“The European Green Deal and energy savings in buildings will be the key topics of tomorrow”
The future of modern energy sources, savings programs in the buildings of towns and municipalities, new funding and complex energy technologies were the subjects of my discussion with Martin Boruta, director of the National Center for Energy Savings. The National Center for Energy Savings is a partner for the representatives of towns and municipalities, as well as companies or individuals interested in implementing state-of-the-art energy-saving solutions. Unfortunately, the Czech Republic has missed the boat with the Green Agreement for Europe, i.e., the European Green Deal, and then came the Coronavirus, and anti-EU themes overshadowed this emerging opportunity. For the CR, the Green Deal means not only the gradual cessation of coal mining, but above all a huge potential for modernization of the industry sector and the heating-generating industry, electrification of transport, options for comprehensive reconstruction of buildings, and the greening of agriculture. Moreover, the implementation of the Green Deal for Europe in practice is distributed among the various ministries. Yet another aspect to consider is the fact that, in 2022, the Czech Republic will chair the European Union and energy could be one of the priority topics.
I am glad that I was able to address one of the most competent experts on this topic. Martin Boruta has been active at the top level of the state administration for a long time at the Office of the Government and the Ministry of Finance, respectively. Since February 2020, he has been in charge of the National Center for Energy Savings.
The National Center for Energy Savings (NCEÚ) was founded 6 years ago as a strategic tool for key stakeholders aiming to promote and support energy savings and modern energy production. The founders of NCEÚ represent the sectors of crucial importance for the transformation of energy production in the CR: the Chamber of Commerce for the business sector (largest business association in the CR, 16,000 members, 60 regional chambers); the Union of Towns and Municipalities (largest association of local governments in the CR, 2,766 members representing 44% of the total number of local governments in the CR); and for the strategic energy-producing level, ČEZ, a.s., a company whose knowhow covers the entire spectrum of issues, ranging from energy production and distribution, to energy savings, to green innovations in the field. Thanks to this extremely extensive network as well as its own awareness-oriented and consulting activities, the NCEÚ maintains contact with small and medium-sized companies, large companies, small and large towns and municipalities, technological innovations, and implementation of best practices in energy savings, energy management, and the use of new low-emission energy sources.
The NCEÚ participates in strategies for the transformation of coal regions, strategies and implementations for retrofitting buildings, the development of SECAPs (Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Plans) and local energy concepts and related projects, implementation of Positive Energy Districts, and the use of innovations in practice. It also cooperates with university research centers and innovation centers, promotes modern energy at the level of ministries and the central public administration as well as in the public sector (in the media, on social networks and at conferences), popularizes themes on energy savings, low-emission solutions and modern energy, and systematically creates tools for information sharing and enlightenment (seminars, webinars, podcasts, blogs).
I hope the interview will be inspiring not only for the mayors of smaller towns and municipalities, but also for business owners. Specific examples of good practice, projects, and the chance to see the Green Deal for Europe as an opportunity, rather than a threat to the status quo that does not help advance the Czech Republic at all. I wish you a pleasant reading and a peaceful rest of the summer without any major climatic extremes.
Martin, do you think that this year ́s climatically challenging and extreme summer will open the eyes of those who have been rejecting the climate change theory thus far?
Hopefully, there will be an increasing number of those who realize that extreme climatic occurrences, where hot and dry periods are followed by torrential rains and forests are plagued by bark beetles, areal signs of the climate change in which we all have a share of blame. The Czech Republic is a country that has historically built its progress on hard work, ingenuity, innovations, and talent. As a citizen of this country, I am very sorry that we have not been able to get a better score than 5th place from the end of the EU scale in per-capita greenhouse gas emissions. We have not made any significant contribution to improving the environment in which we live or the conditions in which we do business and work.
So far, the Czech Republic has appreciated enough the European trend associated with the so-called “Green Agreement for Europe”, i.e., “Green Deal”, and may even have underestimated it, even though – thanks to the EU budget – the Green Deal provides fundamental financial incentives for efforts to transform our economy and approximate the objectives that we have set out to reach by 2030.
The Czech economy underwent a very important transformation after 1989, which was inevitable due to the backwardness of the former centrally planned economy. It turns out, however, that we are still at halftime. Such issues as substantial reduction of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, purity of water and the environment, or energy consumption of industrial production and buildings have become vitally important in the last ten years. For the Czech Republic, as a member of the European Union, these issues are of key importance for our functioning in the world. And it is at this level that we, along with the other member states, agreed at the end of last year to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% until 2030 (from 1990 levels). To keep up with the development and progress of Europe until 2050, where we should be as a continent neutral, carbon-wise, requires considerable innovative and technological progress in the overall environment of the Czech Republic ́s economy.
The National Center for Energy Savings aims to popularize and raise awareness in the field of energy and the application of modern technologies. This task takes more than savings alone, as we have become more demanding in terms of comfort, so our current lifestyle is completely different. It is therefore necessary to completely change our approach.
Energy savings are at the heart of the matter. In order to achieve the outlined climatic objectives, which we have set in the EU and which the Czech Republic has yet to meet, we must more strongly reduce the energy consumption of buildings and increase their energy efficiency through the introduction of renewable energy sources (RES) and the use of modern technological solutions. The impact of the pandemic has shown how vulnerable our society is. Closed shops and restaurants, limited production, people working from home, teaching children online via computers, a major decline in economic performance, and revealed shortcomings in the functioning of the state administration system – all this has led to shortfalls in the budgets of towns and municipalities. In order for the society and the system to function, they need impulses and stimuli. Renewable energy sources, such as solar energy, or energy savings like building insulation and window replacement, are undoubtedly very important. However, we at the NCEÚ are convinced that complex technological solutions, including innovative solutions with elements of sensors, measuring and control systems in buildings, companies, industrial objects and households, are the key tools. Personally, I firmly believe that this is the path to the reconstruction and modernization of the Czech economy as a whole in the next 15-20 years, or more, because energy itself permeates our lives and affects us all.
Unfortunately, in the Czech Republic, the issue of savings is often reduced to supporting renewable energy sources (RES), including the notoriously controversial photovoltaics.
I do not consider photovoltaics controversial, but the past has shown that some parameters of the support for this technology have not been very successful. At the NCEÚ, we want to support and promote the implementation of complex technological solutions in the energy sector and promulgate information about today ́s options, projects, and examples of good practice that we encounter. In Czechia, there is still room for improvement in this area. Many important aspects of modern energy have been limited to support or criticism of RES, particularly photovoltaics. I do not understand how we can argue about this at all and waste time over it. There are so many examples from other countries where it works thanks to effective support; moreover, it will now be supplemented with more funding for us from the EU. It is a clearly defined path to follow. We have to focus on how to logically and meaningfully combine things like photovoltaics, and how to link them to electro mobility or the production of green hydrogen.
You target not only the representatives of towns and municipalities, but also individuals and companies, and advise them how to implement modern energy solutions with minimal costs.
Today, towns and municipalities lack so-called “energy managers“. It is possible to hire experts from consulting companies or by contacting directly the strongest interest association of these companies, which is the Association of the Providers of Energy Services (APES). It is really no longer appropriate to proceed by intuition or good neighborly advice, as it is necessary to bet on expert assessments and consulting, which today has a high level of quality. This will certainly help all those who are trying to figure out how to effectively combine building renovations with the implementation and installation of modern energy solutions.
In the present-day context, where towns and municipalities are short of budget funding from taxes and are beginning to curb their investment plans, Energy Performance Contracting or EPC seems to be the ideal method. It involves the provision of energy services with a guarantee. And it is this very method of providing energy services that can now be used as a way to essentially finance the renovation of real estate owned by towns and municipalities. These can be buildings like town halls, schools, kindergartens, hospitals, nursing homes, or sports halls and swimming pools. The EPC method has the great advantage that the investor does not, in essence, need his own funds to finance his investment plan. Modern energy solutions and implementation of complex technologies are carried out by companies that provide energy services, i.e., an Energy Service Company (ESCO). The savings gained during the operation of the buildings and technology – thanks to a significant reduction in the operating costs of the facilities – are high enough to ensure a return on the investment within the horizon of 8-10 years, whereby the whole investment venture is funded by a subsidy from the EU. There is unprecedented flow of money – billions of Czech crowns coming our way, the key is to understand how to prepare for it. The option of the EU subsidy will often also help to speed up the return on the whole project. And the extra benefit? The customer will enhance the value of his property thanks to the installation of modern technologies. Personally, I believe it is an excellent opportunity for towns and municipalities and would be happy if their representatives were more interested in this method and made use of all its advantages. It is always beneficial to combine several objects into one project, because higher savings can be achieved. The EPC service can also be effective for small municipalities numbering only a few hundred inhabitants, where the elementary school and kindergarten can be included, for example, into a project of public lighting. For a small municipality, such a project can save, say, as much as one million CZK every year.
The NCEÚ also wants to share examples of best practice in the field of energy savings. Which specific realization interested you the most?
There are many examples that demonstrate how well the advantages of the EPC method have been applied in projects involving large buildings or real estate complexes in towns and municipalities. Personally, I was most interested in the excellent EPC project implemented in 30 buildings in nine campuses of the Czech Technical University in Prague (ČVUT), which was completed at the end of 2020 – a total savings of more than CZK 220 million in 11 years! But there are also other examples, such as schools and kindergartens in Zlín, a hospital in Jihlava, and a virtual engineering gem of energy savings involving the reconstruction of the historic building of Rudolfinum in Prague, the seat of the Czech Philharmonic. The possibilities of applying the EPC method in public and state buildings are basically endless, as this is the ideal path for the future.
I am sure this is not the last time we are discussing such an important issue. To conclude, what are your final remarks for our readers?
Designing buildings’ retrofit is a huge business opportunity. I believe there is a huge potential for both public and private sector in this area, even more so when we consider the upcoming regulations. It is important to realize that there is an unprecedented flow of money coming our way and that the key is to understand how to prepare for it. We are talking about a once in a lifetime stimulus for economic recovery.
One of major advantages of NCEÚ is that it consults only experts who deal with these topics from both government as well as private sector standpoint. If you need advice, NCEÚ is here for you.
By Linda Štucbartová