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Energy-efficient renovations: a challenge for property owners

Posted 13 | 08 | 2020
Categories Environment, Real Estate

For more than a decade, reducing our ecological footprint has been a core political and economic concern in Switzerland and the rest of the world.

The Paris Climate Agreement establishes clear objectives for increased energy efficiency, a transition to renewable energy and a reduction in CO2 emissions. Among the goals is to phase out the use of fossil fuels between now and 2038.

To achieve this goal, Switzerland has made the reduction of energy consumption in buildings one of the principal elements of its climate action. Throughout the country, particularly in Geneva, property owners have a crucial role to play.


Buildings consume too much

In 2018, buildings were responsible for 40 percent of energy consumption and one third of CO2 emissions in Switzerland. Despite a general decrease in consumption related to heating (-10.5 percent), consumption related to air conditioning, ventilation and construction techniques has increased by 22.9 percent since the year 2000.

Therefore, it is urgent for us to renovate properties on a national scale to reduce their energy consumption. More than a million homes need energy-efficient renovations and two thirds of buildings are still being heated using fossil fuels or electricity.

In Geneva, 44 percent of the energy consumed comes from natural gas and fuel oil. In the canton, the energy transition is in progress, and the results are visible in the form of a 7.5 percent reduction in electricity use per resident. However, action must be taken to accelerate the renovation of buildings.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), to achieve the goal of becoming a 2,000-watt society, every person in Geneva must reduce energy consumption by more than 50 watts per year until 2050. A significant increase in effort is necessary, considering that the annual reduction in 2019 was only 20 watts.


The Swiss energy strategy

The new law on energy, which was adopted by the people in 2017, set milestones for the Energy Strategy 2050. The three primary aims are to increase energy efficiency, develop renewable energy and phase out nuclear power.

The building, transport, industrial and appliance sectors are directly targeted by measures focused on increasing their energy efficiency. In the case of construction, these measures include a partial allocation of tax revenues stemming from the CO2 Act to energy-efficient renovations and the continuation of the Buildings Programme.

The latter of these grants subsidies for the following:

  • Installing thermal insulation in existing buildings
  • Optimising building services technology
  • Supplying buildings with heat generated from renewable energy sources or recovered waste heat
  • Building new structures with high energy-efficient performance


Concrete actions for property owners

Before implementing these measures, energy efficiency diagnostics, such as the CECB® Plus audit, will be used to assess the status of the premises in order to determine possible actions. In the interests of cost and practicality, these actions may prioritise thermal insulation and heating systems in existing buildings.

New insulation in the ceiling or walls and floors can significantly improve a building’s carbon footprint and reduce its heating costs. By replacing a system that runs on fossil fuels with a heat pump or solar thermal collectors, the overall annual cost of operating the system can be reduced by nearly 20 percent.

Every action that is performed today will have long-term implications. Property owners, whether individuals or co-owners in commonholds and cooperatives, will not only reduce their consumption (or that of their tenants) but also increase the value of their real estate.

The scheduled deadline for ending dependence on fossil fuels is another factor to take into consideration. By anticipating this change, property owners will avoid uncertainty regarding future measures to be taken.


Assistance and subsidies in Geneva

In Geneva, the law on energy imposes certain obligations on property owners, including installation of solar thermal collectors during roof renovations, yearly calculation of the heating energy consumption of all heated buildings to ensure that their energy efficiency is being monitored, the performance of energy audits and the implementation of energy-saving measures for buildings whose heating energy consumption exceeds 800 MJ/m2/year.

Throughout the canton, renovations can be financed by numerous aids and subsidies. In 2020, a total of 35 million francs was available to promote building renovations and energy optimisation. In 2019, 546 projects across the canton were supported through this mechanism.

Another significant aspect of this legislation is that investments made in energy-efficient renovations result in reduced income taxes. When property owners incur expenses to improve the energy efficiency of their privately owned real estate, these expenses are tax deductible.


Working with experts

Planning and managing an energy-efficient renovation project can be a long, complex process, for example, in order to ensure compliance with all regulations and legal requirements. Numerous subsidies and other assistance options are available, but they are no replacement for the advice of experts.

Support and guidance must be specific to each individual project. For example, the challenges and goals for the owner of a villa are different from those of the owner of an apartment complex, especially with regard to administrative matters, financial repercussions and the impact on tenants.

For more than 20 years, the SPG-Rytz Group has been working to improve the management of existing real estate and to construct new properties with high energy-efficient performance. We reduce our ecological footprint as we work with our clientele on their projects and address their needs.

Through our Environment and Energy Department, we support property owners in the implementation of effective ecological solutions by leveraging innovative methods and concepts and by anticipating legal regulations. Every new construction project is designed in accordance with THPE standards for very high energy-efficient performance, the equivalent of Minergie-P certification. Furthermore, in the case of large-scale renovations, we work in accordance with the very highest current standards.


A challenge for everyone

Reducing energy consumption is a priority for our society. From developers to tenants, we all have a role to play. Property owners should take advantage of the opportunity to invest in energy efficiency and quickly reap the benefits of these measures. For their own wellbeing and that of generations to come.


[1] The concept of a 2,000-watt society aims at a continuous primary energy consumption of 2,000 watts per person per year, with a maximum of 500 watts stemming from non-renewable fossil fuels.