Under the European Green Deal, the European Commission has proposed to increase Europe’s climate ambition and significantly reduce carbon emissions – 55% from and 1990 base level – by 2030. Whilst such targets can be set at European level, they are implemented and enforced through national and regional laws and voluntary with projects enacted at the regional and municipal levels.

To support the energy transition, more than 10,000 municipalities have voluntarily signed up to the Covenant of Mayors, developing Sustainable Energy (and Climate) Action Plans (SEAPs or SECAPs). But, there remain many which have not developed such plans, or which are struggling to implement them, as a result of remaining challenges at the local and municipal levels.

Such challenges include a lack of necessary capacity in human resources, difficulties in collaborating and communicating with stakeholders and different levels of government, and uncertainty on how to identify the best projects to implement, build a critical mass of such projects, access finance and cost-effectively ensure implementation. Additionally, local sustainability strategies (such as SEAPs) often stand alone and are not sufficiently implemented into regional frameworks, including European structural and investment fund programmes.

Exchanging experiences for stronger regional policies

In 2014, the State of Rhineland-Palatinate (RLP), in Germany, passed the State Climate Protection Act, containing legally defined climate protection targets to reduce carbon emissions by at least 20% by 2020, compared to the 1990 base year.

In accordance with the law, the climate protection concept of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate was published at the beginning of November 2015. Its main contents are proposals and measures for achieving the climate protection goals set out in the law, but the challenge remains to implement the planned measures.

The state’s Energy Agency (EARLP) noted significant difficulty for municipalities in implementing energy efficiency improvements, recognising that a lack of energy data was a major barrier to identifying possible sustainable energy projects, and that access to funding under its European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) Operational Programme, remained very challenging for municipalities, requiring local climate protection strategies and energy plans, such as SEAPs, for access to funding.

Rhineland-Palatinate, with eight other regions, under the leadership of the Istrian Regional Energy Agency (Croatia) established the SUPPORT project, which aims to improve energy efficiency policy instruments for public buildings in each region, including the Rhineland-Palatinate Operational Programme.

The project has enabled the regions to share good practices and ideas, discuss with and engage their stakeholders, and implement staff exchanges to both increase regional capacity and identify actions that can be implemented in each region to improve energy performance. 

Twenty-six good practices were identified in the project for how municipalities can improve their energy performance, and which were deemed to be suitable for transfer to other regions. For Rhineland-Palatinate, four practices were particularly promising, providing inspiration for new regional actions:

EMIS – Energy Management Information System (Croatia) is a nation-wide web application for monitoring, analysing and verifying energy and water consumption data in the public sector. Measuring and benchmarking energy performance is an essential first-step for identifying where interventions are most needed. Its use is a legal obligation for all municipalities, and can accept data automatically (from e-meters) and manually. The data is centrally collected, but can be accessed and analysed regionally.

SMIV – System for Monitoring and Verification of Energy Savings (Croatia) is used to calculate and analyse energy savings in public buildings. It incorporates national, regional and local energy action plans and planning instruments to enable users to generate plans and calculate energy savings under a common methodology, continuously monitored by the national energy agency. A simple user interface enables easy upload of energy savings.

ANERGO – The Alba Energy Observatory (Romania) facilitates aggregation of, and access to, energy data for municipalities to devise, implement and monitor SEAPs, as well as encouraging public participation on their implementation and monitoring via a web platform. The platform supports fifteen municipalities in Romania who have signed up to the Covenant of Mayors to devise their SEAPs;

Full Scale Energy Performance Contracting (Sweden) as used in Kalmar Municipality is an EPC approach for renovating a bundle of public buildings as a single global project. It takes a three stage approach of data collection and building selection, implementation (including tendering and contracting), and monitoring of performance. Bundling buildings has facilitated economies of scale, simplified administrative processes and made the proposition more attractive for contractors.

The project exchanges enabled by the project have resulted in Action Plans being developed for each region, totalling twenty-five actions in the nine regions, which will lead to real change on the ground and contribute further to Europe’s decarbonisation goals. The regional action plan for Rhineland-Palatinate contains three actions intended to improve the region’s energy efficiency performance, on energy data and financing, which are now being implemented.

Implementing the Rhineland-Palatinate Action Plan

Drawing lessons from ANERGO, EARLP was inspired to launch the KomBiReK project, which offers free software to municipalities for determining energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as climate protection portals to act as communications tools for informing and involving citizens in sustainable energy strategy development. In particular, ANERGO inspired EARLP to engage municipalities and regional authorities with user agreements, and training and coaching activities to encourage use of the software, which offers detailed reports, whose data can be accessed by the public.

As well as inspiration from Romania, KomBiReK was defined in collaboration with local stakeholders, engaged via SUPPORT, and the project enabled the Energy Agency to access funds under the Operational Programme, with the project funded by the ERDF, state and own funds. As of November 2020, 47% of rural districts and independent towns, 37% of association communities, and 242 small municipalities in Rhineland-Palatinate are using the tool.

To finance renovation of buildings, EARLP is exploring Energy Performance Contracting, drawing lessons from Kalmar’s experiences, and is following the same three stage approach and bundling several buildings together into a global project. Initially, the region is using only a pilot community, working with a single municipality, before scaling up to others by providing them with materials and evidence generated from the pilot. Starting in January 2020, data acquisition of building performance has now been performed for municipal properties, and the process of tendering out for the EPC will shortly begin. As well as inspiring the project, SUPPORT’s stakeholder group, which involved state-level decision-makers, has enabled the project development to be funded under the ERDF.

Finally, the Energy Agency is implementing a new comprehensive and standardised energy management approach, inspired by both EMIS and SMIV. Unlike Croatia, which has a legal obligation for municipalities to use EMIS, RLP has no such legal framework. As such, the new approach will be voluntarily piloted in the National Park Region Hunsrück-Hochwald, to help the municipalities better identify energy savings potentials.

The municipalities will jointly tender one energy management solution and energy metres, whilst EARLP engages with the State’s environment ministry (MUEEF) to create a new legal framework and adapt existing funding programmes to roll out to new municipalities. An initial challenge was that of data transfer, with poor mobile phone coverage in the region. This was tackled by setting up a new WLAN network across the community. In addition to the ERDF funding, the pilot municipalities receive funding from the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. The installation of the digital recording and evaluation of the data is funded by the federal government.

Mareen Kilduff, of the Energy Agency Rhineland-Palatinate is clear on the expected impacts of SUPPORT in the region. 'A profitability calculation showed that the potential savings for the municipalities will amount to between 10 and 20% of the annual energy costs. In the specific case of the municipalities in the National Park region this means annual savings of around 150,000 EUR in the long term. This exceeds the funds to be used. In the best case, the municipalities will generate a financial benefit of almost two million EUR within ten years, due to the exchange within SUPPORT.'

To explore more about the SUPPORT project, visit the project website, its good practices, library and brochure on Energy Management on Germany.

Image credit: Photo by Pixabay from Pexels