Energy efficient climate solutions could shave a huge slice off global emissions. Here’s how our buildings are going to change, as we work to stop global warming.

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40% of the European Union’s energy is used in buildings. It’s a priority to cut that amount and to make sure that what’s left is not harmful to the environment.

The European Union says it will be a net-zero carbon continent by 2050. If you look out of your window, most of the buildings you see will still be there in 2050. They need a massive refurbishment. And that means industrializing this process.

Refurbishing a building requires a bespoke solution. Because every building is different. To hit the numbers we need to reach, this process has to be standardized and industrialised. One of the innovations coming soon is the prefabrication of insulation materials. You’ll stand in front of a house with a laser that does all the measurements…You’ll prefabricate the insulation in a factory and basically glue it to the building. This is particularly good for Central and Eastern Europe, where there are a lot of old, standard blocks without any architectural features that are hard to work around.

You’ll integrate renewable energy into these refurbishments with photovoltaic systems, for example. You’ll also put solar thermal collectors on the roof. These are common already in the Mediterranean. They use the heat of the sun to create hot water. They’re important because a lot of different sectors of the economy are going to convert to renewable electricity in the next twenty years, so there may not be a lot of it to go around. Buildings need to generate their own energy.

That’s refurbishment…

Energy efficient climate solutions for new buildings

Now, new construction.

It’s going to get hotter in Europe. There are two ways to deal with that.

One is for high tech homes with smart meters everywhere. The other is to build with the same techniques that were used hundreds of years ago.

Here’s why.

In cities, you’ll have high tech buildings with lots of meters that allow very efficient energy management, using only the energy you need at times when it’s cheaper or when demand is low.

In the countryside, you’ll have construction techniques that use natural resources and ways of building that consume less energy than now. Here the innovations are in how to design buildings that don’t need so much technology. Thicker walls with small windows, for example.

Construction creates emissions, too, of course, because creating the building materials produces carbon. To minimize that, you’ll reuse buildings. It’s soon going to be mandatory to disassemble and reuse them. Especially in urban areas, where new constructions will be made with prefabricated materials. Meanwhile, in the country, buildings will be made from local materials, so they don’t come with the emissions of long-distance transport.

Centralised energy efficient climate solutions

We’ll be talking about the circular economy another time. Circular economy means that things aren’t thrown away; they’re reused, sometimes for a different purpose. That’s a factor in energy efficiency. Remember, disassembling buildings and reusing the pieces. There’s also going to be reuse of heat from industrial processes that’s often wasted.

Factories and data centres, which is where companies keep massive computer servers, produce a lot of heat. That heat will be used to feed into district heating grids. You’ll also be recovering heat from sewage. That’ll take place over many decades, because sewerage systems aren’t renovated very often. But it’ll happen.

Even in your time there are already some centralized cooling systems. They’re like district heating systems, but they run cold water through pipes and connect buildings to cool them down. Because, as you’ve noticed, temperatures are rising even in places we don’t think of as hot.

New jobs in energy efficient climate solutions

Everything I’ve described is on a massive scale. You’re going to get this done with two kinds of change. First, a change in society. Second, a change in the business model that’s applied to renovating buildings for energy efficiency. Let me explain.

Some technological developments get outsourced to places around the world where costs are lower. You can’t do that with buildings. So this wave of renovation is going to mean lots of jobs.

It’s like Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in the United States during the 1930s. And this is important: people in 2022 often think solving the climate crisis is about cutting back. Cutting emissions by driving less or flying less. Eating less red meat. That kind of thing. But it’s also about opportunities for people to find work in sectors of the economy that don’t exist yet.

Lots of these jobs are also for less skilled workers. There’ll have to be a big effort to train workers do the range of jobs needed to make buildings energy efficient. Political leaders and governments will change regulations and create incentives for these changes.

Energy efficient climate solutions business model

Now for the business model.

How do you get your gas and electricity right now? A utility company sells it to you.

But you don’t really need gas or electricity. You need your living room at 21 degrees Celsius.

And that’s the change in the business model. Because utilities won’t be able to sell as much gas or even electricity in the future due to the reduction in consumption that we’re aiming for. So, instead, they’ll sell services. They’ll sell you a warm or cool room. You’ll pay them not for the gas and electricity that heats your room. You’ll pay them to service the room so that it’s warm. These are either going to be existing utilities that figure this out, many of which might buy small energy efficiency firms to develop this new business model…or entirely new companies.

But, to go back to the idea of a change in society, this change in business model will need a stable legal framework. A deep refurbishment of existing buildings has a thirty-year payback time. It’s difficult to convince people to make that kind of commitment without a subsidy. Regulations and government programmes have to be put in place, so that private companies will see this sector as a solid investment.

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