27 September 2019

In affordable housing, digital technology is a key lever of energy renovation strategies

After several years’ involvement in the energy renovation of their assets, affordable housing providers are banking on digital methods to optimize construction costs, enable mass renovation, and improve consumption management. Cedric Van Styvendael, head of the “La Ville Autrement” consortium and President of Housing Europe, takes us through the issues that need tackling and the solutions to be followed up.

What conclusions can we draw today on energy renovation programmes for French and European housing stock?

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In terms of volume, affordable housing is the sector with the greatest energy renovation activity, which is quite normal given the main issues: lower consumptions, moderated tenants’ utility bills, and preservation of assets.

In Europe, two million homes were renovated between 2010 and 2015, accounting for €36bn of work. In France, dwellings are being renovated at the rate of 100–150 thousand a year, but there’s still a long way to go: there are still around a million energy-squandering homes (E, F, or G rating) in the affordable housing stock.

The energy renovation bill is steep—roughly €40–50k per home—and offers no visible improvement in the tenant’s eyes. Moreover, although energy savings are substantial with a 40–50% decrease in running costs, not to mention  the gain in comfort, it takes a long time for the savings to offset the cost. Current public funding, however, does not take full account of that aspect, meaning housing providers must be especially innovative in raising funds to pay for mass renovation.

Is the use of digital technologies a good approach for optimizing renovation costs?

Yes, it is a good approach. At last summer’s Social Housing Festival in Lyon, organized by Housing Europe in conjunction with Lyon Métropole and AuRA HLM, we highlighted an outstanding operation conducted in the scope of the European “Energy Sprong” programme. A renovation programme was initiated in March in Vaulx-en-Vélin near Lyon, whereby 1000 homes will be renovated over 18 months, a record lead time. This programme, the first of its size in Europe, will enable BBC (low-energy building) accreditation. It was designed entirely using BIM, enabling a new approach to refurbishing that is quicker, offers higher quality, and is better for the environment, not least through the use of local biosourced materials. This operation sets the tone for the housing providers must adopt: order aggregation to develop local channels and short circuits during construction, innovative design and construction technologies, and other advances to reduce renovation costs without compromising on quality.

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The ARALIS foundation’s Pressencé residence in Villeurbanne, where consumption management solutions have already been implemented.

Do these renovations incorporate connected systems for monitoring buildings and dwellings?

Energy renovation cannot succeed without excellent user support to help change behaviours. Getting tenants to see the temperature, consumption, and air quality in their homes is a learning exercise. Any means is good, including a fun approach that ignites awareness and engages the user. The issue is one of adapting to people, offering simple, positive solutions.  Many experiments on these themes have been conducted in the affordable housing context. When I was in charge of Est Metropole Habitat, in 2018, we initiated on behalf of the ARALIS foundation the construction of an affordable residence with 200 flats in Lyon’s 8th district, intended for isolated people with difficult access to housing or transport in the region. The objective was that during a resident’s stay, they learn how to manage their consumption and acquire habits that will stand them in good stead when they have to live in their own home and pay their own utility bills. We opted for a technical solution, already tested in other residences. Each flat is equipped with centralized management of heating, electricity, and water. When a resident leaves home, their power outlets, cooking rings, lights, and water supply are all turned off and the heating switched to standby mode. Every month, residents receive a simple, easy-to-read consumption report.
The residence manager has an interface that provides real time or periodic control of each flat’s consumptions.
Housing providers are gravitating more and more toward these new technologies, which train people to consume less and better while cutting costs. It’s a win-win situation.

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