Buildings account for about 40 percent of annual global carbon emissions. In order to meet our climate goals, every building on the planet will have to be net-zero by 2050. But since most of the current buildings will still exist then, a massive number of homes will have to undergo retrofits in order to cut energy use and replace outdated equipment such as gas furnaces.
Retrofitting old homes on a massive scale
In Europe, that number stands at 15,000 houses per day over the next 30 years, according to estimates. In a bid to ensure that target is actually met, a Dutch nonprofit called Energiesprong (which translates to “energy jump”) is developing solutions that could enable home retrofits on a massive scale.
As part of the project, a company called RC Panels makes lightweight insulated panels in a factory. After manufacturing, those panels can be easily installed on existing facades of row houses. To gauge the correct dimensions of the old building, the company uses a laser scanning tool. Then, at the factory, a machine cuts out windows and doors which are then installed directly on the walls of existing buildings. The company also makes insulated roofing panels, integrated with solar panels, that can be attached to old roofs.
Other firms participating in the program include vendors that supply heat pumps for heating, cooling, and hot water. The energy-saving retrofits that are part of Energiesprong’s coordinating system are much faster than traditional retrofits, some of them taking no longer than a day.
“Everything should be in a kind of plug-and-play installable so that you save labor and labor costs,” says Christian Richter, who works for the nonprofit’s market development team in Germany. “In Europe, you don’t have enough labor. So you don’t have enough construction capacity to do it in an old-fashioned way… We do have a big industrial sector, and there’s the capacity that they could produce panels instead of car parts, for example, as this whole sector changes in the future.”
Huge energy savings
So far, Energiesprong has retrofitted more than 5,700 homes in the Netherlands, saving them significant energy costs and preparing them for a more climate-friendly future. In some cases, the retrofitting process has decreased the energy use of houses and apartments by nearly 80 percent, with the solar panels covering the remaining energy use. The concept is now expected to be adopted in other parts of the world, including the UK, France, Germany, and the United States.