Few times throughout history has the world started to walk in the same direction. Climate change has made most countries pursue the same goals: curb the devastating effects of extreme temperatures and build carbon-neutral economies.
The energetic change is necessary. And at this time, in addition, its prominence has been increased by exorbitant prices driven by demand, after the recovery from the crisis caused by Covid, and by the conflict in Ukraine.
The reduction of the environmental impact goes through an efficient use of energy and alternative sources. But the benefit does not stop here; the savings on the bill is remarkable and has very positive effects on the health and well-being of society.
Technological development is the main ally in this new energy context; In lighting, great progress has been made with multiple possibilities in areas such as construction or urban mobility.
Under these ideas, the breakfast organized by CincoDías was developed with the collaboration of Signify under the title Towards a carbon neutral economy: a question of efficiency.
Spain has been working for the energy transition for more than a decade, “but there is extraordinary potential for improvement,” said Francisco Javier Martín, general director of Housing and Land of the Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda. Specifically, since 2014 improvements are being applied in terms of energy efficiency in the rehabilitation of buildings, and at this time the “target is 30,000 homes per year to reach the 300,000 set by the Commission for 2030,” explains Martín.
But it is necessary that the demand is reactivated. At present, “there are direct aids, improvements in financing conditions and tax benefits”. “The message has to reach the citizens.” “The conditions are unrepeatable and the result will affect their quality of life,” says the Government representative.
All in one
Francisco Falcone, director of the Smart Cities Institute of the Public University of Navarra, pointed out that the situation requires will and effort from all parties. “There has to be public-private collaboration, political support, an economic effort and social adoption.”
The term smart city, intelligent city, is not new either, and the purposes it pursues coincide with the energy efficiency applied in urban environments (transport, waste management, health industry, buildings…). “Everything that requires energy consumption should move in the same direction,” says Falcone. “The important thing is that there is technology available to achieve it in different degrees of maturity that allow energy savings in any case,” he adds.
Falcone agrees that, despite the benefits and possibilities of energy efficiency, “there are doubts in society”, and training may be required. “Citizens have to play a very active role. It is useless to have the means if we do not believe it”, he underlines.
Josep M. Martínez, president and general manager for Spain and Portugal of Signify (a company that has been carbon neutral since September 2020), expressed some concern regarding the progress made: “We have been talking about transition for years; COP26 has been held and we are approaching COP27, but we have done little. To achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 we must take action.”
Funds as leverage
With European funds (Next Generation EU) a unique opportunity has been created to relaunch the change. “We must find the appropriate channels to reach citizens, so that they understand the benefits and that their energy bill can be reduced while improving the quality of the environment where they live,” says the Signify manager.
The vision of the municipalities was provided by Pablo Hermoso de Mendoza, mayor and president of the Logroño City Council and president of the Spanish Network of Smart Cities (RECI). “There are four important challenges: the regulatory framework has to allow municipalities to undertake specific actions without legal obstacles; Training of technicians in local entities is required, since in the municipalities there are not so many; property administrators have to convince the communities of the advantages, and related sectors such as construction must assimilate that these are improvements in every way”.
Acciona achieved carbon neutrality in 2016, and was the first company in the world in the energy and infrastructure sectors to do so. It has long maintained a firm commitment to renewables. “Demand is a fundamental part of the value chain of the energy transition,” says Elena González, director of energy services at Acciona Energía.
In his opinion, “energy efficiency provides a solution to climate change and also to energy costs, and that is where we have to start making very serious proposals to modify processes that make use of a scarce good, a good such as energy and that we are seeing that it is key at this moment with the conflict between Ukraine and Russia”.
González draws attention to the almost 100% fossil dependency of Spain. The trade deficit for energy products increased in 2021 to 25,325 million euros, 74.3% more, and represented 96.7% of the trade gap. With the funds “the way of doing things can be structurally changed, but the client must understand it”, explains González.
And in this sense, Francisco Javier Martín is “optimistic” with the process of acceptance by society. “The rehabilitation of homes is one of the few things that citizens can do in the energy transition. As soon as he experiences it, he is going to sue him.” In his opinion, comprehensive approaches must be made (windows that isolate noise, energy savings…). To give an account of the advantages that are derived, he gives an example: “Investing in a building in which the cost is 28,000 euros per home, with the direct aid that exists at the moment it would drop to 19,000 euros, and with the tax reduction , at 3,600 euros”. “To this we must add a soft and long-term financing offer, and that the savings are from the first day”.
If this same example is extrapolated to cities, the advantages are multiplied. “Perhaps we are at the beginning of the enormous qualitative leap that is going to take place in the next three decades”, adds Martín.
As an opportunity, Pablo Hermoso de Mendoza mentions the schools. “There are many that were built in the sixties and seventies and that require comprehensive rehabilitation. Likewise, there is potential in the older sports facilities.” “The market exists. The municipalities are going to have a great framework of opportunities and it is going to be important to choose well”.
Francisco Javier Martín comments that public administrations that are not fast may lose the opportunity to make use of European funds since they will be redirected towards those that are. “Those who catch on quickly can create inertia,” he asserts.
The reality, a revulsive
Precisely, another of the latent problems that experts contemplate in order to bring the benefits of energy efficiency to reality is the time factor. “When you demonstrate to a community the facilities of the funds with numbers, they want it for now. But you have to go through the autonomous communities and the town halls to reach the final customer, and that’s where we get stuck”, recognizes Elena González. “We have made a commitment to participate in energy rehabilitation, but we have to make the procedure work, and not only in the residential area, but also in public buildings,” she concludes.
For Josep Martínez it is essential to know the cost of climate change. “You have to put it on the scale and consider what it would mean not to stop it,” he says. In parallel, he says that in Spain there are about eight million points of light in cities and only 30% have efficient technology.
The technological development of lighting is having great results. Martínez describes that in cities it is possible to take advantage of “the ally of the sun” and “create hybrid solutions that combine natural light with the current network”, or reductions in consumption using high-efficiency LEDs with sensors that offer optimal lighting based on the need for pedestrians and vehicles.
Also, positive effects on health are achieved. For example, lighting with UVC technology has the ability to disinfect the air, surfaces or objects in a few minutes, and has multiple applications (offices, hospitals, public transport, schools…). In the same way, it has been possible to adapt it to the biological circadian cycle, coming to provide solutions to problems of insomnia, attention or depression, among others.
- Schools. Pablo Hermoso de Mendoza explains that educational centers have a relevant role in the energy transformation. “There are schools, such as in Navarra and La Rioja, that have included sustainability as a subject of study, and this is a way of committing young people to energy saving. This has a multiplier effect, because when they get home they have a specific way of acting and they assume a commitment. The educational work in this sense is very important”.
- Posts. Waste recycling has permeated society and there are already many households that divide the waste they generate. “But in the energy field this effect has not been achieved; the message has not arrived”, affirms Elena González. In her opinion, more publicity about energy saving is needed, and not only from the point of view of residential housing. “It would be interesting to allocate part of the funds to carry out a campaign and make people understand what can be achieved,” she adds.
- cities. Lighting accounts for 13% of the electricity bill worldwide, and in large cities it can reach 50%, according to data provided by Signify. That is why Francisco Martín affirms that it is in “the big cities where the greatest synergies can be achieved”. Josep Martínez points out that the total expenditure could be reduced to 8% by being energy efficient. “It is an important substantial saving that is in our hands.”
- Technology. “It is necessary to make a more comfortable control of light in industry and housing”, comments the director of Signify. It affects the cycle of life, of animals, of plants. It is not the same to use it when watching television, reading, working… “Sensor technology is advancing enormously”, he summarizes.