The EU has adopted the 2030 Climate and Energy Framework, setting targets of 40% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, a 32% share of renewables, and at least a 32.5% improvement in energy efficiency, with targets to be strengthened under the new European Green Deal. 

Cities and towns can play their role through local actions, including within the framework of the Covenant of Mayors, wherein 10,000 municipalities have committed to develop Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Plans (SECAPs), transforming their energy performance. But instruments should not only target citizens and businesses, local authorities themselves can lead the way, improving performance in their own buildings and encouraging behaviour change in their own employees. 

Public authorities are major users of energy, managing administration buildings, hospitals, schools, public lighting and other public energy users. For many regions, their starting point is the energy renovation of their own buildings, using public funds, including European Structural and Investment Funds. But as well as renovation, there are a number of other actions that local authorities can implement to improve their energy performance, including energy bill optimisation, energy monitoring and behaviour change efforts with their staff. 

Monitoring performance of municipal buildings

It is often said that you cannot manage what you cannot measure, and this is certainly true of energy performance. Measuring and monitoring energy performance is vital for reducing carbon emissions and improving efficiency, by identifying where performance is suboptimal and where interventions are required.

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) has developed an online reporting and monitoring programme, for collecting and analysing data on the energy performance of public bodies and buildings. All public authorities are obliged to report on their energy performance, providing data to the SEAI annually via the programme website.

SEAI assesses and analyses the data, and provides this to the public authorities, including a benchmark against the performance of others, enabling them to devise strategic interventions to meet their targets. The system is now used by more than 97% of public bodies in Ireland, and since starting it has saved over one billion EUR in energy and 3.56 million tonnes of CO2 emissions. Whilst the programme is a country-wide measure, it can also be replicated on smaller scale for groups of municipalities.

The power of scale

Since public authorities account for a significant percentage of regional spending, there is significant scope to shape local markets through their spending decisions and pooling of resources under an umbrella organisation.

In Spain, REDEJA, the Andalusian Government Administration Energy Network, promotes energy efficiency and renewable energy use in public authorities, by centrally managing the energy performance of government buildings and promoting efficiency in contracting energy services. The network brings together 116 entities, with more than 4,000 buildings, and an analysis of their energy performance revealed high potential for both economic and energy savings in the buildings of the Andalusian Government and its related entities.

Bringing all assets together has enabled the creation of a critical mass, reducing the transaction costs for individual actions, delivering savings for all involved. By pooling resources, REDEJA has performed 360 audits, funding 52 training courses and more than 2,700 interventions to deliver an accumulated saving of 110 million EUR, and 13,200 tonnes of CO2 emissions every year. 

The Regional Energy Company of Lucana (Italy), has also explored the power of scale by taking on the responsibility of negotiating energy contracts for its local authorities and public facilities. The company acts as a Central Purchasing Body, aggregating energy demand and managing public bidding contests to identify the provider that can provide cheapest energy, whilst also meeting conditions for clean energy provision. The scale of the contracts are more attractive for providers, resulting in more competitive bids, whilst the streamlined administrative service, provided by a single office, reduces costs and burden for the local authorities. 

Changing staff behaviour

As well as the need to make physical interventions, changing the behaviour of staff is also essential for reducing energy use. The most efficient installations can still be wasteful if not used correctly.

In Southeast Sweden, the [email protected] project targeted public sector workers in fourteen public sector buildings to encourage them to make day-to-day changes in their behaviour. The programme took a competitive approach, pitting building against building, to see which could achieve most savings. Each building established an energy team to drive the process forward, who were also equipped with tips and materials for training and influencing staff. The project was not resource intensive, requiring just some management and material costs, but achieved an energy saving of 10% across the involved buildings.

The above-mentioned good practices were shared with the Interreg Europe community by the projects EMPOWER, SUPPORT and LOCARBO. Many more are available on their websites. Moreover, you can find more good practices and recommendations in the Policy Learning Platform policy briefs related to governance and behaviour change.

Image credit: Photo by Burst from Pexels