At some point in the early 2010s, the European Union was leading on climate change action. These days, with China installing huge quantities of solar panels and producing and selling electric cars at an unprecendented rate, it’s harder to compete on these fronts. Meanwhile, the United States have launched last year the IRA (“Inflation Reduction Act “) with 369 billion dollars allocated to the energy transition… So could the European Union lead again on slashing its greenhouse gases emissions ? I think action in two sectors could prove to provide leadership : buildings and industry.
RENOVATING OLD BUILDINGS
Buildings represent over 36% of European greenhouse gases emissions and 40% of the energy consumption in the European Union. It’s past time to take this into account and seriously act on it. Having written my Master’s thesis on the French residential sector and how it could benefit from both renewables and energy efficiency nearly 20 years ago (!?!), I am angry that nothing serious has been done ever since.
Insulating and renovating the 15-20% of homes that consume the most energy could slash emissions by 50%, based on what is taking place in France and Pareto’s principle / law. This would amount to renovating 40 million buildings. Deep renovation for these buildings should go from exception to standard practice in EU policy according to the Buildings Performance Institute Europe.
This could be done faster and cheaper by industrializing buildings renovation with an Energiesprong-like method. This starts by measuring buildings precisely, and then build elements within an industrial and engineering framework (not artisanal work) in factories. Said elements are then installed on site very fast as everything is already built. It’s just assembling legos. We end up with Net Zero homes that consume as much energy as they produce with solar PV. Financially, the retrofits are paid by the energy savings in the next 20 to 30 years.
Additionally, recent studies have shown that heat pumps and residential solar PV operate a great symbiosis. Adding to that a little weatherproofing and insulation where it is needed the most, and we would get comfortable homes and offices, in winter and summer alike.
To stop depending on China, building back the European industry in several sectors appears critical : wind turbines, both solar photovoltaic and thermal panels, geothermal equipment, heat pumps, batteries (from ion lithium to flow batteries and more), as well as biobased materials for comfortable homes and buildings throughout the seasons.
It’s not about the polar bears, it’s about our own cities and countrysides ;
it’s not about the future, it’s about our present ;
it’s not about the environment, it’s about the economy.
(since it’s the only thing that matters to many).
Creating a European response to the US IRA and its 360+ billions of investments also appears vital if we are not to succumb to the American industrial renaissance. As such, the European Union has launched its own Green Deal Industrial Plan, aimed at bringing carbon emissions to Net Zero.
This would not limit itself to technologies, but would also entail faster access to funding and enhancing the necessary skills as between 35% and 40% of all jobs could be affected by the green transition.
Now that’s a cleantech “arms race” that I would genuinely love to see. European nations have enough brilliant minds and enough capital to truly compete and slash emissions fast.
Photo credits : Alexandre Lallemand on Unsplash.