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Reducing emissions from buildings

Internal shading of buildings (use of window blinds) is four times less efficient than external shading to help keep the interior cool on a hot day.Internal shading of buildings (use of window blinds) is four times less efficient than external shading to help keep the interior cool on a hot day.

A regional workshop was held this month for architects, engineers and other public stakeholders engaged in the area of energy efficiency and related policy for buildings.

In partnership with seven other European countries, the Interreg Europe ZeroC02 project was taken up by the University of Malta’s Institute for Sustainable Energy (ISE) in April 2016, to look at defining zero carbon dioxide emissions from buildings. Buildings cause a third of greenhouse gas emissions in Europe.

ISE lecturer and project partner Charles Yousif says the aim is to achieve maximum benefits for Malta when it comes to the country’s energy obligations, while keeping an eye on the need for cost effectiveness.

Switching directly from reliance on power stations fed by fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy is often the first pathway that comes to mind. Yet something we often tend to forget is the potential of first applying energy efficiency in buildings.

As Dr Yousif pointed out, the use of air conditioners may be drastically reduced if shading and natural ventilation are introduced to keep a building cool. Keeping a building warm in winter can also depend on smart control of sunlight and ventilation. A great difference can be made if energy efficiency is integrated into the building at design stage.

Certain architecture houses are using specialised software to optimise a building even before it is put on the drawing board. But what solutions are appropriate for Malta?

Some measures that work for other EU Member States may not be cost efficient for these islands, partly due to the fact that it is a small market.

Dr Yousif spoke on the difference between cost optimality and cost effectiveness and the need for government to find the “least painful” way to achieve minimum energy requirements in buildings, as required by EU directives. This project will help by providing best practice technology options to meet targets in a cost-effective manner.

By December 31, 2018, any new or renovated building occupied by a public authority is required to achieve near-zero energy status. The project seeks the best way to achieve both near-zero energy and near-zero carbon dioxide for such buildings as well as all other buildings visited by the public, including banks, restaurants, hotels and schools.

Each Member State must decide, based on regional projects such as this one, what zero carbon dioxide means for their own country. The Malta partner region extends nationwide so any benefits may be reaped by the whole country.

By December 31, 2018, any new or renovated building occupied by a public authority is required to achieve near-zero energy status

By September, the ISE will be presenting guidelines to help policy-makers make the best energy choices. The European Commission is looking for clusters of small changes across regions. Some good examples already abound in Malta.

Demonstration projects such as St Nicholas College primary school in Siġġiewi are needed so that people can see how well energy efficiency and renewable energy works.

Photovoltaic panels may not always be the best solution. If a building’s main energy demand is for hot water it is wise to opt for solar water heaters, which produce the same amount of energy while taking up less space.

During the workshop, stakeholders focused on the need to revise policy and technical expertise so as to regenerate interest in solar water heating, which has seen a decline in popularity despite the advantages.

Changing from electric heating to gas is a good way to cut down on emissions, and instant water heaters suffer no storage losses.

Damien Gatt, research support officer of the ZeroCO2 project at ISE, gave a summary of the existing policies in Malta that promote energy efficiency and the installation of renewable energy sources. An analysis of each policy was carried out to identify strengths and weaknesses and suggest opportunities for improvement.

Discussions touched on possible policy improvements for policies in general by offering a bundle of renewable and energy efficiency measures rather than individual standalone measures. A one-stop shop for all financial incentives or grants would also make it easier for the public.

More skill development is called for in areas such as how to apply insulation properly. However, there has been little incentive to update measures on roof insulation, and training is needed for proper application.

An easy-to-use guide based on the Maltese climate context identifies a simple yet effective hierarchy of measures from both a technical and economic point of view for new and retrofitted public buildings in Malta.

Measures to cut down emissions from Maltese buildings must be favourable to the Mediterranean area. External shading is generally found to be more effective than double glazing in reducing energy related to space cooling. An interesting technology that was mentioned is insulating plaster, a technology that is available in Malta.

Last November the European Commission proposed an update to the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive to help promote the use of smart technology in buildings.

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