NextGenerationUE: Millions of euros to transform cities in Spain | Urban Beings | Future Planet

The European Union is working hard to achieve the goal of being climate neutral by 2050: this is the central challenge of the European Green Deal. For this, it is necessary to define urban strategies and territorial and socioeconomic development in which decarbonization actions, energy improvement and digital transition are promoted.

In addition, in response to the crisis caused by covid-19, the European Union has launched a package of extraordinary measures with the intention of helping to repair the immediate economic and social damage caused by the pandemic. NextGenerationUE is a temporary recovery instrument that will provide support to finance the actions defined in the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan (PRTR), presented by the Government of Spain on April 30, 2021 and approved by the European Commission on June 16 of 2021.

The public investment planned for the first phase of reforms and detailed investments in the PRTR will be for a total of 70,000 million euros. Approximately 40% of the aid is destined to the green transformation, with a direct effect on the city and, of these, 6,820 million will be destined to the rehabilitation of housing and urban regeneration. The receipt of the first tranches of these recovery funds is already effective, although it is expected that it will be from the beginning of 2022 when the autonomous communities activate the calls for aid in their areas of competence, such as housing.

The PRTR seeks, among other issues, a specific boost to actions to improve the energy efficiency of homes in our cities and rehabilitation, in terms of neighborhood and building, reinforcing the Energy Rehabilitation Strategy in the Building Sector in Spain (ERESEE 2020).

Improving the energy efficiency of homes plays a key role for the reactivation of the construction and real estate sector, and for the fulfillment of European and national commitments in terms of achieving climate neutral and energy self-sufficient cities, reducing emissions and energy consumption.

This approach becomes more important if we take into account that, at present, the percentage of energy inefficient homes in Spain is extremely high: if we are guided by the current ratings, 84.5% of residential buildings have very high energy consumption and, on the contrary, those that achieve the best qualification do not reach 0.3%. In other words, there is a very high potential for optimization.

84.5% of residential buildings have a very high energy consumption and those with the best rating do not reach 0.3%

This potential is related to the age of the building. More than half of the housing stock, specifically 54.1%, was built before 1979, the date on which the energy behavior of homes would be regulated for the first time.

There are studies that show the correspondence between the constructive solutions used in habitable buildings and their energy behavior, differentiating by sections of the year of construction depending on the current regulations or constructive solutions adopted. But this space for improvement is also determined by other variables, such as the form factor, the percentage of voids in the envelope or the climatic zone and orientation of the dwellings.

Considering these types of factors is not usual when defining energy rehabilitation policies with certain guarantees. However, it becomes an important determining factor, especially considering that the energy savings that are potentially going to be obtained provide the necessary information on the viability of the action. The planned aid is aimed at achieving concrete actions to improve the home. It is essential to know its scope if we want to solidly qualify for these grants.

To define meaningful urban strategies, in this context of a wave of renewal in Europe, it is necessary to move in two directions:

1. New evaluation methods. In the first place, knowledge of new methods for evaluating energy improvement and residential environments is necessary, which are of interest to the different agents involved: architects, engineers, environmentalists, property managers or social workers …

Making these methods available is crucial, because it allows defining urban rehabilitation strategies and policies on a double scale. On the one hand, in terms of a building or block of flats, transforming them, in accordance with the established normative criteria, into blocks of almost zero consumption. On the other hand, at the neighborhood or city level, objectively determining priority areas in which to optimize energy use.

Some working groups have already advanced in the knowledge to have calculation methods and protocols that allow them to know before their intervention, quickly, accurately and at any level of disaggregation. These innovative methods are based on geographic information technologies and taking the cadastre as the main data source, without having to apply, individually for each of the houses considered, the verification of the Technical Building Code through tools of recognized energy certification.

2. Coordinated actions. Second, it is necessary to improve the definition of coordinated actions from the different bodies that manage the aid. This is precisely one of the fundamental reasons why the figure of rehabilitation support offices has been created, which, among others, will be coordinated through professional associations of architects throughout the national territory.

And is that the need for these coordinated actions is threefold. They are necessary to know the innovative evaluation methods referred to above, expanding their management and application in projects for the evaluation and energy improvement of buildings. They are also necessary to know good practices and cases that allow having sufficient resources to solve the current problems derived from the rehabilitation activity. And still, closing this triple need, they are necessary to master the processes and models of aid management.

Faced with the shared challenge of being able to enjoy climate-neutral cities in 2050, it is essential to know the technical and regulatory adaptations necessary to exercise the professional activity related to building rehabilitation in the context of the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan.

It is essential, above all, for those competent technicians who effectively advise the client in the request and management of aid that allow not only to improve the climatic behavior of their home and the environmental conditions of the urban environment, but also to reduce excess energy and, consequently, its financial expense.

If we manage to train and update our professional qualifications to meet these needs, the application of the acquired content will be immediate, since the network and professional activity of all agents related to rehabilitation will be expanded.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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