04 August 2010

Germany Requiring Renewable Energy for Every Building

Buildings are responsible for about one-third of global energy use. But there are many ways to change that equation; strengthening building codes is one clear arena. In my community, for example, 20 years ago, the ceiling "R" (insulation level) requirement was R-13, today it is R-38 (though expert guidance is "at least R-45" and most of us who care about energy strive for above R-50). That sort of change leads to significant reductions in energy use.

Well, the German government has just announced new building codes that will change the landscape when it comes to distributed renewable power: Starting 1 January 2009, all new homes built in German will have to meet 14 percent of total energy consumption for heating and domestic hot water with renewable power.

Heating is a fruitful space for renewable power, especially in new construction, as this can rely on solar thermal heating especially associated with radiant heating systems (whether in radiators or in the floors/walls). Thus, solar hot water systems can easily beat the 14 percent target. In Vermont, a rough corollary for Germany, one can meet 50 percent of home hot water requirements with solar hot water with "excellent architectural flexibility." And the financial payoff for that solar hot water will be relatively quick (dependent on fuel prices, installation cost, etc., perhaps 5-8 years).

Heating buildings is about 40 percent of total German energy consumption with just six percent of that renewable power today. The overall target for 2020 is 14 percent. Thus, starting in 2010, older buildings will require renovation to bring renewable contribution to their heating to at least ten percent.

As per the Renewable Energy reporting, there are a number of things going on with this bill that will help spark action:

Fines of up to 500,000 Euros ($700,000) for failing to meet these requirements;
$350 million Euros / year in subsidies for helping homeowners install renewable energy systems (including solar and wood stoves)
Home energy ratings will be introduced in 2008, which will create a favorable public statement for more efficient buildings.
Baden-Wurttemberg already has a law requiring new buildings provide 20 percent of their heating and hot water requirements from renewable sources.
There is an associated effort to improve home energy efficiency with, for example, increased insulation.
The German government estimates that 1960s homes use four times the energy for heating than a modern, energy-efficient home.

The bill is estimated to have an annual cost across the economy of 31 billion euros per year. But, the 36 billion euros per year in lower bills for coal, oil, and gas will offset this without considering other benefits (such as reduced pollution, reduced requirements to move that coal, oil, gas, etc).

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