Katarzyna Wardal: Addressing the building renovation challenge in Visegrad countries
How effective renovation programmes can maximise the impact of the next generation of European Union Structural and Investment Funds
A new report reveals how European Union Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) can be leveraged for maximum impact to create future-proof renovation programmes across Eastern Europe.
The report was presented to the European Union by policy experts from Visegrad (V4) countries  and is a key contribution to the debate on the next round of ESIF under the new European Commission as well as the delivery of 2030 energy and climate targets.
The report — More Effective Use Of The 2021-2027 Cohesion Funds For Energy Security of the Visegrad — was accompanied by a comparative study — Buildings For The Visegrad Future —supported by the International Visegrad Fund.
High impact of energy bills on low income families
The study provides an overview of existing public policies that promote building energy efficiency and renovation in individual Visegrad countries.
The need for action is clear. Residential buildings in V4 share many similarities and are extremely energy inefficient with around two-thirds requiring renovation for the first time since being built.
Making the situation even more challenging is the fact that 15 million people — 20% of the Visegrad population — are classified as low income. V4 countries rank among the six EU nations with the highest share of income spent on housing energy bills.
Unfortunately, the study reveals that none of the existing programmes in the region helps vulnerable groups to improve their housing conditions in a systematic way.
Learning from the success of existing programmes
But there is also some good news. Across the region positive examples of renovation programmes have been identified.
For example, the New Green Savings programme from Czechia, remains the flagship subsidy initiative in the Central and Eastern European region, effectively driving energy efficiency investments mainly in the single family home market.
What factors contribute to its success?
1. Investment in promotion pays off. The target group of future aid recipients must be aware that they can apply for subsidies. New Green Savings proves campaigns can pay dividends.
2. Continuous call. Instead of short timeframes to apply for subsidy, a continuous call enables home-owners to invest when it is suitable for them. This allows them time to prepare their application and the assurance that this time will not be wasted because they missed a deadline.
3. Long-term commitment. Ring-fencing EU funds for the long-term is a political commitment that gives home owners certainty and enables them to plan investments. Some people need years to save up final outstanding amounts or to buy their home and then renovate it. Governments should respect the natural renovation cycle.
4. Implementation capacities. Effective administrative teams need to be in place to handle not only incoming applications on time, but also to provide homeowners with consultations and advice.
Redefining renovation success
ESIF are already a major source of funding for the renovation of neglected and energy inefficient building stock in V4 countries. However, the current level of investment is insufficient in terms of the number of buildings renovated or the quality of the work.
The report authors suggest that the success of programmes should be based on the final impact of projects — rather than on the absorption of funding — an approach that would support more efficient spending.
Other recommendations include making state aid rules more feasible for energy efficiency projects and helping Member States reduce the administrative burden on applicants and recipients of EU funds.
Unlocking more financial resources
Achieving the climate and energy targets of the European Union by 2030 requires significant support for the buildings sector and must be reflected in budget allocations.
Governments should focus on securing ESIF support for building renovation in combination with other national policies and incentive programmes to generate the funding needed to renovate 3% of all buildings annually.
Any operations under ESIF should deliver on the measures and objectives laid out in the National Energy and Climate Plans of EU Member States.
It is vital that residential buildings are not forgotten, says the report, as they represent the sector with the greatest potential to save energy, improve energy security, reduce air pollution and improve living conditions across Europe.
 Project consortium includes Buildings for the Future (Slovakia), Chance for Buildings (Czechia), Energiaklub in cooperation with the Hungarian Energy Efficiency Institute (Hungary) and National Energy Conservation Agency (Poland).
About the author:
Katarzyna Wardal is a public affairs professional with several years of experience in energy and climate policies. Since 2017 Katarzyna works as EU Public Affairs Manager at Knauf Insulation. In 2018 she was nominated a Chairwoman of the Advocacy Working Group in the European Alliance to Save Energy (EU-ASE).