Smart Design, broadly experienced team, European energy certification system and performance-based tenders are essential.
Carlos Bárcena from DIRECTION partner DRAGADOS talks with youris.com about the outlook on nearly-zero energy buildings in Europe.
Do you think there is a real market for nZEBs in Europe in the short term?
It is difficult to say. On the one hand, smart design is increasingly responsible for energy savings in nZEBs, as opposed to expensive technical systems. This encourages the uptake of such buildings since low energy consumption is not necessarily linked to higher construction costs.
On the other hand, clients and end users need to be more aware of the benefits derived from using/living in an nZEB. Besides the sustainability aspects, it is important to enable users to easily translate energy savings into monetary terms.
Furthermore, governments need to be a driving force to enhance market uptake of these buildings, adopting measures such as subsidies for the use of highly sustainable materials or tax relief mechanisms when certain consumption levels are reached.
Do you believe a big construction company such as DRAGADOS would benefit from a higher market share of nZEBs compared to traditional buildings?
Definitely. Dragados has a vast and highly specialised team of technicians with broad expertise in the design assessment, construction and commissioning of all kind of energy efficient buildings. NZEBs are not necessarily more complicated than standard buildings in many of the construction phases, but real experts are needed for certain sensitive phases such as the design check, the analysis of simulation results or the building commissioning.
Which are, according to your expertise, the main regulation barriers currently hampering the design and construction process of nZEBs? How could these barriers be overcome?
At European level, there is no clear (quantifiable) or agreed definition for nZEBs. Even if the European strategy is clear, its implementation locally and nationally is somewhat difficult, uncertain and uneven.
At national level, at least in Spain, energy certification is related to CO2 emissions rather than energy consumption and it is calculated by comparison to a certain reference building. This means that a certain building can be class A and have higher energy and emissions levels than a class B building, simply because the standard building for the class A one is a lot worse in thermal qualities.
Additionally, energy costs are continuing to rise in the fixed part of the final bill (non-consumption dependent), thus reducing the share of variable costs. This makes it difficult to bring consumption levels down and complicates the introduction of renewable energy sources which have now reached levels of maturity to be cost effective.
Overcoming these barriers implies a strong will from European governments. Among other things, governments should harmonise national regulations, provide a clear definition along with figures for nZEBs, and create an energy certification system. Such a system should allow economic savings to be deducted, modify the percentage of fixed and variable energy costs in energy bills, and set up the necessary means to ensure compliance of the regulations, such as performing energy audits to nZEBs to validate the achieved certification.
How do you think sustainability requirements could be integrated into public procurement procedures?
One possibility could be to foster performance-based tenders rather than cost-driven tenders. This could be done by requiring the compliance BREAM standards in public tenders for buildings.
Integrated design process of nZEBs with SMEs and craftsmen: is it possible? How?
SMEs and craftsmen will always be required, as long as they understand that they need to become knowledge- and technology-driven companies rather than low cost companies.
Besides that, integrated design requires the supply chain to be involved from the beginning.
One potential issue related to this is the need to ensure each partner’s IP for the solutions they put forward, so that they feel free to share with the other stakeholders.