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For more than a decade, the European Union (EU) has been requiring to provide energy performance certificates (EPCs) when buildings are built, sold or rented. Buildings are rated on a scale from G to A++, which indicates their energy performance and additionally provides information on how much it will cost to insulate and maintain a building. Starting 2021, new buildings must be designed to meet the highest standard of A++ . However, according to researchers at KTU's Faculty of Civil Engineering and Architecture (FCEA), this system needs to be improved to take into account changes in the construction sector and to harmonize systems across the EU.
Pradėtos „Eikos“ biurų pastato „Flow“ Vilniuje statybos
Pradėtos „Eikos“ biurų pastato „Flow“ Vilniuje statybos

Experts believe that certification plays an important role as a transparent information tool for building owners and those involved in real estate and is one of the most important sources of information on energy efficiency in the EU building stock. In Lithuania, non-renovated apartment blocks reach energy classes E-F, while after renovation, most of them reach class C. There are also exceptional examples where A+ class is achieved after renovation.

In the EU, buildings account for an estimated 40% of total energy consumption and 36% of greenhouse gas emissions. The European Parliament and Council Directives on the energy performance and energy efficiency of buildings have been created to improve the energy efficiency of buildings.

In September, the event "Build Back Smarter: the digital potential of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive" discussed the digital potential and sustainability of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive.

During the event, Kerstin Jorna, Director General of DG Grow at the European Commission, said that the current environment offers great opportunities for business, both in terms of job creation through the renovation of buildings in the EU (over 75% of buildings in Europe are below standard), as well as in terms of reducing heating bills for residents and contributing to reducing CO2 emissions. Mrs Jorna stressed that activities in the construction sector related to modern technologies, which can contribute to the digitalization and smart management of buildings, will play a special role.

More indicators are proposed

However, according to the researchers, the energy performance certificate currently in use does not cover many of the important topics, such as sustainability issues, energy savings, reducing the CO2 footprint, and ensuring people's quality of life. It is increasingly being argued that the current standards should change to take into account these aspects and the digitalisation process. Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) researchers are also contributing to the development of the new system.

"We are currently working with international partners from Greece, Germany, Spain, Netherlands, Austira and Cyprus on a project funded by the EU Horizon 2020 programme. The project is called "Next Generation Digital Dynamic Energy Performance Certification of Buildings for Consumer Awareness and Quality (D^2EPC)", where we aim to develop a new dynamic certification system that addresses the entire life cycle of a building, taking into account issues of sustainability, comfort, and energy savings," said Lina Šeduikytė, a researcher from KTU FCEA.

Lina Šeduikytė
Lina Šeduikytė
© KTU archyvas

According to Šeduikytė, the new dynamic model currently under development is proposed to incorporate aspects of the Smart Readiness Indicators (SRI), indoor air quality assessment, Life Cycle Analysis (LCA), financial penalties/ awards, Building Information Modelling (BIM) and digital twins, as well as GIS. The digitization of EPCs would allow to streamline processes and provide user-friendly and comprehensive information.

"The introduction of new indicators related to indoor air quality and comfort will make the EPCs a more comprehensive document with a positive impact on user attitudes and behaviour. For example, the use of SRI could increase awareness of the benefits of smart buildings, especially in terms of energy consumption, and encourage consumers to adopt advanced technologies in construction," says Šeduikytė.

The construction sector is increasingly adopting BIM technologies, with or without incentives from public authorities, but most EU countries do not yet use BIM or other digital documents to issue certificates, as it is not mandatory. Belgium and the Netherlands are planning to develop methodologies for BIM use for EPCs calculations in the coming years.

The challenge is to harmonize systems and digitization models

Researchers have already carried out an analysis of existing legal frameworks in EU countries. Despite the positive contribution of the current certificate to improving the energy performance of buildings, the current situation in EU countries has revealed many limitations.

"A holistic framework is needed to strengthen and improve the quality and use of certificates, introducing new and cost-effective methods for assessing the energy performance of buildings and systems and harmonising systems. Most EU countries have national databases with validated assessment templates. But there are exceptions; for example, Romania does not have standard templates, so experts upload EPCs in different formats", says Šeduikytė.

The renewal of certificates can be linked to the selection of additional new indicators. As mentioned above, it has become clear that most EU countries do not use BIM or other digital tools to issue them. It would be useful to issue EPCs based on real-time data and advanced tools integrated into BIM.

Sustainability in the construction sector – mission possible

Awareness and responsibility in modern society are on the rise, which is reflected in the companies' activities. More and more of businesses are challenging themselves to reduce their CO2 footprint in their processes and to become leaders in sustainability.

In the construction process, there is a need to move towards a comprehensive assessment of the environmental performance of buildings and to broaden the understanding of the real environmental impact of buildings. For this purpose, the use of Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) and specially selected indicators is proposed. This assessment could offer designers and engineers the opportunity to improve the environmental performance of a building at the initial design stage. LCA allows the environmental impact of any system to be assessed throughout its entire life cycle: from the extraction of the materials, through production, to use and recovery/reuse.

"The idea behind the project is to develop a set of new indicators and advanced technologies to enable a dynamic EPCs concept that allows real-time monitoring of building data and reacting to changes in the building's energy efficiency and other parameters. It is proposed to introduce advanced financial schemes based on awards (e.g. tax decrease) for building owners who exceed EPCs expectations or penalties for those who do not meet the class requirements.

In the overall context, it is clear that the use of BIM is inevitable due to the simplified procedures for data collection. The D^2EPC project concept is expected to turn EPCs into a convenient, reliable and cost-effective and informative tool for the general public (building occupants, owners) and professionals (designers, engineers, building managers)", says Šeduikytė, a researcher at KTU FCEA.

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