20 May 2018
The Data Rush: towards an energy efficient Europe

By Roberta D'Angiolella and Cosmina Marian from the Buildings Performance Institute Europe
Winter 2017


Having the right set of data when designing or renovating a building can be the decisive variable for the success of the project.

Easy-toaccess, transparent and trust-worthy data is indeed useful for a range of actors. For the building manager, to ensure that a building is operated in the most energy effi cient way possible, respecting the original design. For the building designers, to understand the actual performance of buildings and their technologies once they are operational.

For the decision makers in the building sector, who require high-quality data in order to allocate resources to the most cost-effi cient option. Last but not least, different other stakeholder groups, such as financial institutions, require information that can support informed decisions (i.e. green loans).

 

THE DATA GAPS
Despite the importance of having solid and transparent information, the building sector still has to fill many data gaps. For example, the many projects on energy effi cient buildings financed every year by the European Union often include demo cases used to prove the effectiveness of new technology solutions or designs. However, the output data is not centrally collected. Most of the time, the information is lost once the project is closed, hindering dissemination of good practices or lessons learnt, preventing feedback into policy processes and leading to double efforts when a new project is launched.

When designing buildings, transitioning from theory to practice is more difficult than expected: the design is often based on simulations, and when the building is finally operational, there is very little feedback on the theoretical principles.

This leads to the application of techniques and approaches that, despite being theoretically sound, they are also repeatedly badly implemented, due to lack of constructive feedback.

Even the central source of information on the energy performance of the EU building stock, the Energy Performance Certifi cates (EPCs), are not always reliable, because some European countries still lack central databases, and where they have them, these are not necessarily publicly accessible. To add on that, citizens have justifi able privacy concerns. Data should be collected and stored while respecting EU data protection requirements.

 

FILLING THE GAPS...
When it comes to solutions, big steps ahead are being made by several initiatives. One is the Buildings Observatory, launched end of 2016 by the European Commission in an effort to mirror the state of the European building stock. Another interesting initiative is the ExcEED project, whose aim is to create a European database for measured and qualitative data on beyond the state-of-the-art buildings and districts.

... WITH A BUILDING PERFORMANCE MONITORING PLATFORM...
The EU Building Stock Observatory monitors the energy performance of buildings across Europe. It assesses improvements in the energy effi ciency of buildings and impacts on the actual energy consumption of the building sector. The Observatory tracks many different aspects including energy effi ciency levels in buildings at country and EU level, financing possibilities for renovation and energy poverty levels across the EU. The Buildings Observatory managed to gather data from various sources, like EU projects, national statistics, EPC databases, cities' sustainable energy action plans, and industry data. With the multiple sources implemented, the Building Stock Observatory allows for a neutral point of view on data gathering reducing the risk of biased data or false information.

...AND A EUROPEAN PROJECT WITH A KNOWLEDGE DATABASE
While the Buildings Observatory contains data on a wide range of buildings, the Exceed project focuses on a specific category: newly constructed buildings. The "European Energy Efficient building district Database" promises to establish a robust and durable return of knowledge mechanism collecting actual energy performance data. ExcEED provides information to different players, bringing added value in different fields. For example, designers can test their work with regards to a possible performance gap, energy managers can have a better overview on the overall building and its energy efficiency, while policy makers can better guide their work with geolocalised information.

The database will gather and categorise diverse data coming from different sources, including building monitoring systems, projects, building managers, public authorities, other European databases. The innovation lies in the fact that part of the information will be gathered from Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) surveys, developed by the projects itself to integrate the point of view of the occupants.

 

THE STEPS FORWARD
The initiatives named above show that the EU is taking steps in the right direction. At the same time, the gaps in the data collection process prevent a smoother and faster transition to more effi cient buildings, because of biased, incomplete or unavailable data.

Other steps forward are therefore needed. Further technical progress in the fi eld of ICT is extremely helpful. Publicly accessible central databases to collect information and redistribute statistical data should be made available. The aggregated data should also be anonymous, in order to comply with the EU data protection requirements.

To provide much needed data and help increase transparency on the use of public funding, these central databases should be also filled with information coming from Energy Performance Certificates and all publicly funded projects. To do so, EU legislation should require every Member State to establish a national database for registering EPCs.

With a smoother and easier process of data collection, coming from the establishment of central, public and reliable databases, the projects dedicated to making the building stock in the EU more efficient could accelerate and therefore proliferate. In particular, the creation of a publicly available EU database collating anonymised national data would help the European Union to better assess the situation of the building stock and take proper action to reach its local and global energy climate targets.