ZIA: Achieving climate targets in a cost-effective way
The German government is aiming to make Germany's building stock virtually climate neutral by 2050. The German Property Federation (ZIA) acts as an intermediary between the vision of policy makers and the practical constraints facing the real estate industry. A new position paper proposes a number of solutions and raises some fundamental questions in an effort to encourage a rethink.
An article by:
Thies Grothe, Head of Building Policy Fundamentals at the ZIA
German energy-saving legislation regulates the energy requirements for buildings without making an adequate distinction between residential property and different types of commercial properties. The focus is on reducing primary energy consumption, implementing energy-saving heat insulation measures and installing energy-efficient plant technology in buildings. The consequences of this energy policy agenda are already becoming apparent. The limits defined in the legislation are based on hypothetical reference buildings and cannot be achieved cost-effectively, or even at all, in the commercial real estate sector – and certainly not by the ambitious deadline of 2050.
CO2 emissions should be the main target
Against this backdrop, the ZIA has published a detailed position paper entitled “Alternative proposals for the sustainable development of energy policy with regard to climate protection and resource conservation”. The document shows how property sector reality and energy policy objectives can be reconciled. One of the key proposals put forward by the ZIA is not to measure the energy performance of a building by its energy requirements, as mentioned above, but to focus instead on the CO2 emissions of a property, district or real estate portfolio. This approach would enable the “polluter pays” principle to be applied to the real estate industry. When taking action on climate change, it is essential to establish which polluter is responsible for what climate-related impact and to define how the polluter deals with its responsibility. From the perspective of the real estate sector, this would mean a clear paradigm shift that adds climate protection to the agenda while taking the principle of cost-effectiveness into account. Focusing on a property’s CO2 emissions also makes sense as greenhouse gas reductions are measured in tonnes. Weight is much easier for consumers to understand and visualise, whereas the concept of primary energy and its consumption is not.
Creating data transparency and comparability
Reporting on consumption and emissions of the existing building stock still presents a huge challenge. Various types of data are either missing completely or can only be obtained with a disproportionate amount of effort. For data protection reasons, certain information on building performance is not available at all. Different ways of gathering data also hinder comparability and transparency. It is critical for the real estate industry and the political community to adopt a strategic approach in order to increase the energy efficiency of the building stock and thus cut CO2 emissions. Data transparency and reliable benchmarking are crucial prerequisites for this. The ZIA’s sustainability benchmarking system can serve as a guideline for future development which goes beyond capturing data at single property level and also takes whole districts or real estate portfolios into account.
Setting up a national climate database
Overall, it would make sense to follow the European Union’s suggestions and set up a national database to collect real estate data. Similar solutions already exist in Austria and the UK, and to some extent also in Denmark. As in other countries, appropriate targets can only be defined in Germany on the basis of an extensive dataset. It is essential here to make a distinction between the different use types, such as offices, retail, hotels and logistics, and also to take into account other factors – like the age of a building or its location. The ZIA sees energy suppliers and network operators as primarily responsible for providing the data. Digitisation and the new, intelligent solutions it enables will make it significantly easier to achieve the data transparency described above and bring together all kinds of information from across Germany in a single database.
Enabling assessment at portfolio and district Level
Another important point needs to be considered in connection with the desired data transparency. The German Climate Protection Plan 2050 wisely calls for an average reduction in CO2 emissions in relation to the existing building stock. On the basis of this objective, asset managers in Germany should be able to determine the CO2 performance of their properties with regard to the entire managed portfolio and not just look at individual properties. It should also be possible to calculate the figures for an urban neighbourhood in this context. This proposal would benefit towns and cities where different property types such as shopping centres, residential complexes, hotels and offices create a distinct district, for example. Treating these clusters as a unit for the purposes of CO2 emissions would align the measurement system more closely with our urban reality.
The proposed solutions set out in the position paper demonstrate that the ZIA supports energy optimisation of Germany’s building stock and, as such, also endorses the main thrust of the political vision. At the same time, however, it is vital to take economic considerations into account in order to agree realistic objectives.