e-SAFE and the recast EPBD proposal go hand in hand when it comes to seismic resilience and a fair and just transition towards climate neutrality

In December 2021, the European Commission released its proposal to recast the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) with the purpose of aligning it with the more ambitious climate targets for 2030 and 2050. For the building sector, the goal is to achieve a zero-emission building stock by 2050. The EPBD is being updated in the context of the broader ''Renovation Wave" and is the main policy tool to deliver energy savings and GHG emission cuts in the building sector in a way that benefits EU citizens and businesses.  

Fully decarbonising the EU building stock requires energy renovation at a large scale: almost 75% of the building stock is inefficient and the annual energy renovation rate is persistently low at around 0.4-1.2% depending on the Member State. The EU average rate for deep renovation – i.e. leading to at least 60% energy savings – is only at 0.2% per year. The recast EPBD intends to increase the rates and depth of renovation and introduces important provisions to phase-out the worst-performing buildings and to tackle fuel poverty. Moreover, for the first time, the Commission has suggested a direct link between renovation measures and seismic resilience in the EPBD legislation. These aspects are highly relevant for e-SAFE and are already being considered in the activities of the project’s pilots.

A deep renovation for energy performance purposes also offers a prime opportunity to address other aspects such as living conditions of vulnerable households, increasing resilience against climate change and seismic events. This is a highly timely admission on the Commission’s part. Indeed, nearly 50% of the European territory is earthquake-prone to some degree, posing serious safety risks to the building stock. In seismic countries, energy renovation actions should thus be combined with seismic retrofitting through integrated solutions.

The e-SAFE project aims to contribute to the deep renovation of the EU building stock by developing an innovative, market-ready system that combines decarbonisation goals with earthquake resilience, indoor comfort, reduced implementation time and costs, and affordable financing. It also has the potential to reduce occupants disturbance while also increasing aesthetic and functional attractiveness.

The e-SAFE project is currently developing solutions such as the e-CLT, which scores highly both on the decarbonisation and seismic resistance potential. The technology consists of adding to the outer walls cross laminated timber (CLT) panels, connected to the existing reinforced concrete (RC) frame via seismic energy dissipation devices (dampers). The e-EXOS exoskeleton scores even more highly on the seismic resistance scale and is made of bi- or three-dimensional steel bracings equipped with seismic dampers and connected to the existing RC frame.

To achieve the EPBD recast provision of addressing seismic safety within deep renovation of buildings, this type of integrated solutions must be scaled up on the market. Other important provisions of the EPBD can provide enabling conditions such as information provision and guided renovation advice. The voluntary introduction of the building logbooks and building renovation passports will provide homeowners with a roadmap for long-term, staged renovation. Information about structural safety and recommendations on how to improve it must be included in this renovation advice, as well as in the energy audits offered by one-stop shops.

Furthermore, the EPBD recast iscoherent with policy and measures across EU instruments supporting a socially just transition”. An important provision is the introduction of minimum energy performance standards tackling energy poverty and worst-performing buildings. The introduction of standards would require the renovation of residential building rated class G to reach at least energy performance class F by 2030, and to at least energy performance class E by 2033.

Deep renovation is a complex process that touches on several intertwined aspects: social inequalities, financial challenges, cultural and value systems, ecological goals, technological innovation, rules and procedures, territorial governance, etc. For this reason, e-SAFE sees deep renovation as an opportunity for mutual learning and integrative knowledge: this is why e-SAFE supports the establishment of local platforms in each pilot site. Local platforms are groups of local stakeholders who will both support deep renovation at the building scale and spur awareness on decarbonisation and seismic preparedness at the urban scale.

Working with local platforms is essential to addressing deep renovation as a multi-purpose strategy and answer questions like: From a seismic-energy safety perspective, what are the priority areas of action? How can we support distressed and vulnerable neighbourhoods? What financial models can guarantee fair market mechanisms and redistribution of resources? What are the most operative ways to build a culture of prevention on seismic risk? Currently, the Catania Local Platform is engaging local stakeholders to address these questions and two more local platforms will soon be established in other European cities as e-SAFE concludes a call for two new virtual pilot sites.

Researchers from the University of Catania (one of the e-SAFE project partners) are working together and interacting with the residents of Acquicella Porto to renovate a public housing building, which is the e-SAFE pilot site in Catania, Italy. Throughout the entire renovation process e-SAFE experts ensure that residents get the solutions most suitable for them in terms of energy savings, increase in seismic safety level, aesthetic quality, visual and acoustic comfort. Only through a co-analysis process carried out in each local context can communities deal with the challenges on the way to implementing concrete actions to make them more prepared for seismic events and energy-related problems.

Lessons learnt from the e-SAFE pilots will inform future policies and initiatives, which can contribute to achieving the goals of seismic resilience and decarbonisation of the building stock, while also tackling the growing issue of energy poverty. ‘Leaving no one behind’ in the transition to climate neutrality should not remain a mere slogan, but must be supported by concrete policies and actions.

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