks active steps to boost passive buildings

Photo: archive of Chance for Buildings

The Czech Republic was a latecomer to the market for energy saving houses and buildings, so called passive developments. By most accounts it was Germany and Scandinavia that developed and ran with the concept in the early 1990s. But the Czech market has grown rapidly in the last decade and the country can even claim to be showing the way to neighbours such as Slovakia and those further to the East.

Petr Holub, photo: archive of Charles University
At a hotel in central Prague, appropriately the first ecological and energy saving hotel in the country, the association Chance for Buildings, an alliance of experts and specialized building materials firms, summed up the progress in the passive buildings sector but also the challenges that need to be addressed.

Petr Holub is director of the association and he outlined first of all how the energy saving construction sector is faring:

“The sector is definitely growing, the number of passive houses, both family houses and multi-apartment buildings is increasing. In the last year we saw a slight decrease but we also saw an increase in passive houses built without the subsidy from the state. We see that as an important trend. And we see that people, investors, can also appreciate the quality of living, the quality of the interior environment and other benefits of passive houses.”

So the message is getting through that you can make considerable savings by planning to build in a different way or through renovation. Is it still mostly new build?

“There is both new build in passive energy standards and there are also deep energy efficient renovations of buildings. We definitely support both because still 90-95 percent of buildings are the existing building stock, new houses are a small fraction of the building stock. We need both: we need new build to high energy efficiency standards and we need renovations of the existing building stock.”

In both areas there is presumably a lot of room for growth but with the existing stock there is a lot that still remains to be done?

What we need is a stable regulatory environment and a stable economic environment for the side of the government and the state and we can grow even further.

“Definitely. As we say, we are growing but there is a lot of room for further growth and what we need is a stable regulatory environment and a stable economic environment for the side of the government and the state and we can grow even further. Now we estimate that we renovate about one percent of houses in the Czech Republic, nobody knows the exact number but the estimate is one percent. That means that one house is renovated every 100 years. That is just too little, it is not enough for the building stock. So, we need to get to where every house is renovated once every 35-40 years. So we need to get a renovation rate of 2.5-3.0 percent a year so we need to increase it 2.5 times or three times.”

Compared to some of the leaders in passive housing, I presume that’s Germany or some of the Scandinavian countries, how much has the Czech Republic still got to do?

“In new build for passive houses there are some numbers coming out of Austria or maybe Germany that maybe 20-30 percent of new houses meet passive energy standards. In the Czech Republic we are about 10 percent of single family houses and about two percent of multi-apartment buildings. There is definitely room for growth, but if you compare us to Central and East European countries like Slovakia, Hungary, or Romania, there we are quite a way ahead and are showing the way to the Eastern countries but we still have to improve.”

Photo: archive of Chance for Buildings
You mentioned in your presentation some of the complications of going ahead with projects in the Czech Republic. There are many programmes, there are many ministries involved, and some of the incentives are not really there. Could you explain what the problems are?

“Yes, the problem in the Czech Republic is resortism. The problem is that each minister running a programme thinks it is his or her own money which they have a grip on. That is not right because support for energy efficiency renovations or new build is more or less mandatory support, it is like positive taxing or something like that. We don’t fully understand the reasons for resortism, we understand there are psychological reasons behind that. But the problem is that the Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Regional Development, Ministry of Industry and Trade, and Prague City Hall have different programmes sometimes for very similar purposes. We try to coordinate those programmes together so that they don’t overlap and they have similar conditions. In the end it is energy specialists and designers, one group of people, who prepare projects for all these support schemes that we have got in the Czech Republic.

“The biggest issue we now have is with the Ministry for Regional Development and it’s a support programme, the so-called Integrated Regional Operational Programme, that support energy efficiency in residential multi-apartment buildings outside of Prague. It has two large administrative requirements and it is like condominiums who should apply. Those are normally, like three people meeting once every half year in a cellar or room for baby carriages. They need to implement public procurement rules, they have to prepare all the project design with all the requirements. It is not feasable, it needs to get simpler, a lot simpler.”

We are quite a way ahead and are showing the way to the Eastern countries but we still have to improve.

You mentioned some of the accounting rules which don’t favour energy saving projects. Can you explain what the problems are there?

“Yes, that is the Eurostat accounting rules, the ESA European Standards for Accounting from 2010. They say that future payments for energy are basically running costs but future payments for energy services is debt and that increases public debt. And you know, now we attempting to decrease the public debt so using energy services goes in the opposite direction. It is meaningless…”

So the accounting rules are penalizing energy services?

“Yes, that’s stupid, its unreasonable and not logical. We need to change that and we are working on that and we need to see how much of that stems from national rules but most of it seems to be based on Eurostat rules so it is European-wide issue.”

Are they will to change that? It does seem a bit stupid because you are trying to meet European rules and directives [on energy saving].

“They are claiming that they will think about that and that is DG Energy, which is responsible for energy saving, discussing with Eurostat, the accounting rules and we feel that it starts to be moving. Recently there was a letter co-signed with 150 signatures that went to DG Energy and Eurostat saying that this needs to be changed. It is a significant administrative barrier, an accounting barrier, an Excel sheet barrier I would call it, for energy services.”

How much of the raw materials for all this, the polystyrene, the technology and other materials being used is produced in the Czech Republic or is it brought in from outside and how much of an economic knock-on effect is there?

Our estimate is that 98 percent of the materials and work comes from within the Czech Republic or often even within the region where the house is.

“Yes, there is a strong multiplication for the Czech economy because our estimate is that 98 percent of the materials and work comes from within the Czech Republic or often even within the region where the house is because you cannot move the building to China, renovate there and bring it back. It needs to be built or renovated where it will serve people. So that is something that shows that energy efficient building or renovation has a strong impact on the local economy.”

And there could be a lot more jobs presumably in this sector…?

“If all goes as we would want there would be 30,000-40,000 jobs, regular jobs, often with highly qualified engineers but also craftsmen on a building in a construction site that could be created or added to the Czech economy. And for the size of the country of 10 million that is not a small amount.”