Interview

BTA’s innovations en route to trigger a sea change in low-carbon retrofit solutions

Refurbishing heavily CO2 emitting buildings at scale to reduce emissions is critical in fighting climate change

Sybren Steensma, manager of Climate-KIC’s Building Technologies Accelerator (BTA) programme, says that a tripling of low-carbon retrofit rates is needed, However, steps need to be taken to get here. Cities and other property stakeholders on the one hand and deep retrofit innovations on the other experience difficulties in finding each other and in being able to create the much needed impact. Another part of the challenge is the availability of scalable, financially manageable and reliant technologies.

BTA works therefore on the development of scalable retrofit solutions to change this.

To get innovations to scale from a couple of projects to ten thousands, conventional practices in the industry need to be overthrown and new ways of doings created.
“To get innovations to scale from a couple of projects to ten thousands, conventional practices in the industry need to be overthrown and new ways of doings created.”
Sybren Steensma, Climate-KIC's BTA Programme Manager

Making the triple leap

Developing innovative, sustainable retrofit technologies is just one of numerous factors that have to be in place. Expertise and legal knowledge needs to be gained, and stakeholder interests of cities, developers, manufacturers, real estate owners, investors and end-users need to be aligned. By applying an integrated and systemic approach, that delivers on all requirements simultaneously, BTA strives to make the triple leap in retrofitting happen.

A 2017 report by TNO, the Netherlands Organisation for applied scientific research, and sponsored by Climate-KIC (title: Value creation in Retrofitting Housing Stock: an analysis of business opportunities), found that retrofit innovations have so far remained in the early demonstration phase because of a mismatch in demand and supply, observing a “structural market failure”.

While innovative, low-carbon retrofit solutions exist on the supply side, their business potential fails to get understood by the demand side. The report says that: “The demand side perceives that solutions are too expensive or even absent, whereas the supply side is convinced that attractive and cheaper solutions could be offered if the demand volume would be higher.”

The Climate-KIC BTA programme, belonging to Europe’s largest public-private innovation network, is uniquely configured to help correcting this mismatch. Its partners include representatives of both demand and supply side, and it supports technology solutions to enter the market.

Steensma explains: “On the supply side, we promote and invest in scalable solutions and, on the demand side, we help real estate owners and cities in procuring them. We are one of few networks that can bridge the gap and produce scalable retrofit solutions.”

2nd Skin: Bringing affordable and scalable solutions to the market

Currently, BTA is investing in its refurbishment solution 2nd Skin, a pre-fabricated and lightweight building envelope that can be installed on façades as a second, exterior layer. To produce the optimum, scalable solution, it taps into a collaboration of academic institutions and businesses, including Waterweg Wonen Housing Cooperation, BIK bouw, Provincie Utrecht, TU Delft, TU Munchen, Sto Isoned, Itho Daalderop and Kingspan.

Twelve apartments have been retrofitted with 2nd Skin in Vlaardingen, the Netherlands. In phase two, the first upscaling phase, the refurbishment solution will be installed on another 170 apartments. Through the pilots in the upscaling phases, real-world test beds occupied by tenants, BTA can gain crucial expertise from testing and evaluating while realising the desired reduction of costs and risks.

“When increasing from 12 to 170, and up to 10.000, the cost price will gradually go down. In the meantime, you learn everything about the language gap; you understand your customer better; you understand finance and legal requirements better; and integrating the supply chain goes smoother and smoother. It’s similar to playing multiple chess games at the same time,” says Steensma.

Zero Energy Transformation

As 2nd Skin is installed from the outside onto façades within a few days, existing buildings can  be easily upgraded at a low cost. Housing complexes are turned into Zero Energy Buildings, which don’t consume more energy than is generated by renewable energy from solar panels and multi-heat pumping systems, which sit outside on new and larger balconies. Importantly, the installation method spares tenants from the hassle of having to move out during the renovation period.

Hence, solutions like 2nd Skin are fine-tuned to make the triad of low-carbon technology, business and user demands work out.

Other examples of solutions supported by BTA are OfficeVitae, Furbish or ChillServices: a retrofit solution for cooling equipment to be rolled out across the entire chain of supermarket Rewe in Germany.

Next to scalable refurbishments solutions, BTA works also towards the large-scale uptake of innovations in the area of low-carbon materials & circular economy, as well as user oriented energy management, while also aiming to create new businesses and jobs in the European building sector.

To close the gap between supply and demand and increase deep retrofit rates, BTA works closely together with cities, home owners associations, housing corporations and real estate firms. It offers a range of services and solutions, including consulting, matchmaking events, open calls and challenges and training.

BTA always welcomes new partners to broaden its network.

Published 25 April 2018

About BTA

Building Technologies Accelerator (BTA) is a programme by EIT Climate-KIC: the EU’s largest public private partnership addressing climate change through innovation to build a zero carbon economy.