Energy

Urban areas are responsible for 75% of greenhouse gas emissions and for 80% of global energy consumption. With a global trend towards urbanisation, these figures are only expected to increase. Buildings are responsible for a large share of this carbon footprint, accounting for 40% of total energy consumption in the European Union, more than half of which comes from the residential sector.

As a consequence, cities and their buildings are on the frontline when it comes to mitigating the impacts of climate change and decarbonising the world economy. Low-carbon technologies, renewable energy sources (RES) and improved energy efficiency in buildings will be critical to any effort to diminish the carbon footprint left by our ever expanding urban societies. With estimates showing that approximately 75% of the current EU building stock will still be standing in 2050, it is easy to understand why existing buildings are the primary energy efficiency challenge.

Given the climate and energy efficiency benefits offered by low-carbon technologies and RES, these seem the obvious choice for cities when it comes to reducing their carbon emissions. However, the market penetration of these technologies remains limited, while conventional energy sources appear to be highly resilient to change. This can be explained by the relative novelty of low-carbon technologies and RES, which means that urban projects attempting to implement these types of solutions are faced with a number of barriers.

It is, therefore, of paramount importance for public authorities at all levels to promote energy efficiency improvements and the implementation of low-carbon technologies and RES in urban areas. If investment in this sector is to be stimulated, it will be necessary to tackle the regulatory, financial, social and technical barriers faced by these technologies. There are specific national and European Union financial instruments that are being put into place and adjusted to properly address these challenges. By using the right policy framework, the EU and national governments can play a crucial role in promoting energy efficiency and enabling more investment in the building sector.

Social

Social
Location
Encountered barriers
Solution

The biggest barrier was the dependence on fossil fuels in the form of natural gas, which, coupled with a lack of awareness about alternative energy sources, led to a resistance to change.

A great deal of consultation and planning was required before the first geothermal energy system was operational in 2011. Once finished, it not only saved costs for additional interventions, but also served as a best practice example for industry and tourism.

Significant retrofitting measures could not take place because the owners of the private properties regarded them as not cost-effective compared to the new geothermal district network.

The energy-demand target to be reached by the retrofitting measures had to be reduced to gain acceptance amongst the buildings’ owners. In addition, the local administration had committed to implementing an extensive energy renovation on one or more of the public buildings in the Montieri municipality if the penetration of retrofitting measures on private buildings proved to be low.

Limited experience in the field of energy efficiency and large-scale photovoltaic operation.

National and international initiatives to train local architects, installation companies and construction companies on energy-efficient building development were launched. The topics included how to become a passive house planner, details and rules in passive house construction, etc.

Financial & Economic

Financial & Economic
Location
Encountered barriers
Solution

There are a number of risks linked to geothermal energy system operations that may have an impact on the environment:

  • exploitation of geothermal wells can lead to a drawdown of groundwater;
  • drilling operations can lead to freshwater hazards and well blowouts;
  • as part of the operation of geothermal systems, solved solids and geothermal brine are brought to the surface water.

This can be resolved by re-injecting groundwater after the thermal energy is transferred. There are already examples of injection techniques applied in Hungary to reduce the risks. Furthermore, an injection of geothermal fluid is neither financially incentivised, nor legally obligatory. The establishment of an overarching national policy on injection as part of a sustainable operation of geothermal systems is advised. Injection would also replace expensive and complex water treatment processes.

The procedures of the environmental impact assessment report, including the time needed for its preparation and the duration until an agreement was met with the authorities and public consultants, was considered to be too long by the investors.

The long payback periods require considerable public support to attract private investments for any part of the project.

Challenges

Challenges
Location
Description
Country: Hungary
Project: GEOCOM

Financial barriers to the introduction of additional uses of geothermal energy are the weak Hungarian economy caused by global economic recession, an unstable legal environment concerning land concessions and energy policy, and missing sector-specific financial measures. A difficulty arises with the fact that if the geothermal system is set up in a sustainable way, including injection wells, the drilling costs are higher compared to a business-as-usual situation, which can reduce the value for investors.

Country: Hungary
Project: GEOCOM

Regulatory barriers in relation to fiscal policy include the increase and yearly fluctuation of water fees, as well as the preference to use geothermal water for medicinal rather than energy purposes, according to the Ministry of Environmental and Water Conservation Affairs.

Country: Hungary
Project: GEOCOM

One of the interventions at the demonstration site in Mórahalom is the installation of a heat pump to further increase the independence from natural gas as the main energy carrier. According to the project partners, the heat pump will not be running at full capacity for a few years due to the rather warm winters recently and the smaller energy demand. Further residential building construction is planned, thus providing potential consumers in the future. Nevertheless, the maintenance of the heat pump is currently causing unintended annual expenditures. On the other hand, a heat pump system coupled with geothermal water use is an innovative approach with a possible high-efficiency level. Currently, this kind of system configuration can neither be found in Hungary nor elsewhere in central eastern Europe.

Country: Italy
Project: GEOCOM

The main challenges were the civil works in the narrow streets of the historic town centre and all the related interferences (structural damage and modification of building foundations, temporary blocking of entrances, placement of geothermal pipework equipment). As the municipality had to renovate other infrastructures at the same time there was an increased administrative and coordination effort.

Best Practices

Best Practices
Location
Description
Country: Italy
Project: GEOCOM

With regard to geothermal energy use it was favourable that no new boreholes had to be drilled. Consequently, concerns about the risk of water and soil contamination among the general population could be avoided.